The news and social media are needed sources of information, but at times they only amplify fear and anxiety, especially over what we can’t control.
Explore This IssueJune 2020
If you were already undergoing mental health counseling pre-pandemic, please continue—healthcare providers can use all the help we can get. If you were considering counseling, it’s a good time to start. It takes courage and self-love to understand that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness. Look for a mental health counselor in your area who has experience working with physicians. (You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.)
Take care of yourself physically. Create good physical habits that strengthen your health and mental outlook. It’s so important to move because we’re home-bound—instead of rushing from one exam room to the next during clinic days and walking nonstop between cases during OR days, surgeons are now sitting like everyone else. Walk daily with your family, pets, or neighbors, practicing safe distancing. Be out in nature if possible, to remember that there is life beyond the virus.
Monitor your eating behaviors as well. The more time we sit in front of the TV watching Netflix, VUDU, Disney+, and HBO Prime, the better the chance that mindless snacking may occur. Your behavior and actions are influenced by your inner voice. For example, I ate ice cream with my husband and daughter every night for 12 days in a row. My inner voice apparently decided it was necessary to indulge in something I rarely eat regardless of my lactose intolerance and mindfulness about sugar and fat—being a physician didn’t make me immune. That same inner voice also told me that due to an extremely high level of stress, I somehow have a new lowered threshold to enjoy alcohol in order to relax.
Enjoy and embrace your downtime. Celebrate the fact that life has slowed down—so many hours have been reclaimed from driving children to soccer, piano, and sports lessons. Be creative about reaching out to family and friends. There are many ways to stay connected in our technological world:
- My sister recently sent video of my 3-year-old niece washing and cutting asparagus stems, as well as folding laundry Marie Kondo style.
- Our neighbors had their school-aged children make beautifully painted and decorated rocks and leave them all over our neighborhood. Those who saw the rocks while walking took photos and then posted them on Facebook. It created an amazing sense of connectedness.
Control your words to control your mind. Speaking positively to yourself can have immediate calming and wellness benefits. Take deep breaths frequently and often in your office, between telehealth sessions, at the hospital, when you’re on call—over and over. Tell yourself that you love who you are and offer yourself the same kindness and compassion you would to others. Each of us can do only so much for our patients and their families, colleagues, hospital, spouses/significant others, children, neighbors, and loved ones.
Accept that there will be new norms. We don’t know what each day will bring or how long this will last. There will be unprecedented change to the U.S. healthcare system that wasn’t coming fast enough on its own. But we can commit to be our best selves each and every day, in words and actions. If you’re able to, be part of the change by volunteering for discretionary committees or groups at your facility to contribute to efforts to develop protocols or solutions for PPE, surgery, or clinic recovery plans.
Acceptance may also mean being realistic about your own COVID-19 risks. If you have risk factors based on age or health conditions, and/or you live with families who are at high risk, speak up and let your physician or hospital leader(s) know. This is not a time to be stubborn or have something to prove. Stay home and opt out of the crisis management workforce labor pool.
As we all face this uncertainty, we can take comfort in knowing that we have each other—we are not alone. Together we will get through this and hopefully become a smarter, stronger, and possibly even a better version of ourselves.