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Sustaining the well-being of health care pros

The extreme stress and uncertainty of global infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19, along with the often difficult nature of the medical response, require special attention to the needs of health care personnel. Taking care of yourself and encouraging others to practice self-care sustains the ability to care for those in need.

Health care personnel face many challenges during infectious disease outbreaks, including:

¯Surge in care demands. Many more people need medical care, while many health care personnel are sick or caring for their own family.

¯Ongoing risk of infection. There is an Increased risk of contracting the dreaded illness and passing it along to family, friends, and others at work.

¯Equipment challenges. Shortages can occur as a result of increased use. And equipment can be uncomfortable, limit mobility and communication, and be of uncertain benefit.

¯Providing support as well as medical care. Patients under care are also experiencing high levels of stress, which can be difficult for health care personnel to manage as they are trying to meet the immediate medical needs.

¯Psychological stress in the outbreak settings. Helping those in need can be rewarding, but also difficult as workers may experience fear, grief, frustration, guilt, insomnia, and exhaustion.

There are several strategies health care personnel can and should use to sustain their well-being:

¯Meet basic needs. Be sure to eat, drink and sleep regularly. Becoming biologically deprived puts you at risk and may also compromise your ability to care for patients.

¯Take breaks. Give yourself a rest from tending to patients. Whenever possible, allow yourself to do something unrelated to work that you find comforting, fun or relaxing. Taking a walk, listening to music, reading a book, or talking with a friend can help. Some people may feel guilty if they are not working full time or are taking time to enjoy themselves when so many others are suffering. Recognize that taking appropriate rest leads to proper care of patients after your break.

¯Connect with colleagues. Talk to your colleagues and receive support from one another. Infectious outbreaks can isolate people in fear and anxiety. Tell your story and listen to others’.

¯Communicate constructively. Communicate with colleagues clearly and in an optimistic manner. Identify mistakes or deficiencies in a constructive manner and correct them. Complement each other–compliments can be powerful motivators and stress moderators. Share your frustrations and your solutions. Problem solving is a professional skill that often provides a feeling of accomplishment even for small problems.

¯Contact family. Contact your loved ones, if possible. They are an anchor of support outside the health care system. Sharing and staying connected may help them better support you.

¯Respect differences. Some people need to talk while others need to be alone. Recognize and respect these differences in yourself, your patients and your colleagues.

¯Stay updated. Rely on trusted sources of information. Participate in meetings to stay informed of the situation, plans and events.

¯Limit media exposure. Graphic imagery and worrisome messages will increase your stress and may reduce your effectiveness and overall well-being.

¯Self check-ins. Monitor yourself over time for any symptoms of depression or stress disorder: prolonged sadness, difficulty sleeping, intrusive memories, hopelessness. Talk to a peer, supervisor, or seek professional help if needed.

¯Honor your service. Remind yourself that despite obstacles or frustrations, you are fulfilling a noble calling–taking care of those most in need. Recognize your colleagues–either formally or informally–for their service.(from Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress)

For more information about managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak, contact the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board at 330-424-0195 or visit the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services website at mha.ohio.gov.

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