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Everyone has their limit. How much more can healthcare workers take?

Early December, the CDC declared the next three months would be “The most difficult time in the public health history of the United States”. This comes on top of almost eight months of intense pressure put on our health system by Covid-19.

Covid-19 has affected almost everyone, but for the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers tasked with looking after Covid-19 patients, this pressure has been unrelenting.

A desire to help others, to save lives, and to make a difference are the most common reasons for choosing nursing or medicine as a career. But the sheer numbers of people being infected with Covid-19, coupled with staff shortages, a lack of knowledge or guidance – particularly in the early stages - of how to treat the virus, in addition to supply disruptions have made it difficult to provide the usual standard of care.

It’s a no-win situation, and doctors and nurses freely admit to the guilt they feel. Guilt about not being able to provide the best care for their patients and guilt about putting their own family and friends at risk.

This is why the Covid-19 crisis should be viewed from a perspective of trauma. This virus and its aftermath will leave deep psychological scars on many. It has disrupted our most basic methods of coping because it is unpredictable, persistent, and forces us to social distance and self-isolate. 

This means previous ways we have learned to cope, don’t work in this situation. And until the effects of widespread vaccination are seen, things are not likely to let up before spring. If you are working on the Covid-19 frontline, Thank you. You are doing the best job you can in the circumstances. Think about minimizing stress in other parts of your life by:

  • Minimizing media exposure: Avoid watching the news or checking social media just before bed. Take a complete break from the news if you need to
  • Accept that you are feeling emotional and allow yourself to feel those emotions, such as shock, anger, and guilt, without harshly judging yourself. Covid-19 is a traumatic event, and these are normal reactions to your loss of safety and security. Give yourself time to mourn any losses you have experienced
  • Fight stress with action. Volunteer your time, donate blood, help a neighbor, or share a smile with the people you meet during the day. Participate in memorials, events, and other public rituals, and reach out to others
  • Exercise, and while you are exercising, add a mindful element by noticing how your body feels as it moves, for example, how your feet hit the ground or the feel of the wind on your skin
  • Work out a way that allows you to de-stress quickly. It may be simply taking 60 breaths and focusing your attention on breathing out, listening to an uplifting song, or stroking a pet. Schedule time for activities that you enjoy and use your downtime to relax. Read a book, do a hobby, or watch an uplifting or funny movie
  • Eat and sleep well. Avoid processed or fatty food and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. Subscribe to a sleep App that helps calm your mind so that you can get a good night’s rest
  • Seek professional help if you are feeling completely overwhelmed or are having trouble functioning. You don’t need to go through this alone, and a trauma specialist can help you to move through these feelings. Know that others also feel this way and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel.

For more information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder see Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


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