Tag Archives: mental health

Self-Care Strategies For Medical Practitioners

As the population enters another month of social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, it is becoming increasingly important for individuals to prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional health. The so-called “new normal” many find themselves living in has been characterized by heightened stress levels, long work hours, increased feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, as well as a persisting need to support and care for loved ones. During such an overwhelming time, it is important to take the necessary self-care measures that can work to mitigate negative emotional and physical responses to the pandemic – many of which may be happening subconsciously.

Both deteriorating physical and mental health can impede the ability to provide much-needed medical and home care, give and receive support, and to fulfill the needs of a growing number of patients. Whether you are one of the healthcare providers braving the crisis and fighting the virus on the front lines, a first-time telemedicine practitioner, or a medical professional with a practice currently closed, it is essential to take the time to incorporate some of the self-care strategies listed below when possible.

Self-Care Strategies

Boosting both physical and mental health requires regular check-ins throughout the day. Make sure to check in not only with your family and friends, but equally as importantly with yourself – how are you feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally? Paying attention to your current state will help identify what you may need at that moment, whether that is a walk around the neighborhood, a nutritious meal, or some physical exercise. The recommendations below are simple to incorporate into a daily routine yet may prove tremendously effective in improving overall wellbeing.

Physical Health

Supporting physical health is vital to ensure a well-functioning immune system and to protect it from the risk of COVID-19 infection. Several ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the circumstances – inclusive of regular physical activity and a well-balanced diet – are listed below:

•   Maintain a sleeping schedule and get enough rest; aim to sleep for around 7 to 8 hours per night.

•   Engage in physical activity every day – this can include walks around the block, jogging, or exercising at home.

•   Spend time outside (following social distancing guidelines) and in nature; studies have found that being outdoors is one of the quickest methods of improving health and wellbeing.

•   Eat regularly and fuel your body with a healthy, nutritious diet.

•   Make sure to hydrate as dehydration can have noxious effects on physical health; aim for about 2 liters of water per day.

•   Avoid substance use and destructive behaviors; abusing alcohol or drugs at this time may worsen both physical and mental health, take a toll on the immune system, and lead to other repercussions.

Mental Health 

Taking care of your mental health is equally as important; the heightened stress levels and rising feelings of loneliness can contribute to declines in immune system functioning as a result of related hormonal changes.

•   Find ways to connect with yourself and those around you – this can include regular phone or video calls, communicating throughout the day, and mindful personal check-ins.

•   Set a routine and try to maintain it; devoting specific times of the day to work, chores, home life, and self-care can help provide much-needed structure.

•   Instead of worrying about the public health crisis at hand, focus on things you can control, including work-related tasks, healthy lifestyle habits, and time spent connecting with the people around you.

•   Consider introducing relaxation techniques throughout the day, such as deep breathing, stretching, meditation, and yoga practice.

•   Use technology mindfully; many individuals are increasingly turning to social media, television, and their computers as a way of spending idle time. While it is needed to maintain social interactions and continue business operations, the amount of unnecessary time spent in front of a screen should be minimized.

•   Listen to music, read books, and pursue other stimulating activities instead.

•   Explore online resources and applications for managing anxiety and other mental health concerns at this time; the CDC has compiled a list of helpful coping strategies, accessible here. 

To be best equipped to provide health care and other support services, medical practitioners must prioritize their physical health and emotional wellbeing, which can be extremely difficult for those working within the healthcare system. While the consistent efforts of healthcare practitioners of all backgrounds are invaluable, the demands of the oft-dysfunctional healthcare system can take a significant toll on their physical and mental health. Many are struggling with traumatic stress responses or battling the infection themselves. As integral members of our shared communities, medical workers are encouraged to remember that they are not alone and to seek the therapeutic support and medical care they need.

Regardless of specialty, finding the time to practice self-care is now more important than ever; introducing some of the above strategies into your daily routine can significantly improve overall health and wellbeing. Additional recommendations, including specific tips for first responders and health care providers, have been made available by the CDC and can be found here.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or through chat on https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Please follow and like us:

The Rise of Eco-Anxiety

Uncontrollable wildfires, heatwaves, rising ocean levels, and other climate change conditions are contributing to a surge in “eco-anxiety” – a new subset of mental illness that is characterized by an intense fear of environmental damage or demise. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the predicted future state of the environment as related to human-induced change. While not the same as clinical anxiety disorder, eco-anxiety can worsen or trigger preexisting mental health conditions.

Per recent data, about 70% of people in the United States are worried about climate change, while over half feel “helpless” about the situation. More evidence is emerging suggesting people are experiencing severe or chronic anxiety due to a feeling of lack of control; they are frustrated and afraid while also feeling guilty and anxious about their personal impact on the environment, causing the latest surge in eco-anxiety cases in the Western world.

What is Eco-Anxiety?

First defined in 2017 by the American Psychiatric Association as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”, the disorder remains under investigation. Although not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the condition is characterized by chronic or severe anxiety related to the current and future state of the environment.

The immediate effects of climate change – including damage to communities, food shortages, and reduced medical supplies – can not only harm physical wellbeing and displace populations, but can also prove to be a significant challenge on mental wellbeing. Gradual impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, and changes in seasonal patterns may lead to the development or worsening of chronic mental health symptoms. These can manifest as a mix of trauma and shock, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorder, aggression, reduced feelings of autonomy, feelings of helplessness, and fatalism.

What Causes It?

