Dr. Jennifer Geren
Addressing the Wellbeing of Long-Term Care Workers in the Age of COVID-19
Even before COVID-19, staff at long-term care facilities managed stress and hardship on a daily basis. Every day they care for people facing serious and life-threatening health problems, putting residents’ needs ahead of their own. The nurses and caregivers, rehabilitation therapists, social workers and administrators, and kitchen and housekeeping staff are all essential workers. But what happens when that team needs help to carry on? When is it ok to say you can’t handle the new normal?
With over 60% of reported deaths in California coming from skilled nursing and long-term care facilities, the COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous strain on these teams. Whether their facility has an active COVID-19 outbreak or they are anxiously awaiting tests results for their residents or themselves, nursing home staff are under intense pressure to keep people safe. The tension and fear in these facilities is palpable. And, while there may be an increasing focus on the emotional wellbeing of healthcare workers, with lots of advice and tips for managing stress, engaging in self-care is easier said than done.
Here are four ways healthcare workers can help themselves while they continue to help others.
1. Pay attention to what you are feeling
Stress can show itself in many different ways. You might notice symptoms in your body, like muscle tension, headaches, digestive problems, or changes in sleep or appetite. Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, and mental fog also can occur during periods of heightened stress. Or, maybe your emotions are what you are noticing the most. You might be feeling afraid for yourself or your loved ones, or you may feel sad for your residents and their families who cannot be with them during this time of need. You might find yourself tearing up more easily or feeling more irritable or frustrated.
Pay attention to what you are feeling, and don’t ignore what you are experiencing. Acknowledging your experience is the first step in managing stress.
2. Be deliberate in your action
There are lots of great ideas for managing stress during COVID-19. Get exercise. Eat a healthy diet. Limit your news intake. Listen to music. Watch a funny movie. Stay connected with friends and family. Use aromatherapy. Do yoga. Breathe deeply. The list goes on and on.
Whether you are leaning on one of your tried and true approaches, or you want to try something new, be intentional with your action. Make a plan. Carve out a specific time. If you have been finding this difficult to do, you are not alone. Start small and keep it simple. Five minutes can make a difference. Remember, self-care is a practice, not a one-time occurrence. Be as deliberate about your self-care as you are about caring for others.
3. Be kind to yourself
As healthcare workers, we pride ourselves in our ability to tolerate difficult situations. Compassion for our patients and residents comes naturally. In contrast, demonstrating compassion for the problems that we face can be much more difficult.
COVID-19 is presenting us with challenges that were unimaginable just a few months ago. Additionally, it is clear that these challenges will continue for the foreseeable future. If you feel yourself struggling during this crisis, it’s ok. You are not the only one. Be kind to yourself in the same way that you are to your patients.
4. Ask for help
While we are all feeling the stress and strain of the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to know when it is time to get help. Maybe you are noticing that it’s harder to cope despite your best efforts to do so. Or, maybe you were struggling with other life stressors before the pandemic, and now you feel particularly vulnerable or compromised. Don’t be shy about seeking help from a mental health provider. That is what we are here for.