The onset of Covid 19 and the ensuing two years of ongoing pandemic have left their mark on society as a whole and on the medical industry, in particular. While most of us retreated to our houses when Covid 19 emerged, medical professionals of all types did not have the choice to hunker down at home. These healthcare workers were required to show up on the job and provide care to those who needed it.
The onset of the pandemic was almost three years ago. And today we live in a world that is forever changed because of Covid-19. Management of the pandemic ultimately resulted in structural societal changes that can still be seen. Some of those changes include how we respond to one another in public (masking and social distancing are still a reality for many) and changes in temperament and behaviors have emerged as has a new playing field of rules of engagement especially in the healthcare sector.
For many, the social distancing mandated by the pandemic increased feelings of isolation and loneliness that some still persistently experience, as an after effect of living through the experience. Pandemic- related anxiety, stress and unhappiness all grew significantly in 2020, and for many, it lingers even now as 2023 is upon us.
Prioritizing mental health is one of the key lessons that emerged from our altered pandemic lifestyles. This was especially true for the healthcare sector where it felt like a war zone in areas where the virus hit hard. Feeling blue or vaguely disinterested is a normal after effect of living through a once-in-a-lifetime plague that resulted in a proliferation of not so-in person virtual meetings. When it all feels overwhelming, here are some key steps to undertake in order to support a healthy state of well-being.
Reach out to friends and family
Often when we are feeling sad, we will isolate ourselves as a method of self-preservation. We don’t feel up to visiting or making conversation, so we stay in and away from people. For healthcare workers, this can be especially true, as after a busy, long day, home is seen as a source of comfort and solace. Just remember, it is important for good mental health to continue to maintain relationships with people you trust. That means showing up, visiting with close friends and even discussing feelings. Exploring how one feels with someone close will help tamp down overwhelming feelings.
Feelings of worry, fear and loneliness are a normal experience to have months, even years, after first hearing the words Covid 19. Even though the rate of hospitalizations from the virus are way down from the peak of the pandemic, the effects linger for healthcare workers who had to face Covid straight in the face, day in and day out. It is normal to still feel a sense of worry and helplessness about what so many people went through and how the pandemic was a catalyst for change on a global scale. Allow yourself the indulgence of not being ashamed of any particular feelings, positive or negative and talk about your concerns with those you trust.
Get ready for the day
Looking after physical wellbeing can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. When we’re feeling under the weather, it can be easy to eat junk food or not shower. To ensure a healthy state of mind, try to eat healthy food, get some exercise and a good night’s sleep. Avoid excessive drinking, drug use, and leave the smoking in the past. Healthy living will help improve mood and mental wellbeing.
Set a plan for the day
Healthcare workers often work late hours or uneven schedules, and the lack of structure in that lifestyle can cause fatigue and make getting back into a routine quite difficult. Studies show that maintaining a daily routine can provide a sense of stability and normality. Start each day with a plan with work, errands or chores to accomplish. A list of goals helps provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose and in a literal sense, provides a map of what to do on a challenging day. Structure and routine support feelings of normality and positivity, making it easier to tackle the day, no matter how stressful.
Shut off the news
Although it is important to stay informed, the news can be a source of stress for many. Often the news is negative, pointing to global economic woes, ongoing war and strife, and the rising cost of living. Limit the time spent watching, reading, or listening to the news, including on social media. To stay informed on days when the news might contribute to rising stress levels, schedule a specific time to read updates or limit yourself to checking social media feeds two or three times in a day. Also, always look for trustworthy media sources to consume and fact-check information from the news, social media, or other people. So much “news” today is incendiary and not entirely true. When a day has been particularly rough, limit exposure to the news.
We are firmly past many of the roadblocks the pandemic put in front of us. But the lingering effects of months of social isolation in combination with a work environment that was at times dangerous and life threatening, can leave its mark. Self-care is the key to working through the negative emotions many healthcare workers continue to carry around today.
Guilherme Macagnan is CEO of AMX Healthcare.