How 8 Frontline Healthcare Workers Are Taking Care of Their Mental Health Now

It wouldn't be an overgeneralization to say that everyone is going through a tough time right now. With all of the uncertainty and ever-changing news, it's so easy to let anxiety creep in and feel depressed or helpless. We've discussed mental health strategies during this time: how to cope when you're feeling lonely because of social distancing and how to take care of yourself and others. Acknowledging your feelings while also seeking ways to treat yourself better is important right now.

While everyone has had difficulties, there's one group of people who have really taken on the brunt of the burden for a lot of us: the frontline healthcare professionals who are tirelessly caring for the sick every day. When you're dealing with so much stress and witnessing so much pain and suffering day in and day out, it can really take a toll on you, especially your mental health. The World Health Organization recently released a report on how COVID-19 has affected mental health and called out the fact that many healthcare workers around the globe have reported depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other psychological problems.

To show some of our gratitude, we recently sent activewear sets from JoyLab (the brand we co-designed with Target) to some frontline workers. Even though it was just a small gesture to a small percentage of people, we wanted the ones we could reach to have something to relax or work out in when it was time for them to unwind. We also got the chance to chat with them about what they've been doing for their mental health and how they've been approaching self-care at this time. Their words were nothing short of inspiring—I think you'll be able to take some of their wisdom and apply it your own life right now. Take a look at what they had to say below:

What's your job?

By training, I am an endocrinologist (think hormones, diabetes, thyroid, etc.), but once the hospital got insight into the gravity of the situation and just how many patients would be affected by COVID-19, I got pulled to cover COVID-wards and ICU shifts at our hospital, which was deemed to be a COVID-only site. From there on out, I was caring for COVID patients and on my sparse, intermittent days off I would try to catch up with my endocrine patients by doing televisits from home.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

This truly was a heavy time for me. At the hospital, I felt my mental health was most calmed when I allowed myself to spend some of my day talking with my patient's families on the phone or via FaceTime. Since our patients were not allowed to have any family visits, it was very comforting to speak with their family and let them know how their loved ones were doing.

On my time away from the hospital, I've been trying to really focus on my body and attempting to listen to what it needs in effort to feel more mentally in tune. On certain days, that means doing nothing; on other days, it means going for a walk to get some fresh air. More recently, I have started to exercise daily and have felt a lot better because of it.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

If possible, I like to take a nice long bath to try to turn my thoughts off, relax, and be in the moment. I've also gotten very into puzzles during this time. They allow me to focus on something concrete and have served as a source of meditation of some sort. These are both activities that I am not able to do when my kids are home, so they feel that much more special.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

FaceTiming with my kids, who I've been away from for seven weeks now! Knowing that my exposure level to coronavirus was going to be very high, I knew I had to limit my interaction with my one-and-a-half- and three-and-a-half-year-old daughters. When I got pulled to cover COVID wards, my husband and I made the difficult decision to send our kids to Canada so they could be with my parents. I miss them more than words can express but ultimately know it was the best decision for their safety. With that being said, my FaceTime sessions bring me so much joy!

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

One thing I've realized throughout all of this is how incredibly short life can be. Of course, I've always known that, but this time has served as a very real reminder of just how precious every day is and that we should truly cherish each and every day we're given and hug our loved ones tight. I'm going to try my hardest not to take anything for granted moving forward and to show respect and gratitude for my good health and the health of my kids, husband, and family.

*Editor's note: Lina is wearing her own JoyLab set that was not donated to her

What's your job?

I'm an ICU registered nurse and provide direct patient care for the COVID-19 population.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

Since I'm usually someone who thrives off of productivity, I've been rewiring my brain to appreciate this time to slow life down. Instead of dwelling on things I can't change, I make an active effort to practice gratitude for the things I'm blessed to have instead of focusing on what's been taken away. Sure we can't go on these grand summer vacations, but this prolonged home staycation has been a welcome change. (Plus there's no FOMO because we're all in this together.)

How do you unwind after a long shift?

