During the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, it is presumed normal for people to undergo series of strong negative emotions and symptoms such as psychological stress, fear, depression, anxiety, restlessness as they are disconnected from the outside world, and confined to their homes for extended periods of time. However, all the physicians, health care and emergency workers providing their services in the healthcare settings or in the community (hospitals, emergency wards, prevention department, ambulance services, even the civil protection volunteers) are currently more vulnerable to negative mental health effects as they are risking their lives and their own wellbeing for the safety of their patients, family, and friends.
In the course of a pandemic, even when all the essential preventive and protective measures are available, healthcare workers remain exposed to increased levels of psychological and physical stresses: fear of becoming infected and carrying the infection to their families, especially young children often forces for self-isolation, high mortality rates, grieving the loss of patients and colleagues, separation from families, the need to provide immense emotional support to patients in isolation and the physical strain of wearing personal protective equipment (dehydration, heat, exhaustion) despite the weather changes.
All these factors contribute to distressful behavioral changes affecting mental health and leads to a natural response to a range of increased emotions during this time of uncertainty including feeling frustrated, irritable, helpless, disappointed, scared, symptoms of depression and anxiety, irregular sleep cycle or insomnia, difficulty concentrating, increased consumption of caffeine and tobacco along with many other physical complaints.
To overcome these stresses and problems and managing own mental well-being while also caring for patients during this crisis, a proper coping strategy needs to be put into action. Here are some means which may help one pass through this difficult time:
- Self-Care – taking care of yourself is utterly essential. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, make time to eat healthy meals, get adequate sleep and rest to restore your energies and to be able to cope with the accumulated pressure. Take breaks during your shift hours to rest, stretch, or check in with your fellow colleagues, coworkers, friends and family. Take a break from news and social media notifying every minute about the pandemic as this can be mentally exhausting, especially when you are already working under such laborious circumstances. When away from work, engage yourself in physical exercises along with mindfulness activities such as breathing exercises and meditation. Do things that you really enjoy.
- Keep a regular check on yourself – keep a track on yourself if you develop symptoms of depression/stress disorder including extended sadness, difficulty sleeping or feelings of hopelessness. Be open to seek professional medical help if symptoms persist or worsen overtime. Your life is as important as that of your patients, and it is perfectly okay to prioritize yourself.
- Acceptance – the more you focus on what is out of your control, the more stressed and anxious you begin to feel. To overcome this feeling, identify and accept things which you do not have control over and recognize that you are performing an amazing role in fighting in this pandemic and that you are doing the best you can with the amount of resources available.
- Open Communication – feel free to feel your feelings. Talk openly about how you feel or other stressors, risk of infection or equipment shortages, how pandemic is affecting your work and personal life. Connecting with others who are in similar situation can help you feel that you are not alone. Sharing your thoughts, emotions and challenges with people can help you realize that whatever you are feeling is normal.
- Avoid negative coping strategy – stay away from the use of illicit drugs or excessive amounts of prescription drugs which may deregulate your sleep pattern and prolong the recovery phase. Make sure you are not working overtime or keeping yourself too busy and assessing your work negatively. Avoid neglecting your mental health and addressing other problems more than yourself.
- Celebrating little achievements – endless stress and pressure and the feelings associated with it can really hinder your performance at work and make you feel miserable. Therefore, it is important that you realize what you are really capable of doing to help others and appreciate the small achievements, whether that be of number of patients fully recovering each day or a reduced number in patient count. Acknowledge your limitations under the exceptional circumstances.
- Seek psychological support – Healthcare workers are the front-line pillars that are fighting against the current pandemic COVID-19. Hence, it is extremely important to invest as much as possible to protect their physical and mental comfort and security. Enacting psychological support services to help those who are addressing the calamity on a daily basis, can contribute to uplift coping skills and encourage personal empowerment.
It goes without saying that the deadly virus outbreak has adversely impacted virtually every single person in every geographic region, regardless of race, ethnicity, profession, and social status. The pandemic has triggered and is constantly aggravating the anxiety and stress levels amongst all. While we all are constantly whining about the abrupt change in our lifestyles and the associated levels of stress in our lives, the unsung heroes – our healthcare professionals – are suffering a lot more. Despite the lack of coping mechanisms, they are still working at their optimal capacities, delivering more than their best, and fighting stress and anxiety yet building resilience every passing day. With personal well-being highly at stake, they have dedicated their personal and professional lives to saving lives. Bravo!