To our Medical Community,
THANK YOU for what you’re doing. Really, thank you. When you signed your contract, I doubt it specified that you’d be on the front line of a global pandemic. Thank you for showing up and doing your job. Thank you for being a servant leader, a hero, a selfless example of someone we can trust, admire, and believe in. Our community and our nation have hope because we know you are working hard to help.
As we near the projected peak of COVID-19 cases locally and nationally, the stress this pandemic has placed on all medical staff is evident. Our hospitals and clinics depend on a wide network of helpers to run. From doctors and nurses to reception staff, administrative teams, food service personnel, and laboratory technicians (to name just a few…), not one of us is left unaffected. The media is filled with stories daily about the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing materials in many areas of our country. Medical staff not fully equipped to protect themselves are asked to tolerate not only the fear of catching COVID-19 at work but also the fear of potentially infecting their loved ones. Recommendations to cancel all elective procedures and postpone non-emergent care has led to numerous clinics and areas of our hospitals looking like ghost towns and has left doctors and clinic staff worried about financial stability. Medical staff have described feeling like outcasts outside of work, with community members responding fearfully toward them because they may have been near someone infected. With policies in place restricting visitors to hospitals, medical staff members are asked to be the only personal presence and source of support for sick patients, many of whom are anxious, depressed, sad and lonely. On top of all of this, medical staff are asked to come home after work and provide homeschooling and emotional support to children and spouses who have also had their worlds turned upside down.
WHEW. Let’s pause for a second to breathe here. 5…4…3…2…1
This is hard. If you’re feeling stressed right now, it’s ok. I am too. It’s human to feel overwhelmed by all the changes that have come our way this past month.
As a clinical psychologist, I wish I could assure you that if you just use a magical set of coping skills or grit and resilience building exercises every day, you’ll become immune to the stress this pandemic has created. I’d be lying to you and you know that. However, there is a lot we can all do to mitigate the effects of stress right here, right now.
I urge you to consider the following:
- Check-in with yourself multiple times per day. Stop, pause, and notice your body, thoughts, and feelings. Most of us have several go-to strategies to manage tension, negativity, and strong emotions if we catch them before they become too intense. Check-in with yourself the same way you would a loved one.
- Check in with colleagues. Nobody understands what you’re going through better than a colleague walking in your footsteps. Lean on each other for support. Let colleagues know you’re there to listen, validate, and offer supervision or consultation as needed.
- Prioritize brief stress-busting exercises. Stop to slowly breathe for 1 minute. Take a walk. Have a snack. Practice mindfulness to allow yourself to be in the present moment. Consider using progressive muscle relaxation or visualization exercises. None of these strategies will make the stress of the pandemic disappear, but taking brief breaks for rejuvenation regularly will prevent stress from becoming toxic and overwhelming.
- Pace yourself. Give yourself permission to slow down, set a boundary, and take time for mini-breaks when needed. Don’t forget to stop and give your body what it needs, especially healthy meals, water, and sleep.
- Focus on what you can control. Worry grows exponentially when we spend time trying to change or fix things beyond our ability to influence. Practice radically accepting (not approving of – simply acknowledging and accepting) what’s outside of your control and focus energy and attention on what you can do to make things better.
- Let hospital and clinic leadership know what you need. System-wide support and communication is crucial to keeping stress in check.
- Remember what you’re doing. When the entire world is asked to stay away, you are asked to be there. You bring healing, comfort, and support to people in great need. You bring us all – your patients, colleagues, community and nation – hope.
Again, thank you. Take care of yourself.
Dr. Tara Feil