Wellness during the COVID-19 crisis

We are more than a month into the shelter-in-place, and there are many thoughts that can come up for physicians.  Our frontline workers, who are dealing with limited viral testing, inadequate treatments for ill patients, scarcity of PPE, and fear of the virus infecting us and potentially our family members, are undoubtedly fatigued and drained by what they are going through. Other physicians whose practices have had to shut down due to lack of volume are dealing with the financial crisis of this pandemic. They may be laying off staff and have feelings of anguish and guilt. Rent still needs to be paid. And on top of all this, our kids are at home, “learning” online. We go outside wearing a mask; we work wearing a mask; we socially distance, and this oftentimes makes us feel anxious, lonely, fearful, and self-critical. “Why am I not being more productive? I have all this time on my hands …”

Times have definitely changed. It was just a few months ago I was on the beach at a wellness conference for women physicians. Wellness is a broad term that can mean different things to different people. It is certainly time to evaluate what wellness means to you. I liken it to keeping air in your cushion. When we get overly stressed, or we have too many things in our lives to handle at once, the air slowly drains out of your cushion, and suddenly your butt is on a very hard surface, and you are in pain.  What can you change, and it may be some very small things that can help you put some air back in your cushion?

Sprint vs. marathon

During this worldwide effort to “flatten the curve,” we have all been doing our part. We all hit the ground running and hunkered-down. Now we are getting worn out, but this is only mile 12 in our marathon. We’re only half-way there.  We need to be able to rebound and regain some mental and emotional strength to be able to finish the race.  Athletes know that there are certain things that are critical to keeping their bodies in tip-top shape. This is no different.

1. Whether you are racing around in the hospital, or at your desk, or at home, you need to make sure you are eating and drinking. This may seem simple, but how many times have you been so busy, you forgot to eat, or delayed going to the bathroom for the entire day? Your body and your brain need nutrients and fluids.

2. This critical element is what helps your body recover from exertion- physical, mental, and emotional. Cut back on coffee and alcohol several hours before bedtime. Cut out screen-time before bed. Maybe you need to not watch so much news. Do something soothing, and try to get 7+ hours of sleep.

3. Your breathing can help you through periods of stress. Taking some long, deep breaths can slow your heart rate and engage your parasympathetic nervous system, giving you a feeling of active calm and opening your mind to better thought processing and critical thinking.

4. Humans are social beings. Social distancing is very hard. Take some moments during your day to connect with those around you- your office mates, your hospital staff, your patients, your family, your friends. This is also an opportunity to connect with yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Don’t get down on yourself for not taking care of everything on your to-do list. Be introspective and appreciative of what you have.

5. Maybe this downtime for you is an opportunity you would not otherwise have had. Use it to read, to take an online class, to learn something with your kids.

As we adjust to this new normal, we are all learning to do things differently, to look at the world differently, to adapt to the changes that will probably stay with us into the future, in the way we practice medicine, in the way we conduct meetings, in the way we show up in the world.  I recently heard a podcaster describe resilience not as the ability to bounce back, but rather as the ability to bounce forward. We will not go back to the way things were. Everything is going to be different going forward. And in this marathon race, we will all cross that finish line with new thoughts, new feelings, and new approaches to the way we live our lives.

Beverly Joyce is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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