Healthcare Workers Feel Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic
Stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty – they are all strong emotions many people are experiencing during the pandemic that has been a part of our lives for months now.
Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and healthcare workers of all kinds may be responding to this illness and treating individuals who have tested positive with COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to those same stressors affecting workers across all other sectors of the economy.
Even during normal times, the impact of stress on our physical and emotional well-being can be profound, said Dr. Joe Griebler, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Mississippi State Hospital. Although some levels of stress are not necessarily problematic – and may even result in higher levels of performance – a longer-term barrage of stressors could lead to various mental health problems, such as depression, debilitating anxiety, thoughts of suicide, or simply an exacerbation of existing medical or mental health issues.
“The challenge we face today is we are all being exposed to repeated or prolonged stress resulting from everything we are encountering with the pandemic, and this is in addition to the normal stressors that we each face on a daily basis,” Griebler said.
“The impact of this current moment on healthcare providers cannot be overstated, and we are already seeing evidence of the toll that this moment is having, both at our hospital and globally. As healthcare providers, part of our mission is to set aside everything in our own lives so that we can effectively focus our attention on our patients.”
However, with the extent to which so many individuals’ worlds have been thrown off balance, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain focus on needs at work. Coupled with the decreased ability to engage in activities that help counter stress – nights out with friends, family dinners, all kinds of social gatherings and close human contact – the workforce, including the healthcare workforce, has a decreased capacity to function at its normal level due to emotional exhaustion.
For healthcare providers, the loss of even one individual can be deeply impactful and traumatizing, as the goal of their entire career is to offer healing and save lives.
Doctors, nurses, and other professionals may experience the deterioration or death of their patients on a near-daily basis. Such losses can lead to a sense of helplessness, self-doubt, or despair.
“This is trauma, without question, and healthcare providers around the world are currently experiencing a collective or communal trauma as they shoulder the devastation of this pandemic,” Griebler said.
During times of such personal and professional difficulty, some people may experience unhealthy coping skills – anything that diminishes someone’s physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being. If someone finds himself losing his temper more than usual or is unable to relax and enjoy his free time away from work, it can be an indication of improvement needed in coping techniques.
Without a doubt, compassion fatigue can be a real issue when people experience intense, prolonged stress. It can show itself as dread in coming to work, the increasing use of sick days, or an inability to experience joy or through reduced empathy, said Dr. Mary Ashley Angelo, Behavioral Health Services Training Director at Mississippi State Hospital. People may also experience symptoms similar to depression – mood swings, anxiety, irritability and overuse of numbing agents such as alcohol or other drugs.
Those experiencing compassion fatigue may also display emotional symptoms such as impatience with others, resentment, increased sensitivity/reactivity and poor judgement. Angelo said there can also be physical symptoms like headaches, digestive difficulties, muscle tension and sleep disturbances.
Although healthcare providers may face intense levels of stress, many of the same techniques that help other professions cope can be helpful for them as well. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, reaching out to loved ones, going for a walk outside, and spending time in nature are excellent strategies to increase resiliency.
“Just a few minutes a day of prayer or meditation can make a profound difference as well. There are some great guided meditation apps with timers you can set to remind you to take that few minutes to reset,” Angelo said. “You can also limit the amount of time you spend watching the news and instead watch something funny on TV. Maintaining a sense of humor helps a lot.
“Above all, everyone, no matter their profession, should be encouraged to actively seek support when they feel it is needed,” Angelo said.
Help is Available
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990, and you may text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. The Crisis Text Line can connect someone with a crisis counselor by texting HOME to 741741. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
The DMH Helpline will remain staffed at all times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Call 1-877-210-8513 for information about services or supports near you. Additional resources for Mississippians are located www.mentalhealthms.com. and www.standupms.org.