SUPPORT TO HELPER PROFESSIONS: Take care of yourself in these challenging times as we need you

When faced with uncertain times such as the one we are currently experiencing, facing the pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the earthquake in the City of Zagreb, people who work to care for others are under special exertion and stress. The combined effect of working hours, increased workload, and concerns about the exposure that potentially puts both family and friends at risk can increase the feeling of burnout among those who are on the front lines these days. The current circumstances outweigh the “bad day at work”, especially when, as in Croatia, a situation is taking place whose motto may be “nothing should surprise us”. Stress is an evolutionary response in our body to the threat, that is, the danger, in which we all respond in different ways. Signs of stress include changes in the body, emotional responses, ways of thinking, and behavior.

Signs of stress

Recognizing the symptoms of stress is important in order to apply coping and prevailing strategies and to continue with activities and tasks.

  • Fear and feeling helpless
  • Changes in sleep or diet
  • Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory
  • Exacerbation of chronic health problems
  • Abandoning activities that are usually enjoyed
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling frustrated, resentful or angry, irritable
  • Sadness that does not pass
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or medicines
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Feeling negative about work and declining professional efficiency

Part of the responsibility for others is taking care of ourselves that helps us cope with the thoughts, emotions, and stress associated with extraordinary work-related efforts and / or family opportunities in the current situation. If you have identified any of the following signs of stress, take some of the following steps that can help you remain physically and mentally fit to continue your activities:

Be gentle and caring to yourself. If you are employed in a place that does not provide isolation at the moment and you have a work obligation, it is possible that you may feel chronically exhausted, sleep poorly or not even sleep, eat poorly, and have no time for yourself. It is quite certain that without adequate sleep we cannot function in full capacity either privately or professionally. Although it sounds obvious, pay more attention to what your body is telling you. Do your best to maintain sleep hygiene and develop a routine of taking care of yourself in the circumstances. As far as possible, when you are at home, eat healthy, sleep enough, exercise. Make it a priority to find time for relaxation in the day. Research shows that practicing mindfulness techniques helps in these circumstances. Performance and concentration, as well as motivation, will be better if you give yourself the opportunity to relax between shifts. Outside of work, set boundaries and take care of yourself.

Live day by day. Remember these are temporary measures, that you are not alone and that all of this will be behind us once. Slow down. Breathe. Use this time to get in touch with your feelings. Instead of ignoring exhaustion, face the fact that if you are not well, you cannot help others. Instead of being angry with yourself or others when you feel stress and anxiety, remember things are difficult without looking for the culprit – focus on what you can influence. Save energy for things that are in your control. It is inevitable that the routine has changed and the time you have in the day needs to be used economically, in such a way that it includes the necessary care for yourself. What new routines could you introduce without emotionally filling and physically recovering you? Is it possible to limit some things and obligations in the day that unnecessarily exhaust you? Do you know how to say “no” even when you could?

Nurture relationships and seek support. Staying in touch with friends and family is crucial – physically we may be separated but remain connected – this will make it easier to recover. Conversations are important. Support should also be given to those whose work means life at this time. The psychological impact of emergency work has been repeatedly investigated and today we know that it contributes to isolation and exclusion from social relationships. Identify people from your area who have a positive influence on you, and limit contacts with those you can do it with, who are drawing your energy further.

It’s okay to feel whatever you feel in these moments, you’re not the only one. These are times of crisis and it is important that taking care of yourself involves more than masks and gloves. But the environment must provide more than just the necessary protective equipment to those on the front line. The crisis has once again shown us that social capital is the most important right now.

In this way, the experts of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center wish to express their deep respect to all colleagues, doctors, nurse, technicians, drivers, police, the military, essential care workers, and all the other professions that are out of their homes at this moment, without loved ones. Thank you!

Authors: Vlatka Boričević Maršanić, PhD-MD, Specialist Psychiatrist, Subspecialist of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Ella Selak Bagarić, MS psychology and Krešimir Prijatelj, MS psychology


Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center can not be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.

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