Aged care workers are running an indefinite marathon at the moment. A crisis with no end date in sight combined with associated pressures on aged care facilities – it can be easy to become overwhelmed.

Now more than ever, it’s important for aged care workers to take increased care of themselves to manage the mental health impacts of the pandemic and to ensure a high level of care is provided to older people.

Phoenix Australia is an organisation specialising in trauma-related mental health and wellbeing. The organisation, which marks its 25th year in operation this year, has a number of resources available for those in the health and care industries to navigate personal challenges during the coronavirus. 

We explore some of the organisation’s advice and techniques for aged care workers seeking to create a self-care plan.

Take the time to check in with yourself

‘There is currently a great deal of uncertainty about the nature of the coronavirus, its spread, its scope and impact. This may lead to significant and understandable emotional distress such as apprehension, fear, anger or agitation, not just in your patients, but also for you,’ states Phoenix Australia’s website.

Aged care workers must recognise that their work is particularly challenging at the moment. ‘Give yourself permission to have a reaction, and also remember your strengths.’ 

As the pandemic’s conditions change, it’s crucial aged care workers continue the process of checking in with themselves and modifying self-care plans as needed.

Have a transition strategy in place

‘Take time to support your transition to spending more time at home and any other changes such as homeschooling children.’ It’s also wise for aged care workers to develop a preparedness plan with members of their household in the case they need to self-isolate or quarantine. The fewer rash decisions that need to be made, the better.

Reduce behaviours that increase stress

Of course, it’s important to stay informed with constant updates surrounding the virus and its changes to everyday life. But, people need to carefully consider their media consumption. 

Access to trusted, reliable, non-sensationalist, factual information is paramount. But, excessive consumption of news – even when it is well-reported – can have an inconspicuous and significant impact on one’s wellbeing. 

From the TV, to radio and social media, the 24-hour coronavirus newscycle is virtually inescapable. ‘Excessive media exposure can lead to negative mental health outcomes. Use trusted media outlets to gather the information you need, then turn them off.’

Increase behaviours that promote wellbeing and mindfulness

‘Try making a timetable for each day, including some exercise, enjoyable activities and relaxation.’ Whether it’s journaling, gardening, yoga, taking a bath or taking up an entirely new hobby,  aged care workers deserve to reward themselves in new and different ways.

Being mindful of sustaining a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet is imperative. Phoenix Australia also recommends members of the health industry ‘minimise intake of alcohol, caffeine or nicotine and avoid the use of non-prescription drugs. Use all prescription and over-the-counter medications as indicated.’

Black Dog Institute is the ‘only medical research institute in Australia to investigate mental health across the lifespan’. The institute has a great resource online full of relaxation techniques for healthcare workers. From a whole-body tension exercise, to breathing techniques and affirmation phrases, aged care workers can use these exercises depending on their needs. 

There’s also an abundance of mental wellbeing and meditation apps that aged care workers can download, perfect if time restraints are an issue. Headspace, Calm, Moodfit and Sanvello are a few to consider.

Keep communicating with colleagues and close ones

Aged care workers should maintain strong communication with their colleagues or superiors as the industry navigates the coronavirus.

‘Maintain strong boundaries at work. Recognise your limits – we all have them. Remind yourself that staying within your limits supports your wellbeing and makes you feel more effective at work.’

Even if it’s only virtual for now, staying in regular contact with family or friends in times of uncertainty is incredibly important. Scheduling a weekly chat with a close one provides something to look forward to. It’s natural for aged care workers to want to be alone after tough days at work, but they must not isolate themselves.

Access professional help if needed

If aged care workers believe they need further assistance, there are plenty of places to seek different forms of support.

‘Be honest with yourself and recognise the need to access professional support if you are experiencing disturbed sleep, withdrawal from family/friends, and/or increased use of substances. Making the decision to access professional assistance yourself is a wise choice that can help you to regain emotional strength and resilience,’ states Phoenix Australia.

The Australian Government also announced it will ‘provide 10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic’.

‘The additional Medicare subsidised sessions will allow people in eligible areas who have used their 10 sessions to continue to receive mental health care from their psychologist, psychiatrist, GP or other eligible allied health workers. Patients will be required to have a Mental Health Treatment Plan and a review with their GP to access the additional sessions. This measure will be available until 31 March 2021.’

Below is a list of organisations aged care workers can reach out to for support, or access information online.

Beyond Blue – mental health professionals are available 24/7 via phone, webchat (3pm – 12am AEST) and email (responses within 24 hours).

Phoenix Australia – visit the website for information on post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety management, specifically for those in the healthcare industry during the coronavirus.

Black Dog Institute – visit the website for information on symptoms, treatment, prevention and new research on different mental health conditions.

Headspace – counselling is available online, via phone or at Headspace centres for those up to 25 years of age.

Head to Head Health – access mental health care services via phone, as well as resources and online programs.

National Dementia Helpline – 1800 100 500 – provides information plus emotional support and guidance to people living with dementia, people concerned about changes to memory and thinking, people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), family, friends and carers of people living with dementia and people who work in health and aged care

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