In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives and left an entire population stressed, anxious, and isolated. As we fear for our health and the health of our loved ones, some are already grieving. Families can’t say goodbye in person or gather for funerals. Healthcare workers are suffering from PTSD. Those who aren’t directly affected by the virus are grappling with sudden job loss or learning how to work from home while simultaneously homeschooling their children.
These unprecedented circumstances have sparked a widespread mental health crisis, and health educators are particularly affected. They’re not only caring for loved ones while working from home, they’re also caring for their patients and their students. It may be counterintuitive, but effective educators need to tend to their own mental health before tending to everyone else. It’s the best way to successfully support family, students, patients, and each other. Here are three simple tips to help you do just that!
Step One: Self-Care
Put your oxygen mask on first. It’s practical advice on an airplane, but it’s also a useful metaphor when you’re not 10,000 feet in the air. During a crisis, self-care is your oxygen mask.
As a health professional, you already know that physical well being depends on regular exercise, a balanced diet, and restful sleep. All three support your mental health as well. After that, self-care simply comes down to connection: with yourself, with others, with nature, and whatever brings you joy. The list below offers a few suggestions to counteract stress and boost your mental health:
- Practice yoga or meditation.
- Limit your intake of news and social media.
- Reach out to loved ones via phone or video chat.
- Go for a walk or socially distant hike.
- Read a book, preferably fiction and not on a screen.
- Make time for your chosen hobby.
- Listen to your favorite music, and maybe even dance to it.
Step Two: Build a Support Network
Despite social distancing and the sudden switch to a 100% distance learning model, you’re still part of a professional team. By reaching out to your administrative staff, trainees, and peer educators on a regular basis, you’ll build and maintain your mutual support network. Professional organizations are another great source of mutual support, connecting you to your peers nationally or even globally. Networks for health educators include
- Michigan State University’s DR-ED listserv for medical educators
- The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing
- The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC)
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
- The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
- The International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE)
Osmosis provides a strong support network for health educators as well. Aside from resources to guide and support your transition to distance learning, Osmosis offers faculty development resources, a faculty listserv, and a professional enrichment network.
Step Three: Watch for Signs of Burnout & Seek Out Wellness Resources
Sometimes, the greatest act of self-care is asking for help. That’s especially the case if you’re struggling with burnout. Review your employee health and wellness programs, reach out to your occupational health or human resource departments, and familiarize yourself with personal and medical leave policies. You may want to look into your mental health coverage as well, especially if telehealth services are available. Another option? If your employer provides reimbursements or incentives for gym memberships and meditation classes, request that they do the same for an online substitute, such as Daily Burn or HeadSpace.
Remember, workplace resources exist to serve you, and it’s never a sign of weakness to use them. In fact, the opposite is true. Acknowledging your needs and taking steps to address those needs is a sign of strength. So when is it time to ask for help, and how do you know if you’re suffering from burnout? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you drag yourself to work?
- Do you feel cynical at work?
- Have you been irritated or impatient with people at work?
- Have you lost fulfillment in your career?
- Do you have low energy and/or concentration, especially when you’re at work?
- Have your sleep and/or eating habits become less healthy?
- Have you suffered unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive issues, or heart palpitations?
- Are you preoccupied by work, even when you’re off the clock?
- Are you using substances to cope?
- Have you withdrawn from others?
Supporting students is an endeavor that extends well beyond pedagogy, even in the best of times. The demand leaves health educators particularly susceptible to chronic stress, and that’s exactly what burnout is—an undeniable reminder to practice self-care. Heed the signs, lean on your professional network, and utilize workplace resources. If you don’t have the resources you need at your school, you may be able to find additional assistance here.
This article was originally published on Osmosis.org, a health education platform providing millions of current and future clinicians and caregivers with the best learning experience possible through engaging videos, practice questions, and high-yield notes. To explore more of Osmosis’s COVID-19 content, visit their COVID-19 resources page.
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