If there’s one affirmation that we are hearing repeatedly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s this: you, our healthcare providers, are the heroes who are saving us all. You are the ones who run into the fire while everyone else runs away, the ones who re-use masks while they care for infected patients, the ones who willingly expose themselves to a risk that the rest of the world fears.
But here’s the thing: no one can be a hero forever.
Even Clark Kent got a break in his day job, and Batman had plenty of downtime in his Bat Cave. So it’s extremely important that you, a real-life person who saves lives every day, make time for your own self-care, too. Taking care of your mental health will not only support your physical health, but it'll also help you to keep doing what you do best: taking care of others. Here are some tips to help make that happen.
1. Turn to telehealth for managing your own mental health.
As a healthcare provider, you’ve most likely been exposed to COVID-19, so chances are you’re self-isolating outside of work as much as possible. That said, don’t let the extreme measures you are taking to protect others affect your own mental health. Telehealth platforms can provide you with valuable services to make sure that your own mental health is being addressed.
If you can, check with your employer to see if they offer mental health services on their own telehealth platform. Many insurance plans offer their own plan-specific telehealth apps and platforms. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has a telehealth app that lets you visit with a mental health professional in minutes. Outside of employer and insurance telehealth services, there are many general types of apps with mental health services that you can use, such as BetterHelp, Amwell, and MDLive. Most apps support different types of insurance plans, or they let you pay immediately for a visit.
Especially if you are isolated at home from loved ones, taking even 10 minutes to talk to a qualified mental health professional about what you are going through is essential for giving you the mental strength you need to continue caring for others.
2. Connect with loved ones.
Again, technology is your best friend here. Even if you are isolating yourself physically to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to your family and loved ones, it’s so important that you stay connected to them. Use FaceTime, texting, Skype, or Snapchat, and for friends and family who aren’t internet users, how about an old-fashioned phone call? It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you use whatever technology platform you can to stay in touch with the people you love. Heck, if you have a teen in your house, now might even be the time for you to finally figure out how to use TikTok–anything to stay in touch, right?
3. Consider a virtual triage.
If your organization is overwhelmed with patients who aren’t sure if they need to be tested for COVID-19, and resources are limited, why not propose a virtual triage system that can help? For instance, Allscripts offers a virtual triage system that can be implemented within days to help patients in your local area. With Allscripts, the patients will “wait” in a virtual waiting room, have their symptoms screened, and find local COVID-19 testing (as available).
4. Stay off social media if it upsets you.
Many healthcare professionals are using social media as an invaluable tool to share the frontline stories of what’s happening in hospitals across the nation – and that’s a critical service in this time of uncertainty and misinformation. But if you worry that your own energy reserves and mental health levels are being affected by seeing too many similar stories of despair, or even by the willful ignorance on social media, then try to limit your scroll time.
5. Name your emotions.
In an article for Business Insider, Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, spoke about the importance of simply acknowledging, and especially naming, all of the emotions you are feeling. Today, in these unprecedented times, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. Your fears, emotions, and anxieties are all real and valid, and naming them as you experience them can help you accept them one at a time and think about what you can or cannot do about them.
6. Develop a mantra.
When you're in survival mode, you won't have time for deep thinking or introspective thought, so it can be helpful to repeat one or two phrases when you're really struggling to keep going.
"Develop a mantra you can repeat to yourself to drown out catastrophic thoughts," suggests Morin. "Thinking, 'I'm ok' or I've got this,' can help you stay strong when you're faced with major challenges and have to push through."
7. Advocate for the PPE you need.
Many healthcare providers around the country are still going to work and having to accept to work with the substandard protection that’s available to them. They’ve watched as the previously strict infection control policies went from having full respiratory droplet precautions to having to reuse the same mask, over and over again, for an entire shift. One doctor shared how he was “'lucky' to get the last pair of goggles available in the ER for today. It’s 9AM.” An ICU nurse shared the sobering image of the N95 masks, lined up and labeled in brown bags, so they can be reused all day long–these masks are designed to be disposed of after every use. One ER doctor confessed that both he and his wife, also an ER physician, are sharing the same mask while they work together.
Be an agent of change – your strong voice is needed to spur the actions to create more PPE and protective measures. Start by sharing your own plea for PPE with the hashtag #getmePPE, started on social media by healthcare advocate Esther Choo. And take the initiative to urge other healthcare professionals to tag Congress and their elected officials to spread the truth about how dire the lack of PPE is.
8. Know that you aren’t alone.
The stories shared by your fellow healthcare providers are heartbreaking. Doctors with young kids at home are self-isolating in garages, separating themselves from family in trailers, using only disposable dishes to minimize the spread of the virus, and working on their wills, to name a few of their determined efforts. These are the real stories of real healthcare providers who are fighting the battle against COVID-19.
We know that these stories are your day-to-day reality, and we want you to know that you are being seen and heard. And as you continue to fight on the front lines of this pandemic, please remember to take good care of yourself. Your mind and body are being pushed to the limits, so it’s absolutely crucial that you make an effort to practice self-care every chance you get.