Much has changed in our lives and our facilities since my column two weeks ago on addressing residents’ coronavirus fears. Back then, residents, like the rest of us, were still receiving visitors and attending communal activities.
In addition to its effect on residents, COVID-19 has put enormous stress on those who work in long-term care. Staff members are dealing with a frightening and highly contagious illness, as well as with increased personal and professional demands and the need to employ strict biosecurity measures.
In addition, they may be facing a new feeling of disconnection from friends and family as they grapple with active and potential COVID-19 cases while others are focused on the challenges of self-isolation and financial insecurity.
According to the American Psychological Association, research shows that “managing stress as soon as possible can prevent long-term troubles.”
Given that one of the biggest sources of anxiety is that facilities will run out of personal protective equipment (PPE), efforts to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of PPE are paramount. Other strategies to manage during this stressful period include:
These common suggestions bear repeating since those in the healthcare field frequently focus more on the needs of others. Remember, taking care of ourselves is taking care of them too. Whatever our role within our organizations, there are people observing how we’re reacting to this situation, as if we were flight attendants on turbulent planes. Paying attention to and addressing our own stress will make it less likely that we’ll “leak” our anxiety.
- Self-monitor for stress: Along with self-monitoring for physical symptoms of the coronavirus, assess for emotional symptoms. Look for signs such as irritability, insomnia, fatigue, headaches and digestive problems. Be aware that it’s normal to be experiencing some manifestations of anxiety (such as restlessness and difficulty focusing) during this period of exceptional uncertainty.
- Practice self-care: Healthy activities can help maintain equilibrium in trying times. Exercise, eat healthy foods, maintain a sleep schedule, pray, dance in the living room. Headspace, the meditation app, is offering free access to healthcare professionals this year. Spread the word.
- Stay personally connected: Despite social distancing and quarantines, we can stay in touch via telephone, FaceTime, Zoom meetings and other platforms. Set up group chats with friends and relatives to keep grounded in our personal lives and allay the concerns loved ones might feel about our work with a high-risk population. For example, I’m now in daily phone contact with my parents and I’ve been playing an online word game with my sister for both distraction and connection.
- Stay professionally connected: This is a good time to reach out to colleagues both within and outside our organizations whether by email, group chat, masked or from six feet away. This gives us the opportunity to share information, problem-solve and gain emotional support. I’ve been keeping in close contact with long-time local colleagues, my employer, the American Psychological Association and my peer group of Psychologists in Long-Term Care — and every bit of it helps.