Self-care in stressful times

by Last updated Jun 28, 2020 | Published on May 27, 2020Newsletter0 comments

As I write this letter, we’re reaching the end of Mental Health Awareness Week. My social feeds are filled with personal accounts of current and past stories about mental health challenges. While some people are more impacted than others by the current pandemic, I think everyone is affected by stress and uncertainty. So, this week I thought of refreshing our knowledge of self-care tips, and wanted to share resources that may relieve your burden if you have to read a lot of academic papers about COVID-19.

quote you can't pour from an empty cup


I’m not much of a mountain biker, mainly from lack of practice (at least I like to think it’s from lack of practice…). When in a long-ago vacation my partner took me to the mountains, my focus was to keep myself on the bike, and the bike on the track. He kept shouting: “Look at the view! Isn’t this amazing?” All I could see was the rocks in front of me and the bushes as I passed through them, and no view at all.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about the hardships of being at home with the kids, homeschooling, and how we feel tired and forgetful all the time. Later that day, that same sensation of forgetfulness, and feeling “spaced out” was mentioned in a podcast episode, where the host made a point that resonated with me: even if we’re safe at home, we’re still going through a disruption (she used the word “trauma”, which I think is too strong). And that is throwing us out of balance, shifting our priorities.

The thing is, most of us are used to worrying about things like updating our knowledge of regulations in the medical industry, our next professional course, or what are we going to make for dinner. We are in the top of the pyramid that represent Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And because of the new coronavirus, we tumbled all the way down to the second step, where we are fearful for our  health (or that of our loved ones). Even if you’re not constantly worrying about it (I don’t, I have dinner to worry about, too), it’s still in the back of your mind, hindering your ability to focus on self-actualization and making you feel “spaced out”.

It’s easy to forget about ourselves when we’re out in the weeds, grinding through another day and making sure everyone around us is safe and happy. But we need to be happy too, in order to be our best selves and provide for others.

This article on Psychology Today describe 12 ways to take better care of yourself, but if you want a condensed version, here are my top three tips for self-care:

  1. Take time for yourself. Set aside some time every week to do something you love: read, meditate, watch the birds outside…
  2. Exercise (preferably outdoors). Go for a walk or run outside, stretch your legs and let your mind wander.
  3. Prioritise your sleep and nutrition. It’s easy to let these two slip every now and then, but taking care of your rest and eating well make you feel better in the long run.
tips for sefl care


Remember when I complained about the overwhelming amount of papers and preprints being published every day about COVID-19? Apparently other people are feeling the same way.

A recent Science article that approaches the difficulty scientists face when trying to keep up with the volume of papers about COVID-19 is worth a read. It shares the views of some of these scientists, and the tools developed to tackle the problem.

Some of these tools are boosted by Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is used to sift through the literature and extract relevant data that is then reviewed by humans. Semantic Scholar is one of such AI-powered tools. According to their website, here are some of the things you can do with Semantic Scholar:

  • Quickly scan research with automatic extraction of abstracts, tables, figures, and citations;
  • Understand a paper’s impact with statistics that highlight the volume and intent of the paper’s citations, illuminating the influence of the research;
  • View related GitHub repositories, clinical trial data, presentations, videos, and other supplemental content to help reproduce the results of a paper and put it in context.

The technology used to do this goes beyond keywords and their variations in the searched text; it uses natural language processing, machine learning, and human computer interaction. It has some shortcomings, like all new technology and it only includes full text articles when these are open access, which limits the data-mining efforts.

Johns Hopkins University took a different approach. Their 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC) is curated by 47 individuals, from faculty members to students that volunteer their time to select, read, and summarise the most relevant studies across several COVID-10 topics. Their “goal is to provide accurate, relevant information for global public health action by clinicians, public health practitioners, and policy makers.” While their database is smaller, the focus is on high quality papers.

Another resource for the AI enthusiasts out there is Kaggle, an online hub for machine learning scientists. Beside tutorials and public datasets available for their students to work with, Kaggle hosts challenges to foster the creation of solutions for real-world machine learning problems. Its COVID-19 challenge page calls for contributions to better understand the disease, and in the contributions page you can access the findings “extracted from the CORD-19 papers by machine learning algorithms with a human curation overlay”. This is a bit of a foreign language to me, but according to what I learnt from a MEW issue about Artificial Intelligence and Digital Health, I believe this is a process called “human-in-the-loop”, which I think it’s a reassuring expression. I like to be in the loop. 😊

human in the loop graphic


If you get anything from this week’s letter, let it be this: you deserve to take time for yourself, and there is help out there. Help from other people, and help from software.

“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”

― Ziad K. Abdelnour

Are you taking care of yourself?

And have you used any of the new AI tools to make your work easier?

Let me know in the comments!

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About Diana Ribeiro

About Diana Ribeiro

Diana Ribeiro is a pharmacist and freelance medical writer based in Cascais, Portugal. Before starting her career in medical writing, Diana worked 10+ years in hospital and community pharmacies, where she helped patients and healthcare professionals with drug management and information. Nowadays, she helps pharma, biotech, and meddev companies communicate with their audiences in a clear, accurate, and compelling way. Diana is an active member of the European Medical Writers Association, where she volunteers for the webinar team. You can find more about her on LinkedIn.


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