Opinion

How do we practice self-care in the time of coronavirus?


Amy Litras


31/03/2020 1:35:28 PM

It can be easier for GPs to dispense advice about self-care than to take it themselves, Dr Amy Litras writes.

Confused person
Self-care advice can be easier to dispense than to put in place.

It usually happens at night, when sleep can’t get a grip on my mind due to the swirling vortex that takes over whenever I have a quiet moment.
 
Chest tightness. Palpitations.
 
Coronavirus?
 
No, anxiety about the coronavirus.
 
Like everyone, I’m desperately trying to process this new reality in which we all find ourselves. My mind is trying to make sense of this new virus and its effects on the human body, our communities, the economy and our behaviour.
 
There is more worry than I’ve known for a long time.
 
I worry that through my work as a GP I will infect my family. I worry for my colleagues and for myself. I worry that I won’t be up to the job ahead of me. My subconscious is trying to solve a raft of new problems, big and small, that living in the time of coronavirus presents.
 
How do I keep my family, my patients, my community and myself safe? How can we best use the limited resources we have? How do I manage without toilet paper? How do I explain the gravity of the situation to others without inducing panic?
 
But one question keeps coming to the fore. How can I best look after myself – so I stand the best chance of dealing with all the other questions?
 
As a GP, I am well informed about the benefits of exercise, good sleep, connecting with nature, mindfulness, meditation, smartphone apps for wellbeing, pets, social connection, laughter and hobbies.
 
We all know these things are important. We all know that they work. GPs are expert in this. We are experienced at skillfully walking beside our patients through distress and helping them to select the right tools to navigate stress, sadness, grief, trauma and fear.
 
But, like many GPs, sometimes I need to be reminded to apply the same good advice I give to others to myself. Sometimes we need someone else to remind us.
 
That is why all GPs should have their own GP, especially during this challenging time. Someone who gives us the opportunity to be cared for, who allows us to be the patient for a while, who can be the port of call for when things move beyond situational distress. We need our own GPs to tend to our chronic diseases, mental health and preventive health. This will be more important than ever over coming months.
 
One thing that gives me hope is that I will not be facing this alone. I will be standing beside my colleagues, the doctors, nurses, practice managers and reception staff in primary care whom I so admire and from whom I have learnt so much. We will also stand with our colleagues in the hospitals, who will surely bear the brunt of the sickest.
 
I am going to do my best to be ready to help where I can, to look out for ways to express appreciation or admiration, ways to make each other’s day a little brighter or easier. Caring for each other and nurturing relationships with my colleagues will protect me.
 
It is easy to despair and lose hope when we are confronted with stripped supermarket shelves, images of people flouting physical distancing advice, or angry or unreasonable, demanding patients.
 
It is difficult, but I am trying to approach these situations with compassion and reminding myself that this behaviour is usually driven by fear, ignorance or feelings of helplessness. That way, there is less personal cost and wasted emotional energy than getting angry, upset or taking it personally.
 
Instead of losing faith or becoming more cynical, I’m going to try to focus on the good, the kind and compassionate acts that are going on everywhere in our community. There are plenty of people out there right now engaging in astounding acts of kindness and service all around me. They can just be harder to see because they don’t get the same airplay.
 
I will not be immune to bad behaviour, either. Stress, frustration and fear are going to cause me to lose my composure at some point. Maybe it will be speaking harshly to a colleague or family member. Maybe it will be saying no when I feel I should have say yes. Maybe it will be because, at that moment, I will just have nothing left to give.
 
It is vital to turn our compassion inwards, to allow ourselves forgiveness and understanding to counteract the inevitable guilt. Guilt in this situation is likely to be both counterproductive and misplaced.
 
So how am I going to care for myself?
 
I am going to cuddle my kids, my husband and my cat.
 
I am going to FaceTime my parents, extended family and friends.
 
I am going to find reasons to laugh and make others laugh.
 
I am going to limit the time I spend absorbing news and social media.
 
I am going to listen to more music and watch Bluey with my kids.
 
I am going to make a ritual of naming the things for which I am grateful, such as a job that gives me a sense of purpose and the fortune to live in a country with excellent quality of healthcare.
 
I am going to give up on perfection and aim for good enough.
 
I am going to do my best to be useful, but kind to myself when I falter.
 
Above all, I am going to make a vow to myself that when I need help, whatever type of help that may be, I will reach out.

Resources

The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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Dr Ronelle De Wet   1/04/2020 8:16:31 AM

Thank you for a beautiful written letter, GP practice as we know it has changed forever but I feel blessed to have the support of my family and the patients are so appreciative for the extra 2 minutes you spend addressing their fears and having a laugh about the toilet paper crisis. We will all reevaluate our priorities and enjoy our freedom on the other side of this pandemic. The human race is so adaptable so time to adapt and find a GP you trust with your own life.


Dr Kenneth John McCroary   1/04/2020 6:23:13 PM

Thanks for sharing Amy.
No doubt you meant cuddling in the metaphorical sense, as the social distance police would not be pleased with us coming home from work and invading the 1.5m.
I just feel for other colleagues out there with similar anxieties, depression and sleep disturbances not seeking or receiving the support and treatment they need and how we should all be on the lookout for our GPs in need.