This is clearly an anxiety provoking time for all of us regardless if we are in the trenches physically examining patients, or homeschooling children. Daily we are bombarded by information from the rapidly increasing numbers of the infected to the unclear information and at times rumors being given from every level of government. We are all subjected to this and none of us are immune to potential anxiety, frustration, fear, depression, anger or any other stress reactions that can be experienced from the pressures we are presently under.
In my local church family, we have been studying the names of God. I want to mention a name that has strengthened me throughout the most challenging times of my life. God is Jehovah Shalom. He is my peace and your peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). He is the peace that will overcome all stress reactions. He is Immanuel, God with us, traveling in our boat as we are sailing through this global health crisis.
As a physician on the board of the Harold C. Smith Foundation working in the field of Mental Health, I would like to provide some well thought out practical suggestions that come from both my colleagues and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. You may find them helpful to build capacity to endure this season of our lives. They are clearly not limited to what I have documented below. But if you were asking yourself how you were going to get through this pandemic with your mind and emotions intact, allow me to share this resource:
1. Take care of yourself. Practicing self-care sustains the ability to care for those in need which of course includes your loved ones. Learn to appreciate yourself and all you do such as going to work every day, volunteering your time for a noble cause, or daily caring for your family. The many things you do that you may consider small have such a great impact.
2. Meet your basic needs. Be sure to eat, drink and sleep regularly. Becoming biologically deprived places you at risk. Please remember that exercise is very important in any limited capacity. Also, if you are doing something to compromise your lung function such as smoking, or vaping, consider that this is the best time to either stop or severely reduce that habit.
3. Stay updated but limit media exposure. Depending on your make up, you may want to get as much information about current events as possible. If so, make sure this is from a trusted source such as the CDC. The news wants to keep you looking at the news to increase your emotional response, so be careful with this. Research has shown that excessive media exposure to coverage of stressful events increases negative mental outcomes.
4. Know your limits. If you know that you are not in a good mental or physical place to carry out a task, reach out and speak to someone. At the very least, know your limitations.
5. Self-Check-Ins. Monitor yourself for any symptoms of depression or stress. Mood, appetite, energy level, and sleep changes can all be symptoms related to the pressures of stress.
6. Take breaks. Give yourself a rest if needed and whenever possible allow yourself to do something unrelated to work or your day to day activities that you find comforting such as talking to a friend, listening to music, reading a book, or starting a personal project or hobby.
7. Contact family. In this age of social distancing, we have enough technology to contact friends and family.
8. Respect Differences. Some may need to talk while others need to be alone. Recognize and respect these differences.
9. Honor your service. This is the big picture. Remind yourself that you are fulfilling a noble calling taking care of those most in need. This of course includes the spiritual care of our church family.
10. Have an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation. Be appreciative of what you have such as a measure of health, present employment if you are employed, and whatever else you personally find to appreciate and treasure at this time. This helps. I can testify to that.
I wish us all well,
Pierre R. Arty, M.D.