Stress and Fear
Stress is part of normal life, and so at times is fear. During Covid-19 there will be more of both. You may fear you won't cope, that you may let people down, or have infection-related fears.
Here are the top tips from our international panel of experts to better cope with these natural reactions.
Remember your own needs
- NHS in Mind provide useful breathing exercises
- Daily routines: get up at a regular time, make sure you sleep in the dark, regular eating, breathing exercises, yoga. The NHS have compiled a list of recommended resources to help you keep a daily routine
- Focus on the things you can control
- Keep regular online / phone contact with relatives and friends
- Let your imagination free: imagine how life will be once it returns to normal. This may be a challenge in present circumstances but it can be helpful
- Protect your sleep. You can access 'Sleepio' through the NHS Help website
- Do the things you’ve done before that relax you, whatever they are: friends, family time, cooking, physical activity.
- Rejuvenate yourself: hobbies, listening to music, films, TV, reading, podcasts, poetry, jigsaws
- Remember: it is not a sprint, it is a marathon and this crisis will pass
- Don’t let yourself use unhelpful ‘supports’ such as smoking, gambling online, drugs, alcohol. At the very least have alcohol free days
- Don't work without breaks
- Don’t be afraid to admit your fears, to yourself and when appropriate to others
- Don’t fall asleep wherever: take time to find a quiet dark space where you can properly sleep and not just catnap
- Don’t be harsh on yourself – it won’t help you or anyone else
Slow down between shifts - it helps relieve pressure and arousal
- Learn to use breathing and relaxation exercises. At moments of chaos or crisis try to slow yourself down, breathe more regularly. This takes conscious effort
- Be your own cheerleader. When we are feeling anxious we typically underestimate our ability to cope and over-estimate the risk
- Ask colleagues/ your line manager for a break if you need it
Plan and make use of regular communication in the team
- Good team working and communication across the team helps reduce stress. See our section on Tips for Managers and Team Leaders
- Have a work buddy
Do not leave yourself alone with uncomfortable feelings
- Use your buddy, team leader or another trusted person to share anxiety, fears, grief, etc. See our section on tips for Helping Each Other
- Make use of regular supervision
- Explore support for the whole team. See our Tips for Managers and Team Leaders
- Use chaplaincy and other resources
- If you have a pre-existing mental health condition and are already receiving treatment, remember to also keep in touch with your mental health worker or team and don’t stop any prescribed medication
It is OK not to be OK - you may feel overwhelmed, shocked and numb at times
- It can help to accept your emotions as they are, and let them go through you as a wave
- Then consider if there is a specific thought or action you need to deal with and take it from there. This may mean you need support from your work buddy, your line manager or team leader. You may need support from friends and family. If you still feel distressed you may need additional support. Consider accessing the new NHS Helpline. The details for this are available on the NHS England help page or your local organisation's support.
One antidote to stress is kindness, another is good humour
- Kindness and good humour ripple across the team
- Choose kindness for yourself as well as others
STIGMA – some people may become wary of you. Don’t take it personally
- This may be the first time you have experienced people avoiding you
- People may think you pose a risk to them because of your job. This is not surprising
- Remember how much support and appreciation is and will be expressed, for the work that you do
References and resources
Advice on coping with stress
Pranayama breathing app
This is available in a simple free version for Android and iPhones
Box Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Abi Carver: box breathing
Box breathing techniques
Abi Carver: progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation training
Abi Carver: diaphragmatic breathing
NHS in Mind
This site has several resources including Box breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation exercises
Brief meditation (5 minutes)
Body scan meditation
Abi Carver: breathing meditation
How to Manage Stress
Good Thinking UK
General Tips on Anxiety
Harvard Business Review
Coping with Fatigue, Fear and Panic during the crisis
Psychosocial mental health and wellbeing support for staff
Some of these tips may help you outside work for family and friends as well.
Further support is available from NHS England.
This document provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this document, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your healthcare provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read in this document or in any linked materials. If you think you may have an emergency, call an appropriate source of help and support such as your doctor or emergency services immediately.
MindEd is created by a group of organisations and is funded by Health Education England, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education.
elfh is a Health Education England Programme in partnership with the NHS and Professional Bodies.
© 2021 MindEd / Royal College of Psychiatrists and Health Education England