I work night shifts, so first things first—sleep! When I wake up, I make it a goal to go on a long-distance run or practice at-home yoga or Pilates. Getting my body to move about is how I get myself out of any funky headspace I may be in after a physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting shift.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

My niece and nephew! They're nine and three years old, respectively, and they're just the funniest kids ever. I love them like my own. I recently made the decision to move away from my family in order to self-isolate, and my niece, Lauren, drew me a spot-on picture of my apartment, which I keep near the entrance. Seeing it each time I walk through the door makes me happy even when I'm not able to give her big bear hugs right now.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

All feelings and emotions are valid. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by what's going on, and other moments, I'm like, "Yeah this isn't so bad!" When I am feeling down, however, I center myself by taking an inventory of the good things. For example, my boyfriend and I have been in a long-distance relationship for over three years because he's in grad school, and since shelter-in-place orders started, we've been able to spend more time with each other now than we have since we started our LDR. I realized it takes very little to make me feel content and fulfilled. I have everything I need, and for that I'm thankful.

What's your job?

I am an emergency medicine physician at a community hospital in Orange County, California.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

I have been spending a significant amount of time on house projects and quality time with my husband and pup. Focusing on my home life and family has really helped me appreciate the small things. When I leave work, I try to mentally check out from the stress I experience there. My days off include long mornings sipping coffee on the couch, a home workout, a walk with my dog, and extra time in the kitchen.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

After a day at work, I can be found curled up next to my husband and Frenchie on the couch with a glass of wine, something delicious on our plates, and a good TV show or movie.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

I have always been somewhat of an introvert and homebody. The sweatpants life is one I could really get used to! The big things bringing joy to my life right now are big comfy sweatpants, tie-dye fashion, French Bossa Nova playlists, logging a lot of time in bed, and group texts including the latest memes.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

I have learned that there is no such thing as not having enough time. The extra time at home has allowed me to evaluate what I used to spend my time doing. Some of it included things I enjoyed, but other things can be left behind. I think this time at home has allowed me to refocus my energy on what is truly important to me and the ones that I love.

What's your job?

Currently, I work as a physician in offices where we provide acute and urgent care for patients. I also work in a COVID-19 designated clinic where we are screening and testing patients who may potentially have the disease. We still must provide care for patients who have chronic issues, need medication refills, have broken bones, lacerations, or other medical injuries. When I am not in the offices, I also use telehealth services to provide care to patients during this pandemic.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

This time can certainly be challenging physically and especially mentally. For my own mental health, I try to focus on different dimensions of my wellbeing to help stay grounded. Mindset is key, and instead of focusing on what I can't do, I think about what I can do to survive and thrive. Staying in touch with family and friends helps me to stay connected and grounded. I also incorporate stress management techniques like deep breathing and journaling. It's vital for me to stay up to date with medical information; however, I limit my news intake and ensure the information I obtain is from reliable sources.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

I love this question. After I leave work, I often visit a scenic mountain overlook. While taking in the scenery, I shut my phone off, and in silence, sit in my car for about 15 minutes to clear my mind from the day's events. I tell myself, "I have done the best I can, and it's time to let it all go." When I get home, I am ready to spend quality time watching a favorite show with my partner and cuddling with our puppy.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

It's so important to still find joy, even in the little things. For myself, I love waking up to encouraging prayer messages from my mom that give me the extra push. I find joy in enjoying my mid-morning cup of coffee, taking in the aroma and taste. It made me extremely happy to see the team I work with assemble a gift basket for the environmental-services technician at our COVID Assessment Center. She works hard every day, always has a smile on her face, and is a true hero during this time.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

Throughout all of the chaos, I have realized that there remain glimmers of hope and good in humanity. We are going through this new time together as none of us have experienced anything like this before, and that commonality brings us all closer together. To get through this time, we have all had to draw upon inner strength and this shows us that we are often stronger than we realize.

What's your job?

I am an ER trauma nurse working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

It has been a little difficult with the lockdown. Michigan is a lockdown state that's currently been extended until May 30. With that being said, I like to destress by gardening, going for nature walks, and just focusing on schoolwork.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

After a long shift, the best thing is a hot shower. Nothing like that clean feeling after being exposed to unknown pathogens all day long. I usually get home around 4 a.m., so I basically just shower and sleep

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

The outpouring of support has been overwhelming from the community. Family members of patients have been extremely thankful for the care we provide for their family members during this pandemic. It's been rough, but they make every moment worth it. I love what I do. Outside of work, I love to cook. I get creative in the kitchen and put a new twist on old recipes. It's therapeutic and a great way to unwind from the stressors we face on a daily basis.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

Throughout all this, I've come to realize my passion for people. I've learned to appreciate the little things in life. I've learned to never take anything for granted. I've learned how precious time is. I've learned the importance of telling your loved ones how much you love them. Lastly, tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone so make the most of every moment.

