5 evidence-backed tips to help your team manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 epidemic

We recently surveyed 50 NHS primary care staff across all roles, and 81% said that their anxiety levels were worse or much worse than before, and 78% said the same about their stress levels.

So there's no doubt that now more than ever, leaders in the primary care space need to step up and help their team manage stress and anxiety levels.

Whether you're a partner, a team lead, a practice manager or a concerned colleague, this is a critical time to help your team avoid burnout and stay healthy, so that they can help others stay healthy.

We know as well as others the difficulty of providing emotional support to a team. As a young technology company, we are always fighting an uphill battle that can be stressful and worrying.

So to help the NHS teams we work so closely with every day, we looked at several studies and articles to find the best five stress and anxiety-reducing tips that are not time- budget-, or resource-intensive. We hope they help you during the COVID-19 epidemic.

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Tips to help your primary care team manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 epidemic

1. Model and encourage well-being practices

Stress is often contagious. And the opposite is also true: when one member of a team experiences positive well-being, the others can feel the effects secondhand.

For those of you who like to see the research, a Gallup study into contagious well-being demonstrated the reciprocal relationship between a team and their health. The study found that thriving individuals were 20% more likely to have thriving team members and that individuals appeared to be influencers of their team's collective well-being. The relationship was especially true for managers and supervisors.

The Gallup study shows that how you as a manager model behaviour can and will influence your team's well-being. So take walks, encourage personal growth, carve out time for proper breaks and daily exercise, and let your team know it's important they do it too.

2. Make sure your team is getting time to disconnect outside of work.

We know that in healthcare right now, there is a significant staff shortage and a high demand for services. However, even the best athletes require time to rest and recover.

Employees across large and small organisations have an exceptionally hard time disconnecting from work. I expect this to be especially true for NHS workers during the COVID-19 crisis when it's the focus of every news outlet at the moment.

Encourage your team to clock off on time, including from the news, so they can come back tomorrow more rejuvenated. For those that can work from home, encourage them not to answer emails in the late evenings and to create a routine to separate the work from the home so that they can get some proper downtime.

Working in primary care during the epidemic is a marathon, not a sprint.

3. Incorporate mindfulness to help your primary care team to train their brains to deal with anxiety and stress

The latest neuroscience research shows that mindfulness practice systematically trains the brain in ways that promote resilience, reduces stress and increases productivity in an individuals life.

Technology can be particularly helpful here. Along with a number of other private companies offer discounts to NHS staff, three popular companies that coach and train people in mindfulness are offering their mobile apps free.

Encourage your team to download and start using (and don't forget to model this behaviour yourself!):

Headspace (now free for NHS staff) - a science-backed mindfulness and meditation app that provides unique tools and resources to help reduce stress, build resilience, and aid better sleep. All you need is an NHS email address and a smartphone. This is available until 31 December 2020 and is active now. Go to: https://www.headspace.com/nhs

Unmind (now free for NHS teams) - is a mental health platform that empowers staff to proactively improve their mental wellbeing. Using scientifically-backed assessments, tools and training you can measure and manage your personal mental health needs, including digital programmes designed to help with stress, sleep, coping, connection, fulfillment and nutrition. Unmind are offering free access to NHS staff until the end of December 2020, which is active now. Go to: https://nhs.unmind.com/signup

4. Be purposeful about the "gap", or slow periods during the day.

People need time to recharge during the slow parts of the day - we encourage you to deliberately help your team to pause and take advantage of these times.

According to Linda Stone, former head of Microsoft University, people tend to be default to “always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior” that results in suboptimal and dissatisfying state of “continuous partial attention.” 

If there's no natural slow period - try to create one. It will pay off in the long run as the time spent working will be of higher value and your team will stay reslient over a long period of time.

5. Exercise greater empathy and compassion

The benefits of being kind are great for a manager. An extensive research project, that looked at 5,600 people across 77 organisations, showed that a compassionate leader has the most significant correlation with profitability and productivity.

The researcher notes that being a compassionate leader is “to understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be. It’s about valuing people and being receptive and responsive to criticism.”

This evidence implies that to get the best out of your team at this hard time, it is essential to show empathy and compassion to their needs. 

From our own research we saw that the number one priority of 44% of primary care staff during the epidemic is their team's safety. Don't forget to let them know and show them that you care, it'll keep them feeling supported and more positive.

Please let us know how you find implementing these tips or if you have some more of your own. And follow us on Twitter and subscribe to your newsletter to make sure you don't miss any of our content. Good luck #NHSHeroes!

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Article by

Ben Goodey