For most individuals, eco-anxiety stems from experiencing or being at risk of experiencing climate-related consequences. The stress over losing housing or employment due to environmental changes can have a significant effect on an individual’s wellbeing, while chronic stress can raise the risk of several serious health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, depression, and general anxiety disorder. This intensifying anxiety may also result from a growing awareness of the possibility of extreme weather events, the potential loss of livelihood or housing, fears for future generations, and increased feelings of helplessness.

Vulnerable Demographics

Some of the more vulnerable demographics for this condition include populations who reside in locations at risk for extreme weather – such as coastal towns and low-lying areas – and especially individuals who work in a field affected by environmental patterns such as fishing, tourism, and agriculture.

In addition, people who live in indigenous communities and rely on natural resources for their livelihood, tend to reside in more vulnerable geographic locations. They may face an increased fear of losing their housing, livelihood and cultural heritage which can be damaging to identity, belonging and a the greater sense of community.

First responders, emergency health care workers, and people who work in environmental jobs are more prone to developing eco-anxiety. Additionally, individuals with preexisting mental and physical conditions, children and young adults, people of lower socioeconomic status, and displaced or forced migrants may be more likely to experience the mental health condition.

As there is currently no clinical definition of eco-anxiety it may be difficult for health care practitioners to diagnose. However, if a patient is concerned about the environment to the point of interference with everyday activities or their ability to work or take care of themselves, they should be urged to speak to a mental health professional who may provide the necessary therapeutic support and be able to suggest effective coping mechanisms.

Experts in the field of eco-psychology, a branch of the medicine that evaluates psychological relationships with nature and their impact on identity, wellbeing and health, are working to better understand the newly-defined disorder and develop effective methods to alleviate its symptoms. A growing number of mental health practitioners are receiving training to help detect and manage fears related to eco-anxiety as its burden continues to increase. As part of this effort, the Climate Psychology Alliance is offering individual and group support for eco-anxiety sufferers as well as education for therapists, including free sessions over the phone or Skype.

Please follow and like us:

Mental Health Tips for Clinicians During COVID-19

In the difficult time of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the healthcare industry and its dedicated professionals are working around the clock to treat patients and prevent the further spread of the infection. As the first line of defense against the disease, physicians must maintain not only their physical health by practicing current safety practices, but also protect their mental health despite rising stress levels, long work hours, and prevailing uncertainty. In an effort to ease the psychosocial symptoms accompanying the epidemic, a recent article published in Medical Economics outlines several suggestions for physicians and other care providers to help them cope during this extremely demanding period.

Manage Stress Levels 

Managing stress levels and psychological wellbeing is as essential during this time as ever. High-pressure conditions have been directly tied to negative effects on physical health; increased cortisol production has a well-established relationship with decreased immune system functioning. Although health care providers are likely to be experiencing severe levels of stress at this time, simple coping techniques can provide relief. To help alleviate stress, professionals are encouraged to ensure a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and the use of relaxation techniques – all of which can help clinicians cope with the increased demands of their jobs at this time while having positive effects on their overall wellbeing.

Prioritize Basic Needs

As mentioned above, ensuring adequate rest during work hours or between shifts as well as eating sufficient amounts of healthy food are basic necessities for coping in a time of emergency. Other positive strategies include engaging in physical activity when possible and staying in close contact with family and friends. Clinicians are urged to avoid employing adverse coping mechanisms, such as tobacco, alcohol, or other drug use as these can worsen mental and physical health in the long term and make the current situation more difficult to handle.

Stay Connected

During a period of required social distancing and isolation, it is vital to maintain contact with family, friends, and colleagues to ensure access to social support. Staying connecting throughout the day has never been easier with digital technologies facilitating constant contact and allowing people to remain in touch despite physical distancing.

As it may be difficult for healthcare providers to see their loved ones or maintain physical contact for fear of spreading the infection, it is crucial to call, FaceTime, message, and reach out in other ways. It is also important to ensure diverse forms of communication are being used – that do not solely rely on written words – to connect with individuals with intellectual, cognitive, and psychosocial disabilities, especially if you are a team leader or manager in a healthcare facility.

Work Together

Ensuring good quality communication across staff members can facilitate working together during this time. Individuals in managerial positions are encouraged to support the mental health of medical professionals in any way they can. This should include rotating workers from high-stress to lower-stress functions to ensure they can get adequate rest. Inexperienced workers should be paired with more experienced employees to help provide support, monitor stress, and reinforce safety procedures. Further, healthcare providers should be encouraged to take breaks, while flexible schedules should be implemented for workers who are directly or indirectly impacted by the COVID-19 infection.

Promote Access to Support Services

Team leaders and managers of healthcare facilities are asked to ensure their staff has access to mental health and psychosocial support services, not only during these difficult times but at all other times as well. While individuals in leadership positions can and should provide positive role models for self-care strategies to help mitigate stress, they are not immune to the psychological toll of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is important to remember that these individuals are also be experiencing increased levels of stress and feelings of pressure, requiring access to support services as well.

Educating medical professionals on how to provide basic emotional support to affected people and each other using psychological first aid is a necessary step. Some strategies include speaking and acting calmly, creating connections and building relationships, as well as encouraging mindfulness via proven relaxation techniques. A more comprehensive guide to psychological first aid can be found here.

Beyond combating the coronavirus outbreak, a current priority is ensuring the physical safety and mental health of healthcare providers worldwide. Managing stress, connecting with others, and making sure to prioritize basic needs in this emergency situation can help drive positive outcomes for both providers and their patients, who need the support of the healthcare workforce more than ever.

Please follow and like us: