Sethina Watson is an Anaesthetic Registrar in Bristol. She has been shielding during the pandemic and has spoken at the AAGBI Webinars and published on the subject. In addition she has written a hard hitting piece on facing racism in medicine. Sethina is a "big name" in Anaesthesic Twitter (@morefluids) and is always worth reading. Here she shares her top tips for coping.
With 2.2 million people across the UK advised to ‘shield’ from coronavirus this has been a challenge for many of us. I have been shielding ‘by-proxy’ to protect my youngest child who has cystic fibrosis from the risks of catching coronavirus. We have shielded together as a family as keeping 2m apart from a 7-year old who relies on you for care, physiotherapy, medications, and hugs is simply not possible. We placed ourselves in a virtual protective ‘bubble’ for the past 14 weeks. No touch contact with the outside world; no shopping, no visiting or meeting up with people.
It’s been quite a journey, and these are some of my personal tips and experiences for coping whilst shielding.
Control what you can
Shielding for some feels like a loss of control of our surroundings, work, and usual activities. We cannot control when the government sends their updates or when we get a suitable supermarket delivery slot. Seeing the country outside loosening their restrictions, meeting up, having BBQs and even raving (albeit illegally) can make us feel really upset. We cannot stop them and want them to know that their actions affect us shielding. We can feel powerless that the wider community does not seem to appreciate that the extremely clinically vulnerable are relying on their actions to make it safe for us to return. But it is possible to control your feelings about it. Take a deep breath, ignore it, or voice your concerns if that helps you feel more in control.
We can control how we clean our home or disinfect what comes into the home, so we feel safer. If we are going out, as now suggested by the Government, we can control where we go and when we go out. We can control our own mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing even if others do not.
Lose the Guilt
Feelings of guilt that we are shielding and not working in the hospital affect many shielders. I ask myself who exactly is this guilt helping? I cannot really find a good answer to that question. Guilt I think is a normal response, but I try to keep it under control. We are doing our bit to keep coronavirus cases and demand on NHS services under control. We are contributing from home. By staying at home, we are keeping ourselves or our families healthy. When we return to work we can do our bit.
Take a News Break
Well, try to as best you can! For those in shielding this risk is very real and we became addicted to news and finding out the latest. It represented when we might get out of this ‘bubble’. But constant updates on deaths, R numbers and people breaking the rules of social distancing can take their toll on mental health. Have a break from it to recharge your batteries. Turn off the TV and switch it off for a bit.
Feeling isolated, lonely or forgotten has been experienced by many of us in shielding. Some are quite literally living alone, or like us spending way more time together as a family than usual (more hugs as well as more arguments). We’ve used various chat methods to keep in touch with work,
friends, family and even long-lost friends.
For some routines don’t work, but for us keeping our routine has provided structure for the days and weeks. It’s been a long haul and at first each day went really slowly. Now days and weeks are flying by. As we are home-schooling, we start our day with exercise (the UKs PE teacher Joe Wicks) and do school work in the mornings. Exercise is invaluable for feeling healthier especially as our normal levels of physical activity are restricted.
Getting up at the usual time and getting dressed normally has become important. This sounds common sense, but at the beginning of shielding we stopped doing things as normal. The kids wanted to wear PJs all day, which is great sometimes but not all the time. By adopting these behaviours we found that this didn’t do our mental health any good.
Working from Home
The guilt that you aren’t pulling your weight in supporting work can mean you often say yes to everything. It is OK to say no to stop ourselves being overwhelmed. Some shielding haven’t done any work at all and that is absolutely acceptable. Just keeping ourselves sane and healthy is work enough for many! It is hard to keep home and work life separate when you are working from home. Scheduling work time away from home time is important.
Sleep, Eat, Rest. Repeat
Sleep is vital. Getting sleep has been a challenge for most of us. Do whatever works to help you get a better night’s sleep. Healthy sleep habits are important. Keeping a healthy and enjoyable diet has been important for us. Having variety and finding new things to cook has been one perk. That
weird supermarket home delivery substitution for your usual item might make something delicious! We’ve been doing an afternoon tea and chat after lunch, so my husband and I get to talk and relax quietly for a more.
Treat Yourself & Be Kind to Yourself
This does not necessarily mean spending money. It could be as simple as enjoying tea and a biscuit without feeling guilty. That food or bottle you have been saving for a special occasion. Enjoy it, as isn’t now a special occasion? I’m not advocating increased alcohol use or excessive consumption of course! Putting on something you like wearing even if you are ‘only’ staying inside. I have seen people on social media taking their bins out in ball gowns, if that grabs you, go for it.
Some days have been harder than others. We’ve just accepted those days and been kind to ourselves by resting or doing what we needed to do to get through the day. That phrase ‘coronacoaster’ is very much accurate for our thoughts and feelings over the past few months. We have experienced a global pandemic and changing feelings are a real response to this time. Be kind to ourselves as we are not superhuman.
Try something new or restart previous hobbies
Many of us shielding have tried something new. Whether its been sourdough, yoga or even a new TV show or book. I have spent more time in the garden. I’ve not been able to visit garden centres, but I’ve moved things around my own garden and pretended I bought them from a garden centre!
The hardest thing for us has been having to ask for help. We’ve had strangers get our personal medications and people shop for us. Having to register on the government list for support felt humbling. But getting help when we need it is important for us to continue shielding. Talk to family and friends and accept help if its offered. If you are struggling with deeper issues please get urgent help. Contact your GP, Samaritans and other resources if need be. For some shielding has raised serious mental health concerns.
The coming months will face new challenges for us shielding people in returning to work or taking further time off. Feeling anxious, excited or even terrified seem to be an entirely normal range of responses from shielding people about getting back to work. It is worth noting the ‘paused’ wording used by the Government indicating that we may well return to shielding in the future and I hope colleagues and employers acknowledge that. Some shielding doctors may even make the difficult choice to leave their careers. Find support from friends, colleagues, College Tutors, mentors and a multitude of online resources.
Good luck all.
Facebook group to connect with other shielding healthcare workers - https://www.facebook.com/groups/shieldinghealthcareworkers
Association of Anaesthetists Wellbeing page https://anaesthetists.org/Home/Wellbeing-support
Shielding & Returning to work NHS People https://people.nhs.uk/guides/shielding-and-returning-to-work/