As managers and leaders, we not only have to take care of ourselves, the individuals coming into the healthcare facility for care, but also our care teams providing frontline care at a time when they are needed most. This collection of responsibilities can be an overwhelming task on a good day. With the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of our people and patients is at an all-time high. Couple this with the age of social media, the overwhelming amount of information and mis-information available can be staggering.
So how can we help our staff (and ourselves) maintain a sense of calm and focus during a pandemic?
Increase Communication. Communicate frequently and honestly. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now. Video/record/stream this communication. Make this communication visible and available for everyone to read and reread as needed and to feel connected in a time that can feel very lonely and isolated.
Be visible. Make rounds on the floor. Greet employees and thank them for their work.
Be available. An open door is more important than ever (or a closed door that includes a welcoming sign to come in). Nothing makes employees more nervous than closed doors.
Respond to questions asked. Even if you don’t have an answer, respond with steps that are being taken to find a resolution or answer. It is also okay to let them know you do not have the answer readily available but will research and get back to them. Always get back to them and share the information with everyone.
Try to keep a structured work environment. Note, this may be changing daily or even more frequently. Flexibility is a must.
Encourage mental and physical breaks
Ratios, stay within what the practice is for your facility
Provide as much ancillary support as available, i.e., CNAs, unit secretaries, runners, staff to cover for breaks
Stay as close to regular hours as possible
Watch staying over a scheduled shift
Watch amount of overtime
Ensure your benefits cover EAP-type services for the mental well-being of you and your team
When not working, encourage:
Getting more sleep
Following a healthy diet
Practicing deep breathing
Taking time to unwind and do other enjoyable activities
Connecting with others. Talk with trusted confidants about concerns and feelings
Taking a break from watching the news or social media about the pandemic
Responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are some things you can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:
Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book.
Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.
For people who have been released from quarantine:
Being separated from others if a healthcare provider thinks you may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be stressful, even if you do not get sick. Everyone feels differently after coming out of quarantine. Some feelings include:
Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine
Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious
Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine
Other emotional or mental health changes
For First Responders:
Managing COVID 19 stress from Virginia Veterans Authority psychologist, Dr Brian Meyers:
Limit your exposure to depressing or stressful content. This means in the media, books, movies, newspapers, and TV shows. No more than one hour per day – and yes, that includes information about the coronavirus. Limit screen time and increase reading; visuals are much more powerful emotionally. Increase exposure to pleasant things.
Focus on what you can control and try to let go of what you can’t.
Start a gratitude journal. Write down 3 things each day you are grateful for and write down different ones every day. Do this for at least 3 weeks. 21 days of gratitude journaling has been found to be an effective antidepressant.
Limit junk food intake. When you are stressed, sugar, salt, and fat taste much better; unfortunately, they also make your body feel worse.
Focus on what you can do now, and don’t worry about what you have to do tomorrow. It will come anyway, and you can focus on it then.
Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you are doing as much as you can.
Get 3-4 hours of aerobic exercise every week, split into at least 3 different days. Exercise is a natural antidepressant.
Practice mindfulness meditation every day. Daily meditation lasting 20-45 minutes for 8 weeks has been shown to change your brain, leading it to become calmer in the face of stress.
Get 6.5-7.5 hours of sleep each night. Less sleep than that makes you irritable, tired, less productive, and less effective.
Plan at least one pleasant thing to do every day. If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen.
Self-soothe with your senses. Look at pretty pictures or pictures of people you love. Listen to calming or uplifting music. Fill your home with smells like from candles, scents, and foods. Take long baths and pet your pets. Savor your favorite foods.
Engage in a hobby that has nothing to do with work or relationships. That way, when other things in your life are stressful, you can still enjoy your hobby.
Practice yoga. It has both physical and mental health benefits.
Have at least one person in whom you can confide: a family member, friend, minister, priest, rabbi, or therapist.
Ask yourself what gives you joy and what gives you meaning? Increase the amount of time you spend doing both.
Develop a self-care action plan. Split it into 5 sections: mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Do at least one thing from the plan each day, and one thing from each category each week.