Even physicians feel stressed and uneasy about the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe more so than others. After all, we’re supposed to be the ones with the answers to our patients’ questions and have the means to help them. And unfortunately this is a time when we have little of both and it’s frustrating.
One of my collagues read an article about dealing with this stress, and to decrease our stress from having one more piece of information to read he briefly outlined it in an email and added his own thoughts. I liked it so well I asked him if I could feature it here and he graciously consented. And like he did, I have added a few of my thoughts and some references, as well as a link to the original article from CNNhealth.
Limit the frequency of your updates, including social media
With one of my patients who I was having to talk off of a ledge twice weekly, I suggested allowing herself one news check-in for 30 minutes each morning. This worked for her. Choose a frequency and a time that works for you. But why stop there? Consider a social media sabbatical . Truly. Give it a week and see how you feel. Taking the apps off your phone or tablet helps keep you accountable.
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Name your fears
Recognize that we all have a negativity bias hard-wired into our brains. It’s a leftover evolutionary tool that helped keep our caveman and hunter-gatherer ancestors alive.
In addition to constantly scanning our environment for threats, it also does a good job of overestimating the likelihood that something tragic will befall us, and underestimates our capacity and resources to cope. We’re not crazy or neurotic, we’re just wired that way.
Conversely, if you minimize or ignore the threat of the pandemic, ask yourself if you should take it more seriously. If your reactions don’t match those of others in your community, your fear may have driven you to denial.
Think outside yourself:
If/when you are feeling overly worried and anxious, and your thinking feels contracted and hopeless, turn your thoughts to how you can help someone else. This may be a child or other family member, a group of society that is at risk or marginalized at this time, or some of the groups at higher risk due to their occupations, age, or medical conditions.
Science is unequivocal that when our thoughts turn to serving others, symptoms of worry, anxiety and depression lessen, and we feel better about ourselves. And this does not have to be anything big, simply shifting to focus off of ourselves and onto someone else helps.
Seek support, but do it wisely:
Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. And that goes for us caregivers too. We are not, and should not think of ourselves, as impervious to the various stressors, the disrupted routines and all of the uncertainty that is prevalent in the world right now. Ask someone you can trust to be objective and rational, and not feed your worries or concerns.
Pay attention to your basic needs
Don’t get so wrapped up in thinking about the coronavirus that you forget the essential, healthy practices that keep you physically well.
- Getting adequate sleep
- Keeping up with proper nutrition
- Getting outside as much as possible
- Engaging in regular physical activity
Practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and spiritual disciplines will help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into the dark and sometimes irrational unknown.
Don’t chastise yourself for worrying.
Again, this is part of our normal evolutionary programming. And to help kids when they are scared, don’t just tell them everything is going to be alright.
Let them know you hear their concerns and that you understand where they are coming from. And THEN give them evidence and reasoning for the opposite side of the worry equation.
Acknowledge their fears, and validate them… And then do the same for yourself.
This post was adapted from this article on CNNhealth
Thanks to my guest writer-Dane Treat, M.D.
Dr. Treat graduated from the University of Oklahoma medical school, although a couple of decades later than I did. He completed residency at Good Samaritan Family Practice in Phoenix, where he lives and practices now. He also completed a Sports Medicine fellowship. He is a student of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. He wisely married a Mayo Clinic trained gastroenterologist, and they are the proud parents of a daughter.
exploring the HEART of dealing with COVID-19
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