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Coronavirus: Frontline hospital staff may feel anxiety, guilt and numbness

Specialist advice to hospital heroes says 'it is ok to say you are not ok'

24 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Workers may switch between ‘surges of adrenaline’ and feeling like they are ‘running on empty’

NHS staff working under extreme pressure due to the coronavirus outbreak have been sent advice about coping with feelings of anxiety, guilt and numbness.

A Covid-19 trauma group, made up of specialists at University College London, has produced the official guidance for frontline health workers at the Royal Free, Whittington and University College Hospital.

It explains that the “extremely challenging situation” caused by coronavirus will see many staff switch between “surges of adrenaline” to feelings of “running on empty”. They are told remember: “It is ok to say you are not ok”.

The “coping with stress” document, sent to workers today (Tuesday), said: “Over the coming days and weeks you will probably find that there are times when you feel anxious, stressed, scared, sad, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, helpless or even numb. These are normal responses to an extremely challenging situation.

“You may experience different emotions at different stages of the pandemic. For example early on you might feel anxious thinking about what could happen, or that you are in a heightened state of ‘readiness’. At peak phases, you may experience surges of adrenaline. Over time you may feel like you are ‘running on empty’.”


The experts suggest taking regular breaks and eat, drink and sleeping properly. Keeping in daily contact with family and friends through video or phone calls is advised.

“Take some time out between shifts … It is not selfish to look after yourself,” it added.

“Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies like smoking, alcohol or other drugs. Try to limit the time you spend watching or listening to the news.”

“Talk to you manager about how you are feeling. It is ok to say you are not ok. Pay attention to the things that are going well when you can. Share and celebrate success or small wins. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Even though this is a marathon, it will not last forever.”

Last week, the New Journal published an interview with an UCH nurse who said NHS workers were “running on adrenaline that is about to run out”.

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