We have been hearing a lot from nurses and other healthcare providers in recent weeks as they share what this pandemic has been doing to their mental and physical health.

This is a time where an already stressful career, becomes something that most of us would not be able to handle. Healthcare workers are being asked to work even longer shifts, in bad conditions and to put their own health and the health of their families at risk. This is something that most of us take for granted. I know that right now, I could go to my local hospital for any ailment and be taken care of by a team of nurses, doctors and other support staff. But, while the healthcare providers assess and treat me, what do I really know about how they are feeling and what they are going through?

One of my closest friends is a nurse, she is one of the kindest, most loving and caring people I have ever met in my life. If I was sick, or anyone I love was sick, she is exactly the kind of nurse I would want by our side. She is one of those rare people who has an enormous capacity to love and care for EVERYONE she comes into contact with, personally and professionally. But this past week when she reached out to me, I could tell she was burning out. Her stress levels are climbing, the hospitals are on high alert, the staff are worried if the supplies they have will get them through what might be coming, and she has two young kids at home to care for and protect. The sacrifice healthcare providers make to care for those they don’t even know, is something we all need to pause for a minute and appreciate. Could you do it? I don’t think I could.

This got us thinking: how can we offer some small support for those men and women who are currently preparing for the unknown?

Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) Sarah Potvin, has some suggestions for those working in the healthcare field during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sarah said first and foremost, we have to understand that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. You may look around and worry that you are reacting in a different way to others in your position, but that should not cause you further stress. The most important thing to be aware of, is if the fear is becoming unmanageable. By unmanageable, she means, if the fear is becoming unbearable and is no longer doing its job to “keep you alert.”

Sarah encourages healthcare providers to take care of themselves during this time and offers the following suggestions:

  1. Take breaks from listening to/watching/talking about the virus/pandemic:
    Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly (especially when a large part of your job is related to the pandemic) can be extremely upsetting and take its toll.
  2. Make sure that in order to stay informed you use reliable sources for your information:
    If you need to be informed of what is going on, stick to checking the website of your Provincial and Federal Governments, the World Health Organization or the Centre for Disease Control. These sources will not be repeating the same stories over and over again like a news channel.
  3. Set limits with friends and family members:
    As your job requires talking about the virus, make sure you tell people when you get home that you don’t want to talk about COVID-19 when you are home. Those around you need to respect those boundaries and it will give you time to decompress after hearing about it all day at work.
  4. Take care of your physical health:
    This is a difficult task for Doctors, Nurses, First Responders during normal times, but it is so important to find time to stretch, to try to find healthy snacks, to exercise and to try to get as much sleep as possible. It is also important to avoid drugs and alcohol, they may numb some of the feelings in the short term, but in the long term it will obviously create further health issues.
  5. Create a routine:
    As hard as it may be, and as unusual as the routine may look right now, it is important to try to create and stick to a routine, this will help create the predictability that your brain needs in times of unpredictability.
  6. Connect with others:
    Talk with someone you trust about your concerns, how you are feeling, or just get to know them more. This can even involve asking fun and silly questions, that are completely unrelated to what is going on. You still deserve to smile and laugh, and we can’t forget how important that is as we navigate these difficult times.
  7. Keep a list with you:
    A good suggestion would be to keep a list on you that has self care activities that you enjoy. This can include things like; stretching, taking a deep breath, jokes, encouraging sayings, books, writing a journal, whatever it is that you enjoy doing!
  8. The buddy system:
    Find a “buddy” at work that you can turn to for support and they can turn to you for support. Monitor each others stress, safety, workload, home life. Get to know them, check in on each other and encourage them to take a break when they can. This will help you feel like you aren’t alone.
  9. Remind yourself of the following things:
    * It is not selfish to take a break,
    * It is not selfish to look after your wellbeing. You can’t take care of others if you are sick yourself,
    * We will get through this,
    * It is ok to acknowledge whatever emotion you are feeling – good or bad,
    * It is ok to not feel ok,
    * It is ok to seek help from a mental health professional, your mental health is extremely important. Reach out to a counsellor, religious clergy, Medical Doctor, or mental health helpline, we are all here to help!

If you know someone who is in the healthcare field, please reach out to them and show your support and appreciation!