Dec 05, 2020
The pandemic is stretching everyone in multiple directions simultaneously. It is terribly inconvenient and disruptive. It is stressing mental health, threatening livelihoods, altering futures, and taking lives. It is affecting everyone in so many various ways.
How are you coping?
There is no right or wrong way to deal with this unprecedented global stress. The important thing is we find a way to endure it and remain mentally and physically intact.
Currently, these are things that are helping me:
- Limiting news and social media. I keep up with the headlines and get my medical information only from reliable experts in the field. News and social media have a way of stirring things up and adding to the frustrations of the day.
- Staying busy on non-pandemic related tasks, when I have time, to find some enjoyment in life. Staying active, eating healthy, enjoying time with my husband, getting creative with my coaching business, etc., has been so good for me.
- Staying engaged with positive friends and online communities where we can really discuss important topics without going down into despair. We lift one another up and encourage each other toward hope. Some of my friends are in the thick of the hospital surges and just need a safe space to talk.
- Helping and encouraging others through mentoring and coaching – volunteer coaching with med students, taking on a med student in the office, encouraging others through email, text, and social media, keeping in touch with my previous clients have been beneficial to me and I hope others as well.
- Intentionally looking for things for which to be grateful. Our brains love to gravitate toward all the negative and so I aim my brain in the way I want it to focus.
- Not arguing with reality or wasting precious mental energy by wishing things were different. The pandemic is real, it’s here. The processes being taken to help mitigate unnecessary suffering and deaths are hard. But there is no reason to wish we would have “x,y,z” instead of “a,b,c” at this point. It is what it is.
- Publishing information as I feel it’s a responsibility that comes with my career. Yet, I hold loosely that it will impact more than a handful of people. Answering those who reach out to really understand.
- Holding space for people that need to vent about all the things. It’s much better to recognize there are real reasons to be frustrated and most people want to express their strong opinions. It’s not personal. I listen.
- Giving others the benefit of the doubt – I don’t have to agree with people or endorse their warped views of medicine and masking, but I can at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they really think their view is right and good for relationships, businesses and mental health. In other words, I can give them grace even though I disagree with them. I offer what words I feel they can handle in a kind and compassionate manner. This also loops back into the "no arguing with reality" point since wishing people understood the way I want them to wastes mental and emotional energy without gain.
- Forgiving others. When people post short-sighted things having no understanding what physicians, nurses and other healthcare personnel are withstanding, I choose to forgive – they never have to know my initial feeling toward their words. When they lie to my office staff about not having symptoms in order to be seen in person, I mention the reasons we have those in place and forgive. (And stay 6 feet away most of the visit and give thanks for my N95 mask. And give thanks for team efficiency so they weren’t in the waiting room but a minute).
- Embracing flexibility – I would say by nature, I’m naturally a bit more rigid. And whatever rigidity that international medical mission trips, running an indigent care clinic, and being in academic medicine didn’t beat out of me, I think COVID finally has. I’m not just flexible now, I’m COVID-flexible! "We are we doing what now? Didn’t we just decide ‘x’? Okay, but now we are onto ‘z’ and skipping ‘y’? The updated guidelines say what? Okay. Okay. Okay."
- Embracing uncertainty and discomfort. No, I can’t say I love wearing a mask all day at work. But I can tolerate it because it’s the right thing to do for all involved. Yes, I miss seeing my kids, grandbabies, siblings, parents, friends, and taking vacations to tropical places and going to indoor gatherings. I wish I knew when it was going to be pushed back and that we definitely are going back to ‘normal.’ But there is that wishing again that accomplishes nothing. Accepting that we just have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and uncertain, is very helpful for my mindset. This does not mean, however, I’ve given up hope. Hope is on the horizon.
- Anticipating a marathon, not a sprint. I’m set for the long-haul. I’m hopeful about vaccines but am not going to pretend that everyone’s going to get the 2-shot series and that COVID will be gone anytime soon. Lower expectations = Higher satisfaction. According to one leader in healthcare, I’m anticipating September before we reach herd immunity with vaccination. I’ll just celebrate early if it’s sooner.
- Leaning into my faith, as it sustains me like nothing else.
- Being proud of how I show up. Not worrying what people think of my masking/eye covering, or that I’m only zooming rather than gathering in person, or that I’m not traveling. I have my own back. I’m making the best decisions I can with the brain and information God has gifted me with, and I can put my head on the pillow knowing I’m showing up the best way I know how – for myself, my family, my patients, and my community.
Here are a couple tips I've seen from friends: (1) As a parent with virtual learning, they have cut themselves and their kids some slack. (2) An ICU leader decided to contrast the all-too-common despairing images of patients being prone on ventilators without family with weekly goal setting by the ICU physician team members. By the end of the week, each individual had offered their update on their goal (more teaching pearls, reading more films as a group, etc.) and gave and received immediate quality feedback. The entire team morale was improved. (3) Being an advocate. For some, being an outspoken advocate for patients is empowering and rejuvenating -- rather than adding frustration to their days, it brings them a sense of purpose.
Whatever it is for you, let's be intentional on staying wholly healthy, rather than mindlessly giving into poor coping strategies during this long-haul. Take care my friends and colleagues. Look after yourselves. Control what you can, let go of what you can’t. Thank you all for showing up and doing the hard work!
Have a joy-filled day! Tonya
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