Coping with the Psychological Impact of COVID-19
Issuing time:2020-04-26 00:07Author:Catherine Hambley, PhD
Coronavirus, Patient Care, Pearls, Staff
The Covid 19 pandemic has led to unprecedented impacts on the healthcare system, healthcare providers, and society as a whole. You and your staff are on the front lines of what is proving to be a crisis the likes of which we have not previously experienced. While so many of you are experiencing the impact of the novel coronavirus on your day-to-day medical practices, it is imperative to recognize and respond to the psychological impacts this pandemic has on you, your staff, and your patients and their loved ones. No doubt you have availed yourself of the plethora of medical information readily available to you through various websites and professional associations. There is now a large volume of information about the psychological implications—the intent of this article is to distill that information into readable bites so you can put strategies into practice, for your practice.
Let’s start with the implications for you and your staff. With a healthcare crisis such as this one, where there are many uncertainties and constant change, people can react in different ways, from distress to acute stress, meaning that their ability to function will also vary. Take time to self-reflect on how the pandemic is impacting you. Depending on what you notice, you may need to take more or less time to engage in activities that will mitigate the negative impacts of stress so you can function optimally. Below I will review some basic stress resiliency practices you can put into use today. Before thinking about how to help your staff, take care of yourself first. We are not much good to others (staff or patients), if we are not good to ourselves.
Recognize that there are a host of emotions that might get triggered at this time, including fear (response to an imminent threat), anxiety (anticipation of future threat), helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, isolation, and even rejection. These emotions can impair one’s ability to function optimally (emotions get our attention and we tend to react faster than we think). The goal is help yourself and others proactively employ strategies to mitigate and cope with these emotions.
Strategies for managing distressing emotions:
1.Recognize and “normalize”
We all are going through some level of distress. It is to be expected and deserves our attention. Self-awareness is key. Knowing, as early on as possible, when distressing emotions are coming up, can be used as a signal to stop and take steps to reduce stress.
3.Get into a routine
6.Focus on what is under one’s control.
7.Reach out to social supports, even if you have to do it virtually.
While social distancing and staying home (when not at work) is imperative, social isolation is not. Fortunately, there are many ways to stay connected with others. Reach out for support and reach out to others to offer support.
8.Gratitude and compassion
9.Avoid excessive exposure to media
Helping your staff
During this time, you may find that a different type of “leadership” style is required, one that is more facilitative and focused on helping people manage in healthy and productive ways. Here are some suggestions:
3.Listen with presence.
4.Communicate with transparency.
Be sure to let people know what you know, even if you don’t have all the answers. In the absence of information, people tend to make things up and it’s usually more negative than positive. Also, this is a good time for a little self-disclosure about how you are feeling (it helps normalize their experience).
5.Facilitate a discussion that helps people take a solution-oriented approach to coping.
Ask people what steps they can take to manage their stress, knowing that you cannot remove their stress and being careful not to minimize or negate what is happening. Certainly, the 7 strategies above might prove valuable for your employees.
Interacting with patients and families:
This is a time when many patients and their loved ones will be experiencing a myriad of emotions—fear, sadness, and even anger—and they will be more easily triggered due to the stress they are experiencing. The most important steps are ones that serve to mitigate stress: