It has been over a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and during that time, frontline workers across the nation have selflessly put the health and well-being of others above their own. However, as vaccines start to roll out and become more widely available, experts worry about the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic on health care professionals and their struggle to cope with the trauma they have experienced.
A survey conducted by Mental Health America found that 82 percent of healthcare workers were emotionally exhausted and 39 percent said that they did not feel like they had adequate emotional support.
Constant, intense exposure to such stress can lead to long-term mental health consequences such as substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and increase risk of suicide.
Read more about the actions that frontline workers can take to cope with stress and manage their mental wellbeing:
Take a break from the media
It is good to stay informed, but hearing constant updates about the pandemic can be upsetting. Consider limiting your news intake to only a couple of times a day, and take a break from social media. By disconnecting yourself from the media, you give yourself time to take stock of the things that are in your control and avoid sources of unverified information.
Check in with yourself
Spend time recounting the things that you accomplish each day, and remind yourself that what you are feeling is not a sign of weakness or inability to do your job well. Continuously monitor yourself for symptoms of mental health disorders, such as feelings of prolonged sadness or hopelessness.
Seek help from a health professional if your feelings of grief persist and it becomes difficult to cope with your daily activities at work or at home. If you are too overwhelmed, consider what you can do to relieve some of your responsibilities at home or discuss new options with your work supervisor.
Take care of your body
When you are stressed, your mind can put unnecessary pressure on your body and psyche. While some studies show that acute short-term stresses may actually be able to boost the body’s immune response, chronic (long-term) stress has the effect of “wearing down” the immune system. Utilize self-care techniques, such as taking deep breaths, affirmations, taking a walk in nature, and meditation.
Try to routinely eat healthy, well-balanced meals and get a few minutes of exercise each day. Avoid unhealthy coping habits like using tobacco, alcohol, and other substances.
Make time to unwind
Actively make time to do simple actions that bring joy, comfort and boost self-esteem on a regular basis. Channel your feelings into healthy tasks or hobbies that takes your mind off of work and pressing responsibilities.
According to a poll by Medical Economics, some popular hobbies started during the pandemic among physicians include art therapy, baking, and gardening.
Seek help from a professional
If you are struggling to cope, it’s important that you speak with someone who can offer you personalized mental health treatments and strategies. Consider utilizing an online therapist matching service and connect with a skilled healthcare professional in your area or online.
For additional mental health resources for workers on the frontline, please visit Mental Health Match’s Guide to Therapy and Mental Health.