To New Jersey, New York and all the healthcare workers on the frontlines during this pandemic:
During a time of such distress and uncertainty, you continue to care for your patients. With limited supplies and a growing number of cases, this will put your anxiety into overdrive. Paying close attention to your mental health during this time is vital. Here are a few ways to keep your mental health in check.
Be Mindful of the Trauma
Dressed in a limited supply of personal protective equipment, you are holding the hands of patients who are distressed and scared. Meanwhile, you, yourself, are distressed and scared. This is hard work. It’s not for the weak. You are the strong ones on the frontlines, fighting this battle for everyone else. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to know how these traumatic experiences can impact your own mental health.
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.” -Rachel Naomi Remen
Trauma is defined as an experience that overwhelms your natural ability to effectively cope with the resulting distress. Working with patients and exposing yourself to a life threatening virus for over a month fits this definition. Pay close attention to the physical and emotional changes you’ve been feeling over this time. It’s not uncommon to have stomach pains, panic attacks, or trouble sleeping. You might notice a change in your emotions such as feeling irritable, withdrawn, or depressed. Bringing awareness to these experiences is vital.
Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma in Frontline Healthcare Workers
Compassion fatigue (CF) and vicarious trauma (VT) may have been (I hope they were) topics you learned back in school. As a refresher, compassion fatigue is the result of caring for people emotionally and physically, to the point that you may find it difficult to empathize with others. Vicarious trauma is how you internalize the trauma experienced by your patients. While you’re not experiencing a diagnosis of COVID-19, you are bearing witness to how it is impacting those you are caring for.
Symptoms for trauma reaction, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma are very similar. They mirror those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
- Anxiety and Fear, Guilt, Anger, Depression or Being numbed out
- Intrusive thoughts, Flashbacks, Poor concentration
- Physical pains (muscle aches, headaches, stomach pain)
- Sleep disturbance, nightmares, hypervigilance
If any of these symptoms sound like you, don’t let them persist. Being aware of Trauma, CF and/or VT is the first step in order to make a positive change.
Rely on Healthy Coping Skills
It’s easy to have a glass or two of wine at the end of a long day to help calm your nerves. However, this is not effective for your mental health. While it may help slow down your mind and give you the sense of relaxation, it’s actually working against you. Alcohol is a depressant and can make already existing mental health issues worse. Here’s what you can do instead:
- Bullet journaling about your day
- Practice a grounding exercise
- Physically move your body (going for a walk, doing yoga, ect.)
- Use apps such as Headspace and Calm
Finding a healthy coping skill that fits you best will do wonders for your mental health during this stressful time.
You Dealt with it All Day at Work. Turn the News Off.
You’re dealing with this stuff first-hand at work, you don’t need a continuation of the statistics when you’re getting cozy on the couch. Yes, it’s so important to stay informed. However, not at the expense of your sanity. Your home should be your sanctuary and safe place, taking a break from the news is important for your mental health. Try turning on your favorite Netflix or Hulu series instead.
Reach Out, Your Feelings are Valued and Valid.
Processing your day with a friend or loved one may help release distressing emotions. Another great outlet is reaching out to your coworkers. These people are in the trenches with you and it could be beneficial to support each other during this stressful time. Speaking with someone who is going through the same situation also creates a sense of universalism; you are not alone during this difficult time. If you find that you require more than just the advice and feedback from your friends, family, or coworkers, professional help is available. It might be beneficial looking into your Employee Assistance Program or doing online research. Websites such as Coronavirus Online Therapy match you with a therapist for free or reduced fee therapy.
Here at Brave Minds we specialize in therapy for anxiety and trauma. I am also currently offering three months of free online therapy for essential workers. Reach out to learn more.
Interested in Online Therapy?
Contact us for a free video consultation.
Lisa is a Licensed Social Worker who is passionate about helping children, teens and adults. Lisa provides her clients with the skills to overcome low self-esteem and trauma of sexual abuse or pregnancy loss. In session, Lisa incorporates her training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as mindfulness.