Stress and burnout will likely climb during the COVID-19 crisis among healthcare providers. Physicians, nurses, medical assistants and other healthcare workers already experiences stress and burnout (some studies reported over 50%).
Much of the work from the federal government address systemic issues like time demands, chaotic work environments and support from leadership (see https://www.ahrq.gov/prevention/clinician/ahrq- works/burnout/index.html).
Coping is, by definition, defining the problem then applying problem solving strategies.
In this case, the problem is preventing the infection and worsening symptoms.
Healthcare workers can benefit from some simple strategies to manage burnout and stress:
- Coping with the threat of caregiver infection is one of the top stressors right
- Define the problem: the ways COVID-19 is known to be spread (e.g., fluid droplets from infected individuals, viral presence on surfaces being touched).
- Create problem solutions (e.g., use of effective masks, proper use of gloves, disinfecting protocols).
- Monitoring of known early symptom presentation in the caregiver (e.g., keep up to date for screening targets from the CDC, take temperature frequently).
- Enforce physical distancing as much as
- Don’t touch one’s face even if
2. Coping with the threat of patient infection.
- Define the ways patient’s contract the disease, including community spread (e.g., failure to use CDC protocols like those for handwashing, not maintaining 6 feet distances, congregating in crowds in someone’s home).
- Create problem solutions
- Patient education: repeatedly teach handwashing, no-touching-face rule, physical
- Patient health monitoring: teach protocols for COVID-19 Symptom Screening, patient temperature monitoring with
- PCP contact criteria: provide criteria when to contact the PCP for potential testing.
- Quarantine strategies: how to effectively quarantine and maintain
3. Managing caregiver stress levels
- Managing demands effectively: Keep demands managed through lists, prioritization, and
- Charting: Set aside time in the day to catch up if charting falls behind, and don’t give up that time until all charting is caught
- Taking breaks: Schedule self-care breaks throughout the day, and (again) don’t give them
- Collaborate on patient demands: Communicate with other providers to be sure you can elicit support and a sense of connection. If you’re more introverted, still share some, but also use the self-care breaks to get away for a couple of
- Talk back to your “expecting bad things to happen” thinking: When you think catastrophic thoughts, excessive self-blaming ideas or hopeless beliefs, don’t push them away. Confront the ideas with realistic and rationale responses so that you process your thinking.
- Accept that some anxiety is understandable: The anxiety you feel now probably soared higher than is typical. Accept anxiety as a normative reaction and reduce the “fear of fear” response by focusing on
- Practice mindfulness: Stay in the here-and-now and focusing on what is important for you (stick to your values). Keep in mind that your work and these demands fit into your goals. Don’t lose sight of the “long game” when thinking about what you face in the short-term.
- Relax: Take time to focus on only your breathing, the cool air in and warm air out experience. Allow the stress to reduce in the muscles as well as you
- Schedule short-term exposure to the news: Purposely look away from the news when home, and focus on other, more pleasurable entertainment options and experiences such as reading a book. Schedule when you watch the news and stick to that schedule. When you watch other entertaining things, don’t “couch-potato” yourself. Stay active as much of the day as
- Stay physically active: But, it’s very important to take a walk or exercise in a safe environment, for your immune system’s sake. Behavioral psychologists call this stimulus control, meaning that you control what you allow to trigger your reactions by controlling your exposure to those
As a caregiver, your needs for stress management are higher than most other jobs. Remember that you are on the front lines, so staying fresh and caring for yourself is vastly important. Coping with stress, rather than trying to eliminate it, is a worthwhile and achievable goal.