Airline attendants say it well: if the plane hits turbulence and the oxygen masks come down, place a mask on yourself first before turning to help others. This is absolutely critical. If we don’t, we may not be able to help anyone.
Well, we’ve all hit the same turbulence, folks, and we all need to take good care of ourselves, our bodies, and our minds.
Healthcare providers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic absolutely have to be functioning well in order to do their jobs well. At such a stressful time, with so much change and uncertainty, combined with the pressures of patient care during this pandemic, it almost seems like too much. How are people like doctors holding it together? Could we all learn from their tips on coping?
This week, I reached out to my colleagues in the Massachusetts General Hospital Healthy Lifestyle Program to find out. We’re all primary care physicians within the Division of General Internal Medicine who have been urgently redeployed to new and different jobs, such as staffing our makeshift COVID-19 surge clinics, learning new technology to provide much-needed telehealth, and creating serious illness plans with our most at-risk patients.
During a period when stress and fear are running high, these six strategies from my colleagues can help.
Acknowledge the turbulence
Ben Crocker, MD, is the medical director of a large primary care practice and a healthy lifestyle advocate. “Social distancing and the loss of work and/or routine are tremendous pressures, both physically and psychologically,” he says. “At the same time, our society tends to specifically reward heroic efforts that show that we can continue to perform at the same level, all while keeping a brave face. Many people are struggling to work full-time remotely while simultaneously caring full-time for their family at home. Those who continue to work on the front lines may feel the need to overload their schedules, or commit to too much.”
His advice on this is relevant to everyone, not just front-line providers. Check in, he urges. Mourn your losses. And check out, too.
“Check in with yourself,” says Dr. Crocker. With so much news and instructions flying around about what to do and how to do it, take time to listen to what your body and mind need.
During such frantic times we may tend to ignore acknowledging the loss of “the way things were.” We forget to mourn, or grieve, or simply express our sadness about not being able to socialize, see a close friend, attend a favorite exercise class, interact with neighbors and family, or worship collectively. Grant yourself the time and space to acknowledge your loss. This can help you stay grounded with the current state of life.
“And allow yourself to physically, mentally, emotionally check out on a regular basis,” he adds. “Intentionally create ‘shutdown’ time in your schedule. This can be healthy time alone,