Strengthening resiliency and stress reduction for healthcare providers during COVID-19

The outbreak and extreme threat created by the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has changed lives on a global scale in a very short period of time. The resulting stress, fear, anxiety, and other responses are palpable. Everyone’s experience with stressful situations are different, personal, and based on many factors including age, health conditions, profession, background, community, etc.

Healthcare providers (HCP’s) are no different in that their responses to stressful situations are personal. However, there may be some additional stressors that add to the toll for essential healthcare workers, such as worry about spreading the disease to their families, worry about their patients, and keeping their practices viable. Studies have shown previous adverse reactions HCP’s experienced from the 2003 SARS outbreak included high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This is especially apparent with first responders and front-line healthcare providers where there is a more imminent risk of contracting COVID-19.

It is well-documented that prolonged stress has a negative effect on health including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses as well as mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. According to the CDC, after a disaster, the number of people with psychological trauma exceeds the number of people with a physical injury by as much as 40 to 1. With so much at stake, the sense of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next and not always knowing what to do, it is imperative that HCP’s focus on the things they can control.

Building strength and resilience by adopting a well-rounded strategy that incorporates all the following important elements helps manage the impacts of COVID-19 and the related stress and anxiety.

  • Developing social supports
    • Listening/hearing/communicating with other providers about your stresses and how you are coping
    • Use the ‘buddy system’ to reassure colleagues and co-workers about how important and how amazing the work they are doing is can help bolster a sense of self-worth in your colleagues and co-workers
  • Be aware of risk factors, warning signs, and symptoms of increased stress, and burn-out, such as inability to relax, irritability, easily startled or “on-guard” all the time, apathy, feeling overwhelmed, exhaustion, etc.
  • Relaxation:
    • Practice mindfulness and meditation, focus on breathing, progressive muscle relaxation
    • Set an alarm to remind yourself to take a moment of relaxation
    • Do something you enjoy like reading a book or other hobby
  • Eat well: Get good nutrition, with regular and balanced meals
  • Practice good sleep hygiene – most adults need 8-9 hours per night
    • Limit caffeine after 3:00 pm
    • No electronic devices for a minimum of 1 hour before desired sleep time
    • Have regular mealtimes and bedtimes
    • Start dimming lights 2 hours before bedtime
    • Sleep in a dark room
    • Limit alcohol and nicotine
  • As much as possible, maintain a normal schedule/routine
  • Keep a journal – Capturing feelings and thoughts on paper can help keep you calm
  • Exercise: With gyms and parks closed, find creative ways to stay active – it can help decrease anxiety and stress. Try a neighborhood walk or a free online workout.
  • Keep a sense of humor: Watch something funny on TV or YouTube
  • Limit news intake or even take a break (12 hours, one day, one weekend) from media coverage

Healthcare providers will need to build resilience to weather this current crisis and perhaps come out stronger in the end. Taking care of yourself will help you take care of your friends, family, patients and community!

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/disaster-responders
  3. Lai J, Ma S, Wang Y, et al. Factors associated with mental health outcomes among healthcare workers exposed to coronavirus disease 2019.  JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(3):e203976. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3976
  4. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
  5. https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2017/08/predicting-community-resilience-and-recovery-after-a-disaster/