Stress management strategies for healthcare workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds globally and locally, it's normal for people to have a wide range of reactions.

Group of medical practitioners working together on a digital tablet in a hospital.

You, as a healthcare worker, should focus on looking after your wellbeing in times like this as it can help alleviate stress and is crucial in enabling you to still take calm and effective action during this global health crisis.

Healthcare workers take the lead in mental stress-related claims, making up 8.82 per cent of claims in the NSW workers insurance scheme. This is more than double of other industries like construction and manufacturing.

A main source of stress for frontline workers is day-to-day job stress, particularly during a crisis.

Examples of job-related stress are:

  • working long hours
  • overwhelming responsibilities
  • poor communication
  • working in dangerous situations. 

Taking care of yourself and your co-workers in the healthcare industry:

  • Acknowledge that it is normal to feel stressed in your situation.
  • Take care of your basic needs.
  • Take time to eat, exercise, rest and relax, even for short periods.
  • Be mindful of the hours you are working and communicate with your leader if those hours become unreasonable or unmanageable.
  • Check in with co-workers to see how they are doing and have them check in with you. Find ways to support each other.
  • Speak to your leader about keeping reasonable working hours, where possible, so you do not become too exhausted and burn out.

Your patients/clients may be experiencing a range of issues arising from COVID-19.

If you are having an adverse response helping people remember:

  • You are not responsible for solving everyone's problems. Do what you can to help people help themselves.
  • Talk with friends, loved ones or other people you trust for support.
    • Stay connected to friends, family, and community through phone, social media, or messaging apps. This keeps you safe and helps bridge the gap if you find yourself experiencing avoidance by friends, family, or community due to their fear or perceived stigma.
    • Turn to your colleagues, your manager or someone you trust for social support - your colleagues may be having similar experiences to you.
  • Minimise your intake of alcohol, caffeine or nicotine and avoid non-prescription drugs.

Rest and reflect

The crisis situation and the needs of people you have met may have been very challenging, and it can be difficult to bear their pain and suffering.

Taking time for rest and reflection is an important part of balancing your wellbeing with the needs of others.

The following suggestions may be helpful to your own recovery:

  • Talk about your experience of helping in the crisis situation with a supervisor, colleague or someone else you trust.
  • Acknowledge what you were able to do to help others, even in small ways.
  • Learn to reflect on and accept what you did well, what did not go very well, and the limits of what you could do in the circumstances.
  • Take some time, if possible, to rest and relax before beginning your work and life duties again.

It is important to get support from someone you trust. Speak to a health care professional or, if available, a mental health specialist if you find yourself experiencing the following:

  • upsetting thoughts or memories about the event
  • feeling very nervous or extremely sad
  • having trouble sleeping
  • increased alcohol or drug intake.

Further health and wellbeing support

Tip sheets and online resources

Mobile apps

  • Smiling Mind- free mindfulness meditation app to help you look after your mental health and manage stress and daily challenges.
  • Headspace - free "Weathering the Storm" program available to help support the global community through this time including a curated list of calming meditations, help with sleep, and at-home workouts or movement exercises.

Crisis support

  • Lifeline- provides crisis counselling and suicide prevention services. Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Lifeline online chat.
  • Suicide Call Back Service - provides online and phone counselling if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal. Phone: 1300 659 467. Suicide Call Back Service online chat.

Specialist areas

  • 1800Respect – confidential counselling, information and support for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse via phone or online chat. Phone: 1800 737 732 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). 1800Respect online chat.
  • Butterfly Foundation's National Helpline (ED HOPE) – confidential service that provides information, counselling, and treatment referral for people with eating disorders, and body image and related issues. Phone: 1800 334 673 (8am - midnight).
  • DirectLine – confidential alcohol and drug counselling and referral service. Phone: 1800 888 236 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). DirectLine online counselling.