For several weeks during the early summer, Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief. With more and more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19, masking, social distancing, and travel restrictions eased, and it felt like things were on their way to a pre-pandemic normal. Healthcare workers in particular were elated to treat fewer critically ill patients, and there were far fewer COVID-related deaths.
Unfortunately, cases have been on the rise since the Delta variant reared its ugly head, and medical professionals are back to being overworked, caring for patients suffering from severe symptoms. Many COVID deaths across the country—and indeed, worldwide—have been attributed to unvaccinated individuals, and while so-called breakthrough cases among vaccinated people have usually proven to be mild, clinics and hospitals are once again overflowing.
Understandably, many healthcare workers are suffering from stress, anxiety, fear, exhaustion, and overall burnout. In July 2021, 54 percent of the healthcare providers responding to one survey said they were suffering from COVID-19 fatigue.
The Lancet also surveyed 20,000 doctors and healthcare providers on the prevalence of stress and burnout during the pandemic, and found that 61 percent were fearful of exposing themselves or their families to the virus, while 38 self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression. At least 40 percent suffered from work overload, and 49 percent had burnout. Granted, this survey was conducted between May 29 and October 1, 2020, when vaccines were not available, but the same issues have cropped up since the Delta variant surged this summer.
Treating patients who have the Delta variant has led to increasingly high levels of COVID fatigue among healthcare professionals. Yet these same individuals often have to care for their own families while coping with strong emotions and extreme stress.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some symptoms of COVID fatigue and burnout include:
- Feeling irritation, anger, or denial
- Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
- Feeling helpless or powerless
- Lacking motivation
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
- Feeling sad or depressed
Recognizing the symptoms of burnout is important, and there are many steps that those in the healthcare field — or, really, anyone caring for a COVID patient — can take to manage them. If you are a healthcare provider, one of the best ways to manage COVID-related stress is to communicate with coworkers, supervisors, and other employees about job-related stress and how it’s affecting your work. It helps to remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources; try to find access to mental health resources in your workplace. Also, remind yourself that you are performing a crucial role in fighting the pandemic.
Self-care is absolutely essential when struggling with burnout. Try to keep a consistent daily routine, get adequate sleep, and eat healthful meals. Take breaks from reading about the Delta variant on the news or social media; hearing about the pandemic constantly can be mentally exhausting. Mindfulness and breathing exercises along with physical exercise, especially spending time outdoors, can help clear your mind.
Dr. Richard Tytus, co-founder of the video conference service Banty Inc. summarized the situation as follows:
“As a medical professional myself, I don’t find it at all surprising that so many of my colleagues are still experiencing bouts of COVID-19 fatigue. The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis that has tested the will, intellect, and energy levels of everyone in the healthcare industry for quite a prolonged period.”
Tytus went on to say that one way to deal with COVID-19 fatigue is to adopt emerging technologies. He mentioned in particular “medical practice video platforms, or continuous cloud-based glucose monitoring that provides stress-free care for patients and doctors alike.”
The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities, has been using state-of-the-art technology to provide remote patient monitoring to help ease healthcare professionals’ burdens. Through its partnership with Via A Vis Health, Allure has been using its CarePath in Motion devices since the start of the pandemic, enhancing transitional care. Upon discharge from one of Allure’s facilities, more than 300 patients have been given hand-held electronic devices, allowing them to stage virtual visits with healthcare professionals. The devices provide clinicians with patients’ vital signs, while also reducing healthcare providers’ stress levels.
In an interview for “LA Times Today,” Dr. Jena Lee, a board-certified psychiatrist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, spoke about how the Delta variant has affected many people’s mental health:
“I think it’s important to remember that the most taxing and stressful thing for us at any point in our lives is change, even good or bad, because it requires adjustment and flexibility. It’s also unpredictability, because both affect our sense of control. That’s really at the crux of what helps us feel safe and what helps us feel like our mental health is secure. And this constant back and forth, even the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel appearing and now fading; it’s disorienting for everyone.”
Mental health professionals offer the same tips recommended for healthcare workers for the rest of us riding out the new wave of the Delta variant. Share your feelings with loved ones, take breaks during the day, go outdoors and get some sunlight, and engage in hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Reduce your time on social media. Take mental health days whenever you can and spend time with friends and family.
While it feels as though the pandemic will never end, there are ways to ease our COVID-19 fatigue until the worst has passed, and our lives truly do return to normal.
Joel Landau, is founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based nursing homes.