Health care workers constitute the most affected group of people in the fight against the COVID-19 virus.
A year ago, no one would have ever believed that 2020 would have turned out to be one of the most devastating years on record. Amidst the most destructive hurricane season ever, ravaging wildfires and a world-wide pandemic, frontline workers – first responders and health care professionals - have been the most heavily impacted by the environment and its vices over the past 12 months. Appropriately, the topic of self-care for health care workers has grown in popularity, but unfortunately, many health care workers find themselves with barely enough time to breathe, much less breathe deeply.
Worse, health care workers constitute the most affected group of people in the fight against the COVID-19 virus as they have been challenged with helping the over 8 million people who have contracted the virus in the US. Additionally, there are an estimated 21 million individuals working in health care across the country1 who are often forced to work under extremely difficult and stressful conditions.
The wellbeing and emotional resilience of health care professionals are key components of continuing healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic, as stated by the National Center for PTSD (2020). Some of the common mental effects of the pandemic experienced are anxiety, panic, depression, anger, confusion, ambivalence and financial stress.
Research shows that, during this intense period, health care professionals have been observed to experience serious psychological problems and to be at risk in terms of mental health,2 further demonstrating the importance of self-care for health care workers who are often so busy caring for others that they neglect themselves.
Studies have shown that health care professionals have been considerably more worried about catching the infection during a pandemic (Chua et al., 2004). Their frequent exposure to COVID-19 patients has raised anxiety and fear of virus infection.
As a result, levels of stress, depression and anxiety have increased, which has led to some of them becoming traumatized (McAlonan et al., 2007).2 Studies have also shown that, in order to raise the psychological resilience level of health care professionals working during the COVID-19 pandemic, their quality of sleep, positive emotions and life satisfaction need to be enhanced.2
Thankfully, the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines has helped with much of the psychological stress, and the prioritizing of frontline health care workers has eased much of the tension. However, while being vaccinated against COVID-19 takes some of the fear away, it doesn’t eliminate the need for self-care for health care workers, especially in light of the trauma that many of them have endured over the past year.
Several other behavioral and social science researchers have developed strategies that can be used to support optimum mental health. Dr. George Everly Jr., a psychologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, who has more than 40 years’ experience studying the psychological impacts of disasters, provides the following insights to help build resilience during these trying times.3
Health care professionals know first-hand the strain that COVID-19 has put on health care institutions and the people who work in them. While the future looks promising with the distribution of vaccines, it’s imperative that workers not neglect their own physical, emotional, and mental health.
There may indeed be a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against the novel coronavirus, but the need to practice self-care for health care workers is here to stay. Healthy frontline workers are one of the key components to healthy communities. In fact, health care workers investing in their own wellbeing is one of the greatest contributions they can make to public health.
2 - Bozdağ, Faruk, and Naif Ergün. “Psychological Resilience of Healthcare Professionals During COVID-19 Pandemic.” Psychological Reports 0033294120965477. 13 Oct. 2020, doi:10.1177/0033294120965477
4 - Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, 2020; Dewey et al., 2020; InterAgency Standing Committee, 2020; Lai et al., 2020; W. Li et al., 2020; Liuet al., 2020; Siyu et al., 202