Tips for Taking Care of Yourself
During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Responding to health emergencies is both rewarding and challenging work. You can only help others if you take care of yourself.
- Work in teams and limit amount of time working alone (using self-distancing guidelines if appropriate).
- Write in a journal.
- Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
- Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
- Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say "no."
- Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol.
- Stay connected to loved ones, schedule time to talk if possible.
It is important to remind yourself:
- It is ok to take breaks.
- Take care of your own needs and well-being first, then you will be refreshed to assist others.
- Working all the time does not mean you will make your best contribution.
- To allow other people to help in the response.
Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause:
- Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed.
- Secondary traumatic stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual's traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.
- Compassion fatigue – occurs when you experience both burnout and secondary traumatic stress.
Look for signs of burnout
- Easily frustrated.
- Sadness, depression, or apathy.
- Blaming of others, irritability.
- Lacking feelings, indifferent.
- Isolation or disconnection from others.
- Poor self-care (hygiene).
- Tired, exhausted or overwhelmed.
- Feeling like:
- A failure.
- Nothing you can do will help.
- You are not doing your job well.
- You need alcohol/other drugs to cope.
Develop coping strategies
Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.
Get support from team members: develop a buddy system
In a buddy system, two co-workers partner together to support each other and monitor each other's stress, workload, and safety.
- Get to know each other. Talk about background, interests, hobbies, and family as much as you feel comfortable. Identify each other's strengths and weaknesses.
- Check-in on each other. Send emails, texts, or set up video chats to stay connected. Listen carefully and share experiences and feelings. Acknowledge tough situations and recognize accomplishments, even small ones.
- Offer to help with basic needs such as sharing supplies and transportation.
- Monitor each other's workloads. Encourage each other to take breaks. Share opportunities for stress relief (rest, routine sleep, exercise, and deep breathing).
- Communicate your buddy's basic needs and limits to leadership – make your buddy feel "safe" to speak up.
A buddy system may not be for everyone, but it's important to have support and to check in with someone.
Connect with others
- Social distancing does not mean isolation. Be creative and use technology to connect with loved ones, friends, and neighbors from a distance.
- Talk to your colleagues and receive support from one another. Infectious outbreaks can isolate people in fear and anxiety. Tell your story and listen to others.
Recognize the impact of social distancing on your well-being
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations such as an infectious disease outbreak that requires social distancing. You may feel:
- Anxiety, worry, or fear.
- Concern about being able to effectively care for children or others in your care.
- Uncertainty or frustration about how long you will need to remain in this situation, and uncertainty about the future.
- Loneliness associated with feeling cut off from the world and from loved ones.
- Anger if you think you were exposed to the disease because of others' negligence.
- Boredom and frustration because you may not be able to work or engage in regular day-to-day activities.
- Uncertainty or ambivalence about the situation.
- A desire to use alcohol or drugs to cope.
- Symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite, or sleeping.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
Make time to unwind
Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Take a walk outside, do some gardening, Skype a friend, cook a new meal, crochet, play a board game, etc. The important thing is to do something you like and make time for yourself and your needs.
Limit media exposure
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories,including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress: Sustaining the Well-Being of Healthcare Personnel during Coronavirus and other Infectious Disease Outbreaks (PDF)
- Managing Stress and the Threat of COVID-19 (PDF)
Take care of your body
Whether you are home or at work, it's important to take care of yourself and stay in shape. Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Eating healthy and getting good quality sleep are also important to keep you healthy.
Adding short bouts of cardiovascular, strength, and stretching exercises throughout the workday, whether you are at work or home, will help reduce sedentary behavior and improve fitness levels. These tools and tips will help you be more physically active at work.
- CDC: Physical Activity Breaks for the Workplace: Resource Guide (PDF)
- American College of Sports Medicine: 8 Ways to Find Time for the 7-minute High-intensity Workout (jpg)
Eating healthy on the go can be a challenge. Check out these tips to help you eat healthy.
- Wash your hands before you eat. Even if you don't need to use the restroom, you'll still want to wash away germs you picked up in the airport or train station. Wash with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
- Be safe with water. Water is regulated and tested throughout the U.S., but, when in doubt, don't drink the tap or well water. This also goes for anything made with water, such as ice or fountain drinks. Stick with sealed, bottled beverages if you have any concerns about the local water supply.
- Remember the two-hour rule. If you buy cold or hot food at the airport or train station, eat it within two hours of purchasing. After that, bacteria multiply. (In hot weather, the safe time limit is one hour.) Set a timer on your watch or phone to remind you.
- Think before eating. On the plane, clean off your tray table with disinfectant wipes. Never set food directly on the tray table. If hot food is served on the plane or train, make sure it is, indeed, hot.
Choose healthy snacks. These choices are easy to carry and are available in many gas station marts and most airport terminals:
- Part-skim mozzarella cheese stick.
- Whole-grain sandwich with lean meat, vegetables, and mustard.
- Salad with lean protein.
- Vegetable soup.
- Fat-free latte.
- Fruit cup.
- Pre-cut veggies (paired with nut butter brought from home).
- Road trip stops: There might be long stretches of road with limited options between cities, but road trips don't have to cause a disruption in eating healthfully.
- Markets: Pick up pre-washed/pre-cut vegetables, hummus, yogurt, sandwiches, salads and fruit with peels including oranges and bananas.
- Sandwich shops: Choose whole-grain bread, extra vegetables, and mustard instead of oil or mayo.
- Drive-through and casual restaurants: Focus on items that are grilled, steamed, broiled or baked instead of fried or sautéed. Consider salads with lean protein and a vinaigrette-based dressing, broth-based soups, oatmeal, and eggs with whole-grain bread. If you're craving comfort food, just watch your portions — stick to the basics such as a single burger patty without special sauces, kid-size sides, and water instead of soda.
Eating healthy when ordering take out or delivery can be challenging.
A healthy immune system is one way to give your body extra protection.
Manage Your sleep
Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as "sleep hygiene") can help you get a good night's sleep.
Your behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. They can promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness.
Your daily routines – what you eat and drink, the medications you take, how you schedule your days, and how you choose to spend your evenings – can significantly impact your quality of sleep. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night. Completing a two-week sleep diary can help you understand how your routines affect your sleep.
The term "sleep hygiene" refers to a series of healthy sleep habits that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. These habits are a cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most effective long-term treatment for people with chronic insomnia. CBT can help you address the thoughts and behaviors that prevent you from sleeping well. It also includes techniques for stress reduction, relaxation, and sleep schedule management.
If you have difficulty sleeping or want to improve your sleep, try following the quick sleep tips below. Talk to your doctor if your sleep problem persists. You also can seek help from the sleep team at an AASM accredited sleep center.
Quick Sleep Tips
Follow these tips to establish healthy sleep habits:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
- Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Don't go to bed unless you are sleepy.
- If you don't fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
- Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Don't eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
Honor your service
Remind yourself that despite obstacles or frustrations, you are fulfilling a noble calling—taking care of those most in need. Recognize your colleagues—either formally or informally for their service.