By Dr. Jennifer L. Abel
Many healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontlines are overwhelmed and traumatized. In addition to putting your lives on the line, many of you are quarantined from your family and some have insufficient PPE. Many are having to make multiple difficult decisions daily and have see an unprecedented number of people suffer and die; sometimes even colleagues.
You are amazing! You are also human! So, it is crucial that you express your emotions: cry in the restroom, cry on the way home, go outside for 10 minutes to shed tears or blow off steam. Angry at a co-worker, administrator, or politician? Pay attention to your driving, but imagine they are in the passenger seat and express your feelings.
Keeping your body relaxed is very important to help with immune function and to survive emotionally. “How can I possibly relax? I have no time and am way too stressed to relax” are common thoughts on the front lines of COVID-19. Fortunately, relaxation strategies need not take any time at all and can be done without stopping your work activity. Test it out! Because most of you are standing or walking most of the day, stand or walk now while engaging in your favorite strategy simultaneously. Now pretend. Go through the motions of a common work activity while engaging in your strategy. The exception is you can’t do breathing strategies while talking.
It’s easy to get distracted and forget to use your coping strategies. Try to get into the habit of using strategies every time a machine starts beeping, each time you switch rooms, someone calls your name, or when you change tasks. Put up sticky note reminders when possible. Change the wallpaper on your phone or change the ringtone and text-tones. Each time you experience the reminder, engage in your strategy.
No doubt you’re exhausted. When you experience one of your reminders, ask yourself “do I need all this energy” or “what’s the least amount of energy I can use while doing this procedure? Writing notes? Walking down the hall?” Follow with your favorite word, like soft, loose, or relaxed.
People in helping professions are great at taking care of others, but aren’t nearly as good at taking care of themselves. Now is the time for you to finally ask for what you need, or even want, from others. And take time to self-nurture.
I heard today that people wearing scrubs are being discriminated against out of fear they’re carrying the virus. Some have been mugged or antagonized because they are known to have a job. Please know that the majority of us, not just patients and their families, are very appreciative of your sacrifices. Know in your heart that having a purpose is a positive predictor of happiness, even though you probably aren’t feeling particularly happy right now. Similarly remember that even when you feel helpless, you are still helping!
Thank you very much for all the help you are providing, especially if you are putting your life at risk and/or isolating from your family to help!
Dr. Jennifer L. Abel is an expert in worry and the author of three books and two card decks including Resistant Anxiety, Worry, & Panic.