As a first responder during the coronavirus, you face unique challenges: your hours may increase as your daily workload expands to contend with COVID-19, you’re at a greater risk of getting sick, and you may have made the difficult choice to self-isolate from your family so that you can continue to treat patients. The work you do is of utmost importance, and while its personally rewarding nature can certainly be a motivator during tough times, the associated stress can veer into burnout territory if left unmanaged.
Studies published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry and BMC Public Health show that first responders feel they are expected to play down the traumatic impact of their work. Yet minimizing their prolonged exposure to high stress puts them particularly at risk of absenteeism and conflict on the job, irritability and tension with their loved ones, and sleep difficulties.
Over 80% of people feel significantly more stressed as a result of current public health circumstances, according to a Thrive Global survey of over 5,000 Americans to identify pain points related to the coronavirus crisis and solutions to help. And for first responders, that stress may be understandably magnified. That’s why it’s important to be armed with strategies to reduce your anxiety and protect your well-being while you care for others.
The ideal time to begin stress prevention is before you arrive at your shift. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)recommends living a “disaster ready lifestyle,” which is to say, getting plenty of regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Prioritizing sleep is key as well — a solid night of rest will enable you to arrive at your shift with a clear mind so you can respond to daily challenges more effectively and be more resilient in the face of difficulty.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for this” — take comfort. Reducing stress — even in the most high pressure circumstances — starts with small steps, many of which can be completed in two minutes or less. At Thrive, we call them Microsteps: small, science-backed actions you can start taking immediately to build habits that significantly improve your life. Here are three that you can implement today to lower your stress so you can make even more of a difference in people’s lives:
On your break, take a few minutes to go outside. Even a short walk outdoors will help you recharge. Outdoor light is crucial for resetting our internal circadian clocks. Vitamin D from sun exposure is also indispensable for our immune system health and overall mental well-being.
When you’re feeling stressed, remind yourself why you became a healthcare worker or ally in the first place. If you joined this field because you want to help people, remembering that fact can help you to move through challenging moments with more resilience.
Listen to a calming song on shift breaks or after a shift ends. This SAMHSA-recommended strategy is a signal to your brain and body that it’s safe to relax and unwind.
With additional reporting from Mallory Stratton.