By Richard Juman, PsyD, Director, TeamHealth Behavioral Health Policy and Regulations, Co-Chair, Clinician Resiliency Core Group
If, during the dark pandemic winter of 2020 and 2021, someone had told you an effective COVID-19 vaccine would be developed but the pandemic would continue to rage, how would you have reacted? What if they told you it was because tens of millions of Americans refused to get vaccinated?
Disbelief? Anger? Confusion?
Emotional Distress During COVID-19
Unfortunately, the long-awaited light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel seems to have emerged only briefly before fading away. The emergence of the Delta variant, largely among the unvaccinated, has plunged us back into the scenarios we hoped we would never see again. For many healthcare providers, especially those in regions hardest hit by surges in hospital admissions and deaths, the disbelief, anger and confusion that many are experiencing all feed a growing sense of emotional and physical exhaustion.
The dangers of the pandemic to healthcare providers’ mental and physical health have already been well-documented. But, the level of emotional distress clinicians are experiencing now is particularly concerning. It may now be combined with anger and frustration towards the very patients who are coming in for help. It is crucial that clinicians treat, not judge, their patients. Moreover, clinicians must continue to focus on strategies to maintain their emotional equilibrium moving forward. We must prioritize sustaining resilience as the pandemic continues.
Strategies to Sustain Resilience
- Recognize that the vast majority of those who have not been vaccinated are either afraid or have been misinformed – or both. None are deliberately spreading the virus or trying to put others, including healthcare providers, at risk.
- Remind yourself that throughout the pandemic, healthcare providers rose to the occasion in a myriad of ways never anticipated. We cannot control the virus itself, nor the outcomes it has brought to many of our patients, but we are in control of our actions. Through countless innovations, herculean efforts and multiple small acts of kindness, we’ve performed as a profession in ways in which we can all take pride.
- Maintain your physical health and well-being like an endurance athlete. The finish line for the “COVID-19 marathon” keeps getting pushed ahead. Yet, those who can maintain a healthy diet, exercise regimen and other forms of physical maintenance will cross the finish line in the best shape possible.
- Prioritize decompressing and soothing activities. Under duress, activities like deep breathing, nature walks, meditation and long, hot baths aren’t luxuries, they are necessities. These techniques can periodically return us to our homeostatic baselines.
- Create a gratitude practice. While the ravages of the pandemic continue to scream at us, it is hard to hear the less assertive whispers of positivity. Take time daily or weekly to consider all that you have to be grateful for. Remember, “It’s hard to be grateful and hateful at the same time.”
- Establish small goals for yourself outside of work. Training for a 10K, going for a personal best in the bench press or reading one book each week allows you to focus on achievable goals. These goals will enhance your self-esteem and create opportunities for small but meaningful victories.
- Stay connected to others, especially if they are positive and optimistic. Don’t allow the resurgence of the virus to cut you off from the people and social activities that helped you get this far. Although for safety reasons you may have to change the way you connect with others. Still, you want to keep these connections alive and strong.
- Ask for help. One of the main lessons from the pandemic is related to the challenges of being a clinician and how important it is for us to get the support we need. The stigma around mental health is quickly fading. The reluctance of clinicians to acknowledge their struggles and ask for help must be eliminated. TeamHealth is committed to “Breaking the Stigma” around mental health issues among clinicians.
Break the Stigma
In this time of resurgence, please don’t let your mental health suffer due to fear or stigma. Use these tips to help you sustain resilience during this difficult time. Learn more about daily stressors and tips on handling stress. Access clinical COVID-19 resources here, and learn more about talking with patients about vaccination.
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