Preparing for winter

For health and care staff winter often poses significant challenges. Increased rates of viral illness and staff absences often make the perfect storm. This year the impact is predicted to be much greater, so what can we do to look after our psychological wellbeing?

For most of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time and some of us may already be feeling exhausted or stretched to our limits, wondering how we will manage the potential for extra stress. Being aware of potential challenges and how we are feeling about them can be a helpful first step.

We may be feeling concerned about the numbers of people that will be in need of our services; anxiety about backlogs that have built up in this time or concern about how the people who use our services will fare over this period. The vaccine programme has been successful in reducing serious illness however; we may also justifiably feel worried about ourselves or our colleagues getting sick (perhaps again) and feel under pressure to cover extra hours when staff shortages commonly arise. The possibility to feel that we just cannot meet the demands of work can be a risk for feelings of ‘burnout’ or moral distress ( That is, feeling that we either have very little left to give to others, or intense feelings of guilt when we don’t have enough resources for all those who need more support. Both of these can be very common responses to working in a challenging environment under difficult circumstances.

Outside of work, at a time when daylight hours are at their shortest it can be more challenging to spend time outdoors and enjoy activities that may be important to wellbeing. Shift work may also bring extra challenges in this regard. While Christmas is usually a time for celebration, it can also bring financial worries, difficulties in relationships and in families and, especially this year, may be a time when some of us could feel isolated from friends or family we can’t see due to ongoing travel restrictions or working through the festive period.

With all of this in mind, what helps to boost our resilience when faced with complex challenges?

Being aware of uncertaintyThink about how uncertainty affects you, now and in the past. Try to notice if you are avoiding thinking about important issues, or perhaps worrying a lot and not feeling in control of anything

Think about what has helped you to cope with uncertainty before

Do you need to add in some extra routine or structure into your week or your working day? Perhaps some planning for how you will ‘cope ahead’?

Consider using some of the mindfulness resources below – whether you are new to this or not developing our mindful awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviour can help to combat added stress and support self-care and self-compassion skills

Identifying added pressures or stressesAs healthcare workers we can have a tendency to look after others before ourselves and can feel internal pressure to ‘go beyond’ duty and good practice to help colleagues and patients

Be aware of signs of unhealthy stress levels or exhaustion: irritability, concentration difficulties, low mood, new unexplained body symptoms (aches, pains, palpitations, stress response symptoms), anxiety, forgetfulness, insomnia/fatigue, disconnecting from others, feeling emotionally up-and-down, turning to excess alcohol or drugs to wind down/keep going.

If you notice this happening ask yourself:

  • Can I care for my clients if I’m this tired/stressed/not caring for myself?
  • What are reasonable limits on what I can do?
  • Who can I reach out to for help and support?

Prioritise tasks both in and out of work – at times of high demand what really needs to be done? Ditch or postpone the non-essential tasks and plan in at least one extra space per week for self-care, winding-down or distraction

Watch our Wellbeing Explainer on managing conflicting demands (

Maintaining valued activities and relationshipsWhen we give time and focus to the things that are important to us (in work and life) we tend to feel life is moving in the right direction and added stresses are more manageable, or reduced.

When stressed, it can be easy to stop doing things or seeing people that are important to our overall sense of who we are – both in and outside of work – and this can increase stress, anxiety, low mood and feelings of burnout.

As above, if you notice you aren’t finding time for activities and loved ones that give you a sense of who you are and what fulfils you in life try to make space for these again or (if at your most time-stretched) schedule these for another time soon and create space for them.

Holistic healthBe aware of what your body needs to support a healthy mind.

When under pressure sleep can be challenging (whether feeling over- or under-tired). To help, try to continue to eat well, take breaks where you can (and prioritise these) and try to combine with small bursts of light or moderate exercise.

Most people do not get enough vitamin D during winter and this can be a problem for some, think about discussing this with your GP or practice nurse if this may apply to you.

Feeling aloneFeeling that you are alone with stresses or worries often makes us feel much worse about them. It can be tempting to see everyone else around us as ‘perfectly coping’ but this is very rarely the case.

Feeling understood and just ‘getting things off our chest’ can be helpful to avoid feeling isolated. Think about who, amongst your colleagues, managers, supervisors or mentors it might be helpful to share how you are feeling with.

Can we help you?

The Healthier Together Support Network (HTSN) can offer advice and support on a range of issues. The challenges affecting your wellbeing may be unrelated to COVID-19; however, you may still benefit from a conversation with our team. The support offered by the HTSN is confidential and separate from mental health and Occupational Health Services.

For leaders and managers of people it may be helpful to look at the resources provided by the Healthier Together Support Network (HTSN) and some of the suggestions below. Looking after teams through: compassion both towards ourselves and our colleagues; fostering team cohesion and creating a space for emotional and psychological safety are key to maintaining our own and others’ wellbeing at work. You may wish to consider joining one of the group programmes we run or learning more about common staff wellbeing themes. Take a look at our pages on ‘Common‘ Themes’ and our Wellbeing Explainer and Webinar pages.

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