“We rightfully refer to these people without hyperbole – that they are true heroes and heroines.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci
The post-Covid world is upon us. Morning commutes are, once again, slowing to a crawl. Social media feeds are full of introverts mourning their upcoming re-entry into polite society. Office employees are openly lamenting their imminent return to brick-and-mortar life, some flat out refusing to return to work in a collaborative space. However, for those who haven’t been working in their pajama pants for a solid year, all this anxiety about the aftertimes can all be a bit… annoying.
One RN confessed, “…it’s been hard not to roll my eyes when people who have been holed up at home and never actually needing to venture out into the pandemic talk about how hard this experience has been on them.” For so many healthcare workers, there have been no Netflix binges, no bread baking and no break. Instead, 3,600 American healthcare workers have lost their lives, many have quit, and most healthcare workers spent the last year in constant fear of bringing the deadly virus home to their loved ones.
Healthcare workers have been living parallel lives
While the rest of the world is busy trying to figure out whether to rejoice or lament a return to normalcy, essential workers have spent a year living a parallel life which is causing many medical professionals to feel lonely, at times resentful and, in some cases, hopeless. At the moment, 30% of all healthcare workers are considering leaving medicine for good.
However, there are some steps you can take to feel less alone, rid yourself of resentment and, eventually, join the pajama-clad world in celebrating the end of what has to be the strangest year since the onset of the Spanish flu.
Turn resentment into pride
The last ten years or so of addressing resentment in mental health have been focused on replacing feelings of resentment with resilience. This means thinking of yourself as a survivor– acknowledging your flexibility and ability to adapt under the most dire of circumstances. For those of you working in the medical field, this should be easy to do. As a healthcare worker during the COVID outbreak, there is so much to be proud of.
Try making a list of the things you have survived this year. Start with being on the frontlines of the most dangerous pandemic in over a century. Then, add all challenges that affected your particular practice. Add the PPE shortages, the staff shortages, the patients who refused to believe this was happening at all. By the end, you should have quite a list of accomplishments that need to be celebrated.
Mark the end
Because frontline workers didn’t get to stay home, because most healthcare workers were already vaccinated this winter, because the timeline of healthcare workers has not lined up with the rest of the country, it’s tempting not to join the masses in celebrating the return to normalcy. However, it is considered good mental health hygiene to celebrate endings as often as we do beginnings.
Decide on the benchmarks that you believe signal the end of this pandemic for you, and celebrate once they are reached. Whether it’s taking your coworkers out for drinks, loved ones out for dinner or finally planning that vacation, make sure you find a way to acknowledge what you’ve survived this year, and make it a big to-do.
Though it seems counterintuitive, those who express gratitude to others tend to be happier themselves. Now might be a good time to express thanks to those who helped you through this difficult year. If your loved ones kept the kids, checked in on you, or offered to pick up things from the store for you, let them know you’re thankful. Also, thanking your employees can lead to higher team productivity. It might be a good time to acknowledge your entire staff’s patience, flexibility, and hard work over the past year.
Talk about it
It’s no secret that those in the medical industry tend to put their patients, and others in general, first. Felicia Speed, the vice president of social work service for Fresenius Medical Care North America says, “In healthcare, there is a pervasive culture that hides silent pain.” However reluctant you may feel about talking about the stress of the pandemic, experts say talking is a crucial step in preventing professional burnout during this time.
In the morning huddle, let your staff know they can talk to you if they’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing compassion fatigue. Not only will having open lines of communication help your staff prevent burnout, but your coworkers are also the people the most likely to understand the unique challenges you’ve been facing this year. You might feel less alone after hearing your own staff echo some of the same thoughts you’ve had too.
If there are other essential workers in your social circle, you might try reaching out to them. Though it may be hard to talk with your loved ones who have been at home during the pandemic, those who study the mental health of medical workers say it is important to try. If you are having trouble, begin by saying, “I’m having some unpleasant feelings I need to talk about,” and see if that helps you get started.
However you go about it, and whoever it is, please speak with someone about how this pandemic has affected you. If you or someone you know is struggling with physician burnout, the Physician Support Line at 888-409-0141 offers free peer support from volunteer psychiatrists from 8 am to 1 pm Eastern time. Dentists can reach out to the ADA for mental health support. Office managers and other essential workers can get peer support through Supportiv.com.
So, maybe you didn’t get to spend the last year working in your pajamas. The year that the entire world was forced into hiding, you stepped outside and became a hero.