Most of us that work in health care don’t do it for the money, we don’t do it for the flexibility and we don’t do it for the accolades, which up until recently were few and far between. We chose this path because the desire to help others felt like our calling. No field embraces the ideals of helping everyone, regardless of their differences, quite like health care.
If you have spent any significant time in health care, you know that stress levels can be high even on our best days. Add COVID-19, and the level of anxiety can seem overwhelming. Employees enter and leave the health care system every day, but very few people leave because they have lost interest in helping others. Much to the contrary – it’s often the burden and pressure they feel from the field and their patients that leads to burnout, and subsequently an early exit from health care.
This is a time of great stress. While COVID-19 has impacted nearly every industry in the country, it has shaken ours to its core. Unfortunately, for health care workers, stress isn’t confined to work or home. It’s everywhere. In the hospital, the effects are seen on our patients and in the policies and practices we work within. At home, health care workers, like everyone else, are inundated with COVID-19 coverage on TV, online and on our social media feeds. Even during trips to work and other essential travel, there are constant reminders of the pressures of this pandemic. These around-the-clock reminders make it even more difficult to decompress and take our minds off COVID-19.
At home: Whether you’re running, cooking, working on crafts or doing whatever it is that helps you relax, be sure to truly get away. Start by turning off the TV, shutting down your social media feeds and reminding your friends and family that while talking about your experiences can be cathartic, finding a topic unrelated to COVID-19 can benefit everyone.
At work: Ensure you take your allotted lunch time and breaks in order to take the pressure off, if even for only a few minutes. Working through breaks and lunch is a common practice in the clinical space, but those few minutes to recharge are necessary. Use services provided through your HR, employee assistance and pastoral care departments. These services are often undervalued and under used, but can provide resources and tools to reduce stress in the workplace and at home. Find time to celebrate the lives being saved at your facility. Wonderful successes stories are written every day – make them your focus.
Finally, and most importantly, support one another. No one knows the pressure you are under more than those feeling it with you. The bonds created while saving a life or seeing one end are significant and need to be cherished, cultivated and leveraged to get you through COVID-19.
Stay safe ... heroes.
Jeremy Sadlier is director of HR Initiatives at AHA’s American Society for Health Care Human Resources Administration.