During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is common for everyone to experience increased levels of distress and anxiety, particularly as a result of social isolation. Physicians and other frontline health care professionals are particularly vulnerable to negative mental health effects as they strive to balance the duty of caring for patients with concerns about their own well-being and that of their family and friends.
Use the strategies and resources on this page to manage your own mental well-being while also caring for patients during the pandemic or any other crisis.
Take care of yourself
1. Feel free to feel your feelings
You and your colleagues are likely to feel immense pressure given the potential surge in care demands, risk of infection and equipment shortages, among other stressors. Experiencing stress and the feelings associated with it are by no means a sign of weakness or a reflection on your ability to do your job.
2. Intentionally employ coping strategies
Put into practice strategies that have worked for you in the past during times of stress. These can include getting enough rest and finding respite time during work or between shifts, eating meals (ideally, healthy food, on a schedule), engaging in physical activity and staying in contact (with appropriate social distancing) with family and friends.
3. Perform regular check-ins with yourself
Monitor yourself for symptoms of depression/stress disorder such as prolonged sadness, difficulty sleeping, intrusive memories and/or feelings of hopelessness. Talk to a trusted colleague or supervisor. Be open to seeking professional help if symptoms persist or worsen over time.
4. Take breaks from the news and social media
Make a regular habit of stepping away from your computer and smart phone from time to time. When returning online, focus on information from reputable sources, not just sources in your social media feed. You don’t have to take in everything produced by a 24/7 news cycle.
5. Be fortified by remembering the importance and meaning of your work
Remind yourself that despite the current challenges and frustrations, yours is a noble calling – taking care of those in need in a time of great uncertainty. Make sure to take time to recognize the efforts and sacrifices made by your colleagues. Together, we are all stronger.
Take care of your staff
Leadership should strive to maintain critical infrastructure and have other support in place for staff during this time, knowing that this may require modifications to existing strategies, tactics and/or roles. Practices will want to protect, to the degree possible, staff from chronic stress and poor mental health, so that they are able to support patients and because it’s the right thing to do.
1. Adjust staffing procedures and schedules (where possible)
When able and within applicable legal limits, rotate workers from higher-stress to lower-stress functions. Partner inexperienced workers with more experienced colleagues, who can provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety practices. Implement flexible schedules for workers who are directly impacted or have a family member impacted by the outbreak.
2. Offer access to psychosocial support
Provide staff responding to the outbreak with access to sources of psychosocial support, making this as much of a priority as ensuring their physical safety.
3. Monitor and review staff member well-being
Regularly and supportively monitor wellbeing and psychosocial status of staff to identify risks, emerging issues and adaptively respond to their needs.
4. Create an environment of open communication
Encourage staff to speak openly about their concerns. Provide brief, regular forums to update staff on the status of the practice and how management is addressing challenges. Provide mechanisms for staff to express their concerns, ask questions and encourage peer-support amongst colleagues. For individual concerns related to one’s mental health and well-being, encourage communication with trusted colleagues in addition to accessing your employee assistance program.