updated - November 25, 2020 Wednesday EST
Health care workers not just in the U.S. but around the world face some of the most difficult challenges of any profession. That's always true, but perhaps even more so now, as we're still in the grips of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the challenges that lead to mental health issues for health care workers include disease exposure, exposure to violence, and a generally high-stress environment. Health care workers have long hours, usually facing 12 to 16-hour shifts, and they often work nights and weekends. Some do earn high salaries, but that's not always true.
So what can you do if you're in the health care industry to maintain your mental health, even in the face of sometimes staggering challenges?
It's common for health care workers, especially when they're on the front lines of something like the pandemic, to overlook their own well-being. They may not even recognize what they're experiencing in terms of their mental health until it becomes a much bigger problem.
Learn how to recognize possible warning flags in yourself that could show you might be facing something like fatigue or a stress-related disorder.
Some of the symptoms to watch for include:
Feeling anger or denial
Feelings of sadness
Issues with concentration
Along with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, it's very possible that health care workers can develop post-traumatic stress disorder or secondary traumatic stress.
Health care providers are caretakers. That's their profession. Then you might also be the caretaker for your family as well.
You have to remember that you can't help others if you have nothing to give. Taking care of yourself is anything but selfish.
To take care of yourself, give yourself time off not just from work but from other responsibilities. Find things you enjoy doing and schedule a time for them to be accountable for your self-care as you are with other responsibilities.
Check-in with yourself and monitor symptoms like the ones above.
Also, realize that even though you're experiencing some of the things that might be making headlines first-hand, you don't have to be glued to the news or social media constantly.
This can be toxic for your mental health.
Take time away and truly unplug and disconnect.
Along with self-care, remember to have self-compassion. You're doing work that has tremendous value, and you're doing the best you can.
When you're a health care provider, you need a support network, and you need to feel comfortable truly opening up to these people.
While family and friends may be a wonderful asset, sometimes talking to people who understand what you're going through can seem more reassuring. Talk to coworkers and people who are in a similar situation to your own when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Resilience when it comes to mental health is not about ignoring your feelings or trying to avoid mental health concerns you may have for yourself. It's about learning to confront how you're feeling head-on and tackle it with positive coping mechanisms.
There are many ways you can build resilience.
For example, identify and work to accept the things that you can't control. You can feel more in control of your life when you have a consistent routine that you follow each day as well. Try to include time for exercise in this routine, or at least time for being outdoors.
Practice mindfulness or meditation to keep your thoughts in check and stay present.
When you're working, think about and focus on one patient at a time. Don't let your mind wander to everyone else. You'll feel more in control if you're giving excellent care to just one person at any given moment.
If you're a health care provider who has people working under you, there are things you can do to support their mental health as well.
Health care workers need to have access to the things to do their job like PPE, but they also need to feel like their boss or employer supports them every step of the way.
Be clear in your communication and make sure that you're always providing them with necessary updates, no matter the situation. Transparency and support can go a long way in reducing mental health symptoms health care providers might be facing right now.
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