Health, Wellness: Surviving Your Shift - Seven Tips For Healthcare Workers

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COVID-19 has raged on for the better part of a year and it has taken a serious toll on healthcare professionals. They are stressed, worried, anxious, and exhausted. Nonetheless, they keep showing up for work despite the risks.

But working amid grim circumstances doesn’t mean healthcare workers have no control over their state of mind, say Mark Goulston, MD and Diana Hendel, PharmD. There’s plenty they can do to meet the workday with greater resilience and strength.

"As gritty and self-determined as healthcare employees are, they need to give themselves extra support and self-care throughout the day," says Dr. Goulston, coauthor along with Dr. Hendel of Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD (Harper Horizon, December 2020, ISBN: 978-0-7852-4462-2, $17.99). "This is especially true during a pandemic when traumatic stress is at an all-time high."


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"There are plenty of small routines and tools that can help you get through these tough days," adds Dr. Hendel, who became an expert in organizational trauma after leading a major medical center through a deadly workplace shooting over a decade ago. "Not only can they provide immediate relief in the short term, they can help you build the coping skills to stay physically and emotionally healthy long term."

Why Cope When You Can Heal? shares therapeutic approaches that are currently used to effectively treat traumatic stress and introduces powerful exercises to help you move through the trauma and further your healing. Here are some strategies to keep you calm and as stress free as possible (given the extraordinarily stressful circumstances) at work each day.

Keep something that makes you laugh nearby. Humor is a great way to alleviate stress. Tape a clip of a funny cartoon to your work area or carry a small notebook with jokes that make you laugh every time you read them.


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Use calming affirmations to give you strength and peace. Written positive statement can give you a lift when you feel yourself sinking. If self-talk is not for you, imagine a supportive other saying these to you in your mind’s eye. A few examples:

I am great at my job, and my training and skills are empowering.

I feel energized and ready for anything the day has in store for me.

I accept myself as I am. I am enough.

I am safe in this moment.

Reach for an anchor. Carry a small reminder of what you love about your life and focus on it if you feel triggered and need to center yourself. It might be a photo of your kids or pet, a small rock you picked up on a scenic nature hike, or a special necklace. Think of the gratitude you feel for your life whenever you look at this token.

Take a few minutes to get grounded. Grounding is a great way to reduce anxiety and arrive in the here and now. Use it anytime you feel carried away by anxious thoughts, feelings, or triggered by upsetting memories and flashbacks.


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Find a comfortable place to sit (or stand). If sitting, rest your hands on your legs. Feel the fabric of your clothing. Notice its color and texture.

Next, bring your awareness to your body. Stretch your neck from side to side. Relax your shoulders. Tense and relax your calves. Stomp your feet.

Look around and notice the sights, sounds, and scents around you for a few moments.

Name fifteen to twenty things you can see. For example, the floor, a light, a desk, a sink.

As you keep looking around, remind yourself that "The flashback or emotion I felt is in the past. Right now, in this moment, I’m safe."

Take a quick walk. Try to find time to take a to walk outside every day—even if only for five minutes. Breathe in the fresh air and appreciate the gifts of nature around you, such as a busy squirrel, a cluster of trees, or drifting clouds. If you absolutely can’t get outdoors for a few minutes, do a few stretches in between visiting patients.

Nourish and energize yourself with healthy food and drinks. If you aren’t already eating a healthy diet, start swapping in better choices that will give your body the fuel it needs to make it through the workday. Pack healthy homemade lunches instead of opting for pizza in the cafeteria each day. Fill up on veggie-filled salads topped with healthy proteins such as grilled chicken or salmon. Replace your daily snack of potato chips with a piece of fruit. Instead of reaching for a soda, sip water flavored with citrus or cucumber slices.

Check in with your support group (a.k.a. your "fire team"). If your organization has not already formed a support group for its employees, consider starting an informal meeting so you and your coworkers can get together and talk about what you are going through. This group is your "fire team"—the colleagues fighting by your side in the battle against COVID-19. You can meet with them for a few minutes every day or set up a longer weekly meeting. This gives you a community to share about your mental and emotional struggles, and yes, your triumphs too!

"While it’s important to reach out and get professional help if you need it, it’s also crucial to remember to help yourself during stressful, discouraging moments at work," concludes Goulston. "These tools help you maintain a sense of calm during chaos and will help you form healthy habits to support healing from traumatic stress over time."


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About the Authors:
Mark Goulston, MD, FAPA
Dr. Mark Goulston is the coauthor of Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD (Harper Horizon, December 2020) and Trauma to Triumph: A Roadmap for Leading Through Disruption and Thriving on the Other Side (HarperCollins Leadership, Spring 2021). He is a board-certified psychiatrist, fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA NPI, and a former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer. He is the creator of Theory Y Executive Coaching—which he provides to CEOs, presidents, founders, and entrepreneurs—and is a TEDx and international keynote speaker.

He is the creator and developer of Surgical Empathy, a process to help people recover and heal from PTSD, prevent suicide in teenagers and young adults, and help organizations overcome implicit bias.

Dr. Goulston is the author or principal author of seven prior books, including PTSD for Dummies, Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, and Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life. He hosts the My Wakeup Call podcast, where he speaks with influencers about their purpose in life and the wakeup calls that led them there. He also is the co-creator and moderator of the multi-honored documentary Stay Alive: An Intimate Conversation About Suicide Prevention.

He appears frequently as a human psychology and behavior subject-area expert across all media, including news outlets ABC, NBC, CBS, and BBC News, as well as CNN, Today, Oprah, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Westwood One. He was also featured in the PBS special "Just Listen."

Diana Hendel, PharmD
Dr. Diana Hendel is the coauthor of Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD (Harper Horizon, December 2020) and Trauma to Triumph: A Roadmap for Leading Through Disruption and Thriving on the Other Side (HarperCollins Leadership, Spring 2021). She is an executive coach and leadership consultant, former hospital CEO, and author of Responsible: A Memoir, a riveting and deeply personal account of leading during and through the aftermath of a deadly workplace trauma.

As the CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital, Hendel led one of the largest acute care, trauma, and teaching hospital complexes on the West Coast. She has served in leadership roles in numerous community organizations and professional associations, including chair of the California Children’s Hospital Association, executive committee member of the Hospital Association of Southern California, vice chair of the Southern California Leadership Council, chair of the Greater Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, board member of the California Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and leader-in-residence of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University Long Beach.

She earned a BS in biological sciences from UC Irvine and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco. She has spoken about healthcare and leadership at regional and national conferences and at TEDx SoCal on the topic of "Childhood Obesity: Small Steps, Big Change."

About the Book: 
Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD (Harper Horizon, December 2020, ISBN: 978-0-7852-4462-2, $17.99) is available in bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.

To learn more, please visit https://whycopewhenyoucanheal.com/.

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