The pandemic spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused stress and anxiety for individuals around the world. As a healthcare worker you are familiar with high stress environments, anxiety provoking situations, and job performance pressure. But, you are still human and the current crisis is unlike anything we have ever faced before in our generation. Your mental health is likely to be heavily affected as you face literal life and death challenges.
Anxiety is a normal and necessary human emotion that serves an important function up to the point of positive behavior change. However, excess anxiety can cause surges of epinephrine and cortisol, which we know to lead to negative health outcomes. In order to protect your well-being, consider the following five tips.
Note & Observe
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective at reducing stress and increasing empathy and self-compassion. Mindfulness is the ability to be in the present moment. The first step in practicing mindfulness is a basic concept called noting and observing. To do this, take a moment to mentally check in with yourself and how you are feeling mentally and emotionally. This may seem impossible while on long and demanding shifts. In reality, practicing noting and observing takes just a moment.
Start with making a mental note to stop, note that you have been very busy and observe how you’re feeling. There is no need for judgment when checking in with yourself. This simple practice may help you recognize that you need to lower your tense shoulders, take a drink of water, or taking a deep breath. Noting and observing how you feel can help you move from being overwhelmed and powerless to centered and grounded.
Check out apps like Calm and Headspace for more mindfulness tips, meditation exercises, sleep and relaxation guides, and stress management tools. Headspace is currently offering a free subscription to healthcare workers who have a current NPI number.
Once you have made the effort to mentally and emotionally check in with yourself, consider how you best process your feelings. Emotions need motion — if they aren’t given a way out, they find a way. When left ignored, emotions may express themselves through unexpected tears, irritability, sleeplessness, compulsive habits, or exacerbated mental illness.
Some people find it is best to write out their thoughts and feelings privately in a journal or writing and sharing their perspective in a social media post or blog. Others feel the need to talk it out with a trusted family member or friend, or someone in their workplace that can understand their unique challenges. Talking through challenges as a healthcare team may be beneficial in building morale and increasing feelings of trust and safety in the workplace.
If you are finding yourself needing more support than your loved ones or teammates can offer, you may consider finding a therapist. Therapists can meet virtually via telehealth to offer support without risk of transmitting infection, and many are willing to do short-term crisis work to support individuals during especially difficult times. At Covenant Family Solutions, we are offering free 30-minute health coaching sessions to anyone who feels like they could use a little help sorting through their feelings.
You matter too. Physician and blogger Dr. Lisa Chu reminds healthcare workers to “Give yourself permission to feel good and to want what you want… being in a system that has selected and trained you largely for your ability to suppress these feelings, this principle may seem ridiculous to you.” Dr. Chu’s keen insight is imperative as you consider how to truly take care of yourself during a worldwide crisis.
Personally, my favorite definition of self-care is, “the act of gently parenting yourself.” This goes beyond self-care intended to numb emotion. Things like binging television shows, mindlessly scrolling through your phone, and overeating ice cream don’t actually make your feelings disappear. Truly nurturing self-care means ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and proper nutrition, doing your dishes and laundry so that your space feels peaceful, and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people.
If you were to think about a child going to school and experiencing an intense day of new challenges, a shortage of school supplies, stressed out school teachers with high expectations, and they unexpectedly were being tested on new material that had never been covered before — how would you treat that child when they got home? Chances are, you would welcome them with a calm environment, a compassionate response to their feelings, a hot meal, and kind words. Sure, you may also invite them to watch a show and eat some ice cream — followed by an early bedtime. You can and should give yourself this same permission to feel good and have your personal needs met.
Resilience is “the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with crisis or return to a pre-crisis status quickly.” When you consider your personal resiliency during this stressful time — do you believe you have a sense of mental toughness and are prepared for challenge?
Each of us are unique and handle stress differently. You have a variety of protective factors that determine your ability to manage and overcome stressful situations. Self-assessing your personal preparedness can help you see where you can strengthen yourself mentally.
Researchers reviewed first responders and healthcare workers from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They found the individuals who were most resilient, and less likely to suffer from PTSD, compassion fatigue, and burnout had similar traits. They included:
- Family and work support;
- Sn optimistic worldview;
- A supportive social network;
- Cognitive flexibility;
- Self-care and balance; and
As you read through this list, think about how you fit in. Are there some areas that are strengths in your life? What areas might you want to strengthen to build further mental resiliency? You don’t have to be perfect, but it can help to identify where you stand and what can help you build resilience.
Mental and Emotional Reserves
Hospitals around the world are experiencing a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment). They are often rationing supplies in order to do the best they can to protect their workers and patients. The same mentality is true for our current reserves of mental and emotional energy.
As high achievers and hard workers, it can be difficult for healthcare workers to lower their personal standards. But times of stress and crisis are best managed by careful prioritization and healthy boundaries. Consider who and what deserves your mental and emotional energy the most right now. Engage in relationships that fill you up and make you feel supported. Expect and accept that your “normal” will shift. ‘To-do’ lists might get pushed aside, you may need more sleep than usual, your appetite may change, and your mood might be different.
Ration your mental and emotional energy. You cannot help others if aren’t helping yourself. You are best serving those around you when you gently, compassionately, and lovingly care for yourself.
As you work through this unique and challenging time, remember to prioritize your mental and emotional health. Mindfulness, processing, self-care, building resiliency, and rationing your mental and emotional reserves will help you weather this storm. If you could use increased support during this time, please contact us at Covenant Family Solutions to schedule an appointment. You are valued and we thank you for your selfless service.
Additionally, if you are interested in our self-guided courses, visit selfhelp.strengthenu.com.
Harvard Health Publishing, Understanding the Stress Response
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary MedicineVol. 15, No. 5, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Stress Management in Healthy People: A Review and Meta-Analysis
KevinMD.com, 5 principles of self-care for health professionals
Wikepedia, Psychological Resistance
Cambridge University Press, Trajectories of PTSD risk and resilience in World Trade Center responders: an 8-year prospective cohort study
Springer Link, A qualitative study of resilience and posttraumatic stress disorder in United States ICU nurses