Difficulties caused by the very nature of this pandemic
* Uncertainty – So far, there is no way of knowing how people will recover, or how the virus will progress.
* Fear - for ourselves and our families. How to cope with the tension of wanting to be professional and do your job, while also protecting yourself. Some aspect of fear that might arise include:
1. Recognizing that you aren't alone as you treat patients, the risks also involve family and friends.
2. Talk with your family and make decisions about where to set boundaries of safety.
3. Take your own emotional temperature. How are you coping emotionally with the intensity of the situations you find yourself in?
* Absence of connection - Fears of being alone either in the moment when treating patients/clients, or afterwards, as you are winding down from a difficult day of work.
Guidance for supporting yourself and your family
* Dealing with fears when you're in the thick of things:
1. Consider, what can you do to be physically safe, given what's possible?
2. It’s helpful to deal with your fears in a way that’s both personal and rational—even during the pandemic, one area you can rely on and take comfort in is the rational and scientific nature of your medical training and best practices. Remember, you have a fearful self but also a resilient self. If you survived your training as a medical provider, you are resilient. Don't forget that.
3. Decrease social isolation with a web of connections so you don't feel alone.
How to deal with uncertainty in a healthy way?
1. Don't deny the uncertainty
2. Recognize there are limits to what we know, and we're all in the same boat together. Try to be comfortable with that.
3. Think about ways you've dealt with stress and adversity in the past, and bring those up in your mind. Sometimes you know more than you think you know. It's just a matter of remembering strategies you've used in the past that have worked for you.
* Compartmentalizing can help but only in the short term (and especially, not at the end of the day when you're trying to release all you've experienced!)
1. Look for ways to deal with the horror you're immersed in each day.
2. Look for ways to take brief pauses during the work day: between patients, what do you do mentally? Can you take a breath? Stop a moment, and put aside what just happened with your last patient so you can be more fully present with the patient you're about to see.
Ways to increase connections with colleagues and patients
1. Take the first 60 seconds of any encounter and just listen - you don't have to fix anything or solve a problem in the first 60 seconds. It enriches the moment and lets you feel you've made a connection. You can also try this with family and colleagues. It might seem like a paradox that when you need support the most, listening is the thing you can do the best. Remember, you aren’t solving any problems at this point, you’re just listening. Give it a try and see if it works.
How to deal with the fear and vulnerability in the moment
Use vagal breathing (also known as buddha belly breathing). Inhale for a count of 6, hold the breath for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. This increases the relaxation or parasympathetic response and decreases the fight or flight response. You can practice this ahead of time, then make use of it in the moment after you've had some practice.
At the end of the day, when you have a few minutes or hours of relative peace at home
1. Consider who you talk with about what you've experienced. If your spouse or partner or friend is ready to hear it, maybe that's okay, but maybe it's not. Maybe talking with a colleague enables you to be present without having to worry about how others might respond.
2. Connect to something bigger than you: play or listen to music; go out into nature to walk or exercise, play with your kids or your pets.
3. Remember, you are impacted both cognitively (the need to tell the story of what's happening) and also emotionally (which can be helped through social connection, and connecting to something that's bigger than you).
4. The need to talk about what's happening is natural, and it can help to share your experiences with someone who can hear your stories. Choose the right person and the right time. Also, writing about it can help—expressing your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, everything in a journal or notebook is a helpful way of processing what you are experiencing.
Taken from an interview with Ron Siegel, psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and Ron Epstein, MD, International teacher of mindfulness and professor of palliative care at the Rochester School of Medicine.