Tips to Improve Well-Being for Healthcare Providers During the Pandemic

Tips to Improve Well-Being for Healthcare Providers During the Pandemic was originally published on Hospital Recruiting.

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Coronavirus has hit us hard. Psychologically, physically, and spiritually, providers are worn thin after a year of fighting. And with resurgence on the horizon, we need to be particularly vigilant protecting ourselves in the upcoming year. Below are six ways we can stay on top of our well-being.

 

Anticipate increased stress

Working in healthcare through the pandemic is like working in a “code blue” situation. It feels like chaos the first time you go through it. You can’t tell who has what role, the things you learned in class as being in series are happening in parallel, and it’s totally unclear whether you’re making an impact.

But by the time you’re involved in many codes, you see the patterns; you anticipate the pain points, and you have perspective on what you’re able to change and what you can’t. It’s the same with a resurgence. Should it occur, we already know what will work and what will not. We know there’s going to be a crunch for PPE, we’ll have more resource strains, we’ll have sicker patients and more of them. Anticipating this and accepting it puts it in perspective. We know what we can control and what we cannot. We cannot completely control whether the pandemic strikes again, but we can control how we react to it. We’re also less likely to repeat mistakes we made the first time around.

 Reflect upon insights gained in 2020 to make the most of our well-being should a resurgence occur.

 

Remember the meaning of your work

Prior to the pandemic, how many of us were burned out – feeling like we were on a treadmill, yearning for purpose?

The pandemic thrust us into a situation where we didn’t have time to question our purpose – it became very clear, very quickly – our purpose is to serve. Regardless of our role or specialty, we chose healthcare to serve others, to help them, heal them, or at least to optimize what we’re able to. From the need your facility has for your expertise to the outpouring of community support, the meaning of our work was highlighted.

Take a moment to remember the sacrifice you and your colleagues are making help provide a guiding light through the pandemic. Acknowledge how honorable this calling guides us through a time of great uncertainty. We aren’t in this field for ourselves; we’re in it to provide help to others. The clearer this is in our minds, the more satisfying the job will be and the more purpose imbued into our daily tasks.

Remembering the meaning and value of our work promotes our well-being.

 

Focus on the quality of your connections to others

With the prevalence of friending, likes, and swiping, it’s easy to mistake the quantity of human interactions for the quality it’s supposed to represent. However, these connections don’t provide what we need during a time of isolation and distancing. They are frequently plastic, superficial interactions that don’t leave us feeling fulfilled or connected.

One way to address this is by having a buddy system with co-workers – teaming up with co-workers who are in similar situations to our own. Learning each other’s schedules, hobbies, stresses, and having someone to check-in with, a person to whom you are responsible can help with feelings of isolation.

Being accountable to another person to check in on them (and they on you), will help to normalize the feelings associated with the pandemic and can benefit your well-being.

If you prefer social media to a buddy system, attempt to use it intentionally. Social media lets us reach out to friends and family, share experiences, feelings, or worries – it isn’t entirely a bad thing. But, if you’re going to use it, be intentional when logging on. Set a goal (like only conversing with a specific person), achieve that goal, and log back off.

 

Be intentional about mental hygiene and self-care

We need to plan to take of ourselves if we want good mental health outcomes.

Being intentional about mental health means being aware of signs of mental illness such as depression and anxiety. While we may not always have insight into our own mental health, we can tell if we’re having changes in our diet, sleep, motivation, interactions with others, or having intrusive thoughts – all of which could be markers of a mental illness. Look for these warning signs and seek help early, rather than waiting for overt symptoms to develop.

We also need to allow ourselves to experience our feelings. As we go through unusually stressful times, the breadth of emotions we experience expands. We sometimes fight what we’re feeling, thinking we shouldn’t experience anger, guilt, exhaustion, or that we need a break. Allowing ourselves to feel these emotions is a part of mental hygiene. We are not responsible for how we feel, but we can take responsibility for how we manage our feelings.

 

Be intentional about physical self-care

Our physical well-being is as important as our mental well-being.  Diet, exercise, and sleep are three areas commonly threatened by the pandemic.

Eating well is critical for immune function. Acquiring healthy food and having time to properly prepare it may become difficult, making us increasingly reliant on ordering out or eating foods we haven’t prepared ourselves.

If you’re forced to eat out, cut down on sugars and attempt to choose the vegetable option or low-fat options.  Choose the salad, vegetable, low-sugar, or whole grain option. As much as possible, follow an eating routine to avoid binging on large amounts of unhealthy foods at odd times. Exercise is also difficult during this time due to chaotic schedules and restrictions on gathering that apply to gyms. Many hospitals have gyms available that can be accessed before or after shifts or during breaks.

Inadequate sleep can also be devastating to your mental health and immune system. Having good sleep hygiene means establishing sleep routines, avoiding caffeine later in your day, turning off devices at least 30 minutes before sleep, avoiding alcohol, and making your sleep space sacred – a cool, dark area used for sleep.

 

Limit Media

Our jobs are overwhelming. We spend our shifts inundated with human tragedy, scarce resources, and uncertainty.

The last thing we need is more tragedy in our time off. The sensationalism of the media, endlessly spinning and recapping our reality does not help our brains. It leads to overwhelming, worsening anxiety and fatigue.  More than simply not helping us, it harms us.

Social media is no exception.  While it can be helpful to reach out to others at times of social distancing, the stories, the stress, and the emotionality of mindlessly clicking through more scenes of the pandemic can only contribute to our sense of emotional exhaustion. If you need media to feel connected, do so intentionally.  Whether it’s a newspaper, social media, or online source, plan what you’re going to access and for how long. Set a timer, consume what’s essential, and log off once the timer is up.

 

The pandemic is stressful, and the likelihood of resurgence is daunting. By anticipating, planning, and acting intentionally, we can limit how much of an impact it has on our mental health.