The coronavirus outbreak has reminded Dr. Heidi Hausmann why she went into medicine.
“This is what we signed up for when we wanted to be physicians,” said Hausmann, the lead hospitalist at Omaha’s Methodist Hospital. “We all went into medicine to help people and our communities.”
But the pandemic also is taking a toll on caregivers’ mental health. They worry about all the unknowns regarding the virus. They worry about passing it to their loved ones when they go home at night.
Even before the coronavirus showed up, Hausmann said, staff at Methodist sought to focus on how physicians could maintain wellness and avoid burnout. The key: balancing work and home life. At work, Hausmann said, doctors are laser-focused on being prepared for an influx of patients. That preparation helps them when they’re at home so they’re not worried about work challenges while dealing with family concerns.
Hausmann said she also has relied on her strong faith and church community. It’s important to take care of basic needs, including exercise and a good night’s sleep.
Hausmann, like other physicians, is taking extra precautions at home to prevent spreading the virus to loved ones. She takes off her work shoes in the garage, changes out of her hospital clothes, wipes down her cellphone and glasses and does extra hand-washing.
“We are people that like to have data, answers, plans,” Hausmann said. “What’s causing stress and fear and anxiety in health care workers is the same thing that’s causing it in the general population.”
Practicing self-care is important right now, said Chelsea Hunter, a licensed independent mental health practitioner and clinic administrator at CHI Psychiatric Associates.
“We get into health care because we love to serve others. To see health care workers and staff come from all over, helping out in other capacities has been amazing,” Hunter said. “A side piece of that is the uncertainty and ability to decompress. That’s where we truly have to use our coping mechanisms and self-care tools.”
One key is focusing on what you can control and knowing that it’s OK to take care of yourself, she said.
Amy Monzingo, a counselor in the Best Care Employee Assistance Program, echoed those sentiments. It isn’t easy to focus on what you can control, and sometimes it takes practice, she said.
“When you think about health care professionals, they’re so used to going above and beyond all the time,” Monzingo said. “They almost need permission to think of themselves first.”
Monzingo, Hunter and Hausmann gave these tips for health care providers to manage their mental health:
- Take care of your basic needs first. Eat, drink water, sleep.
- Stick to a routine.
- Don’t get stuck in a game of “what ifs.”
- Be flexible as policies and procedures are changing.
- Take time when you get home to focus on yourself, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Communicate your needs to people around you. Have someone you can check in with regularly to discuss how you’re feeling. Reach out to others when you need support.
- Keep doing what you normally would for self-care with modifications to meet social distancing requirements. If you like going to the gym, try an at-home workout. If you like going to the movies, rent or stream one at home.
- Limit exposure to social media.
- Try meditating and other calming practices.
- Write down things that calm you, whether it’s a verse, an affirmation or something else. Scroll through that list when you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
- Use resources available to help, including babysitting services or employee assistance programs.
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