Coping through covid-19: advice for clinicians and leaders 

There are things you can do to take care of yourself during the covid-19 pandemic, says Fiona Day

Being human means living with high levels of uncertainty, ambiguity, and not knowing. We experience periods of relative calm and stasis, and periods of disruption, whether a “big bang” or a “rising tide.” 

There are many things we can’t control or plan for in life, however it is possible to live skilfully with uncertainty and change, and also to grow our capacity for self care. This requires a conscious commitment to gaining insight into what is really happening, both inside ourselves and in the world around us.  

Doctors and healthcare workers are at the frontline of the health impacts of covid-19. The infrastructure to respond to the pandemic varies around the world: the more challenged the infrastructure, the greater the risk of occupational exposure to hazards including infection and mental health. Most doctors also have caring roles outside of the occupational context which need to be balanced with their professional roles. 

Here are two evidence-based tools based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) applied to a non-clinical content which you can use to support yourself in the coming months:

Connect with your values

Who are you at your core and what do you want to stand for in the face of this situation? Your values are like a compass which you freely and consciously choose to set the course of your life; they give you meaning, purpose, and direction. You may have values for your work life and values for your personal life – or they may be the same. 

To access your values, imagine a year from now and what people will say about you when you were at your best. You can also think about who inspires you and why. Take time to find a small number of values you can really hold onto during the months ahead and consciously connect with them when things feel difficult. Allow your values to give you a sense of courage and inner strength.

Get on the balcony

Getting on the balcony means looking at the whole of your life with a sense of perspective. It’s important to notice where things are going well, as well as being honest about the areas which are difficult or challenging. 

From your balcony, what can you see which nourishes and sustains you? Who do you feel supported by and grateful for? Find small things to feel gratitude. Remember the resources you have inside yourself and how you have coped with difficulty in the past. Get up on the balcony at least once a day to purposefully remind you of the safety net you have in place already to support you.

In the face of the significant period of disruption and distress it is even more important than ever to take some time to take care of yourself. 

Fiona Day qualified as a doctor in 1996. She worked as a public health doctor for 20 years.  She now works as an FMLM Approved Executive Coach and Career Counsellor for mid-career, senior and executive level doctors in Leeds and internationally.

Competing interests: None declared.