Things I’ve learned from working in a pandemic

Barbara O’Donnell, Inspire Improvement Fellow

Barbara, one of our 2019 Inspire Improvement fellow shares her reflections on looking after ourselves and each other during Covid-19.

  1. Practice good self care first and foremost. This is the equivalent of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Your patients, your team and your body will thank you for it.
  2. Accept help when it is offered, especially with something that you think you “should” know how to do, but have minimal experience with. Working through a pandemic heightens things and brings them into a sharp focus they will not have been under before. Every task has to be double checked.
  3. Negative emotions can serve a function as a self-defence mechanism against a perceived threat or where there is a lack of power. This is useful to remember when you are the one perceived to be holding the power in an interaction.
  4. The value of time spent in nature or any accessible patch of greenery, cannot be overestimated.
  5. Selectively adjust your expectations. This does not include the standards you set for yourself or others in the execution of their work. Selective adjustment of expectations, e.g. having a good day or otherwise, can save a lot of emotion, when those expectations are not met. This can help you to meet challenges with greater equanimity and more evenly.
  6. Lightbulb moments and lessons in humility often come in disguise. Humility is a better response than outrage, to something that may feel like a personal attack. What is this perceived attack trying to teach you? Can you find space to listen?
  7. Everyone has a different comfort level, which should be respected. This applies physically, emotionally and audibly. It seems obvious but is also heightened during a pandemic.
  8. PPE serves a valuable function to protect the wearer and others, but also distances you visually, audibly, physically and emotionally. Coupled with social distancing, this can additionally impact emotional resilience. Search for ways to close those distances and share ideas.
  9. People mostly just want another human being to listen. That listening does not need to be formalised, fancy or public. It doesn’t need a helpline or a campaign. It does require privacy, which can be at a greater premium than usual as the designated uses of spaces change.

Moving forward following this interruption to life as we knew it, affords us all a unique opportunity to re-examine how we do everything and the impact of those actions. What has always bugged you in your workplace? What change never seems to embed? What are people not saying? What do you yourself want to do differently? Open this out to teams for their wisdom. This is a golden opportunity to decide how you want to move forward, together, as a team.

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