Meaningful Messages: Working in healthcare during COVID-19? Tips for reducing burnout and overwhelm
Updated: Jul 25
***Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice.
Healthcare professionals during the pandemic are in the most challenging and riskiest jobs in these times. Frontline workers provide essential services to help patients and clients remain healthy, while trying to stay well themselves. This is a very hard balance to achieve.
Feeling burned out and overwhelmed? Here are some strategies that might help you during these very difficult times.
Check-in with yourself
Are you feeling anxious? Depressed? Angry? Scared? Worried? Try to identify all of the emotions you are experiencing. If it helps, write it down in a journal. Exploring your recent thoughts and feelings enables you to make sense of what is happening in your inner world and how the health pandemic is impacting you.
Access mental health supports
If you need professional help, reach out to your doctor if you are noticing difficulties with your sleeping and eating patterns, mood, energy, and if you are having distressing thoughts. You can use the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) mental health services available to you through your workplace for free, short term counseling for you and your family members.
The Ontario COVID-19 Mental Health Network offers temporary, free, short term, individual counseling to healthcare workers, where interested workers are matched with a therapist through their network website: https://covid19therapists.com/.
The Canadian Psychological Association is also offering free, short-term therapy by registered psychologists and has more information on their website: https://cpa.ca/corona-virus/psychservices/.
Another resource is The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which offers short term psychotherapy and psychiatry services via their website: http://www.camh.ca/covid19gethelp.
If you feel you need more intensive or ongoing psychosocial support, reach out to a therapist through Psychology Today at https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca to find a counselor who has a therapeutic approach or style that fits with your needs.
If you need urgent support, call a crisis line in your local area, which you can find through websites such as this one: https://www.ementalhealth.ca/Ontario/Crisis-Lines-including-Telephone-Online-and-Chat/. In mental health emergencies where you feel you are at risk of harming yourself, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room.
Challenge negative thoughts
In health care, where you are surrounded by upsetting news daily, it is common to have a whirlwind of thoughts going around in your head that might further increase your stress and anxiety.
Some examples may be: “I’m going to get COVID-19”, “I’m going to give COVID-19 to my patients”, “My family will get COVID-19 because of me”, and so on.
While there is sadly no guarantee in life that these things won’t happen, we can still try to challenge these thoughts with more positive ones that may feel real to us, such as: “I’m following all of the safety protocols to protect myself, my patients and my family”, “I’m doing everything I can to be safe”, “I’m washing and sanitizing my hands regularly and that is the best strategy to stay healthy”, or “By staying at home when I’m not working, I’m doing what I can to slow the spread of the pandemic”.
Insert any other positive thoughts here that may help you manage your anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.
Remind yourself of your professional values and interests
In this pandemic, it is hard to think about anything but the risks associated with working in health care and it may be hard to see beyond that. If you find yourself questioning everything and feel unsure of yourself in your role or position, it may be useful to keep in mind why you went into your field of practice in the first place.
Was it because you always knew you wanted to help people? Or because you wanted to make a difference in the world and contribute to society? Or perhaps you have a unique interest in a certain client population or area of expertise and this is your specialty now? What other reasons led you to do the meaningful work you do?
These reminders might ground you and help you feel refreshed in an unsettling and confusing time.
Know that you are doing the best you can
When you feel that you aren’t doing enough to make a difference, take a moment, stop, and look around you.
See the clients or patients in your line of sight that you have helped. Notice their smiles of thanks, the gratitude you hear in their voice, and the efforts they make as they try to follow your recommendations and guidelines.
These types of mindful moments will help you shift your focus away from your stress toward focusing on why you chose to do this valuable work in the first place — to provide excellent care to your clients and patients.
Talk to coworkers you confide in and trust
The people you work with are the people you often spend the most time with as so much of our days are spent working. In your group of colleagues, hopefully, there is at least one person you really connect with and who you feel you can talk to. Reach out to them if you need a moment to vent, to share a funny story, or discuss how you are feeling. This helps foster a sense of trust, community, and shared experiences.
Connect with loved ones
Calling and video calling your close family and friends and spending time with your spouse or partner or children during this time of uncertainty can help manage feelings of stress and burnout.
Talking with important others about things that are not related to the pandemic can help get your mind off of it. This allows you to focus on other topics that interest you and make you happy while also investing in key relationships in your life.
Watching the news or reading articles on your phone or computer constantly can add to your anxiety, stress, worry, and overwhelm. You may already be supporting patients who are COVID-positive daily, you may be concerned about eventually working with COVID patients, or perhaps you are worried about passing it on to or getting it from others. Constant consumption of media further feeds into this stress and exacerbates it. This cycle of thoughts can continue to spiral if they are not kept in check.
A mental break from all things COVID at points throughout your day can be just what is needed to help you refocus. Permit yourself to turn off your phone and computer when you need to.
Focus on the basics
Eat. Drink water. Sleep. Exercise. No need to follow a perfect and ideal routine here, but try to do what you can, when you can. Do activities that help refuel and relax you, such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, mindfulness-based activities, or anything that rejuvenates you, such as losing yourself in a hobby that you are passionate about. Building in positive habits and routines, especially when you feel stressed and overwhelmed, can go a long way toward helping you feel better.
Focusing on these basics can motivate you, re-energize you, and keep you going through those long and tiring workdays.
This is a very challenging time for everyone. Your health is number one and needs to be stable before you can fully help others. Take care of yourself and be well so that you can continue to do the important work you do to support patients and clients every day.
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