Written by Dr. Beverly Baliko, psychiatric mental health professor
Feelings of distress are reasonable responses to crisis. Focus on things that you can control. We can’t control the situation or what others say or do, but we can control how we respond. Three strategies for managing stress:
Limit exposure to negativity and information overload: COVID-related news and social media tends to be repetitious, sensationalized, and is often inaccurate. Resist the urge to check news feeds, notifications, and updates throughout the day to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Engage with friends and family who are supportive and calm, and limit interactions that deplete your energy or increase your anxiety. Anxiety and negativity are contagious too. While knowledge is empowering, choose a few reliable, science-based sources to stay informed.
Practice self-compassion: During times of uncertainty and disruption, our usual ways of coping and functioning are challenged. Set realistic goals and expectations and be kind to yourself. Try not to compare your responses to those of others. Acknowledge your feelings and process them with people in your support system, or with mental health professionals, especially if distressing feelings become persistent. Explore the many resources available to help you manage your stress in adaptive ways.
Intentionally notice what is good: Humans have evolved to respond to threats, and so bad news gets the most attention, not just in the media, but in our brains. We can balance that by seeking joy in the activities and interactions that give our lives meaning, through appreciation of others’ creativity or contributions, and through intentional activities. For example, gratitude is an evidence-based practice that can have a significant impact on mood and emotional well-being. It can be practiced in various ways. The easiest:
- Before getting out of bed think of something that you’re grateful for, either personally or in the world. In a time of inevitable stress, this provides a buffer against the day’s news and events.
- Three Good Things: Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of each day making note of 3 things, large or small, that went well. For example, these could be things that you experienced directly or something you saw, heard, or read about that touched your heart, inspired you, or made you laugh.
How to tell friends and family you’re struggling:
Nurses and other healthcare care workers are rightly being lauded as heroes during the pandemic, but that does not mean we’re superhuman. There is currently a high level of awareness of the toll that the pandemic is taking on HCWs’ healthcare and emotional well-being. If people offer, allow them to help, not just in providing emotional support, but in tangible ways. Most people genuinely want to help and it’s rewarding for THEM to be able to do so. If people who love you ask how you are, don’t automatically answer “fine.” Let them know if you’re having a difficult time, as well as what would help. Sharing and seeking support sets a positive example for others who might be reluctant to admit that they’re struggling too. Even if stressors aren’t overwhelming, consider who in your support system is available to you just in case. When the source of your stress is work related, peers and colleagues can be empathetic listeners. If you reach out and don’t get the help you need, don’t give up. There is no need to struggle alone.
Resources and Webinars (many specific to coping and stress management for HCWs):
American Psychiatric Nurses Association
Managing Stress and Self-Care During COVID-19: Information for Nurses https://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=6685
COVID-19 Self-Care Resources
American Nurses Association
Self-Care Package for Nurses (Free) https://www.nursingworld.org/continuing-education/anas-covid-19-self-care-package-for-nurses/
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care
Resources and webinars for healthcarecare providers and administrators coping with the COVID-19 pandemic
UCSF Department of Psychiatry. Emotional Well-Being during the COVID-19 Crisis - UCSF weekly webinar series for healthcare care providers
This article https://bewell.stanford.edu/self-care-the-gift-that-keeps-on-giving/ was written before the pandemic and is full of great tips on self-care that are especially applicable in times of heightened stress.
Online Tools and Apps:
UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center – activities to promote a meaningful life
My Possible Self: Mental well-being tools (free during COVID-19)
Examples of popular apps that have free basic versions:
- Headspace – guided meditation
- Aura: Meditation & sleep
- Relax Melodies – music and meditations to promote relaxation and sleep
- Insight Timer – meditation
- Breethe: Meditation & sleep
- Calm – guided meditations, breathing exercises, sleep promotion
The Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook https: https://thewellnesssociety.org/free-coronavirus-anxiety-workbook/
Other online resources for self-care and stress reduction:
Check Google and YouTube for yoga, meditation, guided imagery, dance, and exercise videos. Examples:
- Yoga Practice
- Fitness Workouts
- Stay Home, Take Care- Ideas to help you stay in and take care of yourself and others. Updated daily.
- NPR Tiny Desk concert series
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cam
- Nightly Livestreams from the Metropolitan Opera
- 14 World Class Museums to Visit Virtually