The authors of a book about the stress COVID-19 places on the mental health of healthcare workers have come up with some tips to help those on the frontlines of the war against the deadly virus.
Mark Goulston, MD, and Diana Hendel, PharmD, authors of Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTS say healthcare workers are facing unprecedented levels of stress. “While healthcare workers “keep on keeping on”—because that’s what healthcare workers always do—they’re staggering under the weight of anxiety, depression, fear, hopelessness…and, increasingly, PTSD.”
Dr. Goulston said, “Instead of pushing down your emotions so you can power through, you can start dealing with them right now.”
12 Words Exercise
While there’s no way to stop the stress, Dr. Hendel said it is possible to prevent PTSD. “By learning to tap into your feelings now—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you can begin a healing journey that carries you through the pandemic and beyond.”
One suggestion, the ’12 words exercise.’ It can be done in private or with a group.
STEP 1: Read the following words out loud: Anxious, Afraid, Overwhelmed, Fragile, Depressed, Frustrated, Angry, Ashamed, Alone, Lonely, Exhausted, Numb.
STEP 2: Pick one of these words that most captures what you’re feeling when you’re greatly stressed and then focus on it.
STEP 3: Imagine feeling this feeling at its worst.
STEP 4: What does this feeling make you want to impulsively do?
STEP 5: Imagine saying what you want to do to a person who loves you, and picture them smiling with love and compassion and saying back to you, “I understand.”
STEP 6: Imagine feeling their love taking some of the pain away.
STEP 7: Imagine them asking you, “What would be a better thing to do?”
The doctors also suggest trying relaxation techniques during the workday, like a 60-second stretching session or two minutes of deep breathing.
The doctors also say it’s important not to forget the simple joys in life like reading a gook, taking a walk, or doing a puzzle.
Rediscover the simple pleasures around you. PTSD can make the world appear and feel dangerous, with threats lurking around every corner. That’s why it is important to stay immersed in the joys of life. Focusing on simple pleasures promotes healing and helps you enjoy your life in the process. For example:
Joining a workplace support group can also be helpful. “When groups share similar suppressed and repressed thoughts and feelings during and following a trauma, they are immersed in the bonding hormone, oxytocin, which is associated with emotional connectedness and emotional safety,” says Dr. Goulston.
The doctors say it’s important not get stuck in healthcare’s “just-move-on” culture. Don’t be afraid to seek out a good therapist. “Find a good therapist with whom you can build rapport and trust, and stick to your sessions,” says Dr. Hendel.
“There’s a long road ahead for healthcare workers fighting this pandemic,” says Dr. Goulston. “But with some good mental health practices, you’re better equipped to ride out the storm. Healing is possible, and the sooner you start working toward healing, the better you will feel—and the better equipped you will be to assist your patients.”