What's your job?

I am a nurse practitioner currently working in pediatric neurosurgery at a children's hospital in Northern California. I see patients in our outpatient clinics, and our nonurgent appointments are mostly virtual for the time being to minimize risk for our families and staff.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

I am doing my best to acknowledge my emotions during this time, while also trying to exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

After a long shift, I unwind by working out and relaxing at home with my partner, Bryan, and our two cats.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

Things that are bringing me joy include the cute kiddos I am able to interact with at work, discovering new yummy recipes for Bryan and me to make at home, the weekly Zoom calls we have had with friends during this time, and all of the sunshine we have been having in California lately.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

Through all of this, I have realized that I took so many experiences for granted. Going out to eat, being able to catch up with friends in person, enjoying nature, and the ability to travel are things I will certainly cherish a lot more.

What's your job?

I'm currently a second-year surgical resident, and our role oftentimes involves helping out with ICU-type procedures such as central line, arterial line, and chest tube placements. In doing these things, we hope to lessen the workload for the ICU and medical residents who are the true rockstars of this pandemic (as well as every other medical professional in the ICU).

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

I never realized how much of a toll this pandemic would take on my mental health until I sat down the other day and thought about it. While I am on the sidelines for much of my current rotation, I think the biggest thing about COVID-19 is that it consumes every part of your day. From work, grocery shopping, news, social media, and personal life, it has the ability to infiltrate all but the six hours of sleep I get every day. Because of this, I've spent my nights and days off being by myself at home, shutting off social media, and doing self-care activities such as painting my nails, skincare, and watching as much of The Office as I can. My significant other is wonderful and will sit there and listen to me talk about my day, and I think that's been a huge help.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

I call this my potato time. Through the last one and half years of being a resident, I've learned that this time after work is crucial to my mental well-being. A lot of times it involves watching TV, doing short 20-minute HIIT workouts, and cooking a meal. Before I get home, I often ask myself, "Is tonight going to be a productive night?” Because if I'm exhausted, it's important for me to realize that it's okay to have my potato time and not feel guilty if I'm not productive.

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

So many things! I love finding a craft project that I can sit and do for hours on end. Currently, I'm making scrub caps and masks for friends and family during this pandemic, and it's so fun to see people's personalities come through with these. I also love to eat, so that usually is the number one activity I do with friends and family.

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

I've learned not to take social experiences for granted. Oftentimes, I defer hanging out with friends and family because I am too tired. Residency is a very isolating process in itself, and social distancing on top of this makes for a very lonely time. I think I'll be saying yes more often in the future once things reopen.

What's your job?

I am a labor and delivery nurse in Atlanta, Georgia. It's been important to relieve additional stress and anxiety in my patients and their families during what should be an exciting time in their lives. I'm also a family nurse-practitioner student, and it's been eye-opening to see the way that technology can transform the way care is delivered and managed amidst a pandemic through telemedicine.

What are you doing to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

I've always been an advocate for leaving work at work. However, with my medical background as a nurse and also as a nurse-practitioner student, it's been admittedly difficult to stop thinking about the situation and its effects on everyone's livelihood and my daily life. I've made it a point to find a new hobby during this time to divert this energy to something productive. I'm newly obsessed with all things plants and gardening. It is so therapeutic to see something that I nurture flourish and come to life.

How do you unwind after a long shift?

I take a hot shower and take my time doing my overly extensive skincare routine before I head off to bed. I will admit that as a night-shift nurse, a glass of wine at 8 a.m. does happen here and there. No shame!

What are the things that are bringing you joy or making you happy?

Our herb garden has been thriving, and it's such a joy to walk by the fresh scents of basil, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano whenever we enter and leave the home. Also, Bon Appetit will always be a source of endless joy for me and my husband because we love cooking and eating!

What is one thing you've learned and realized through all of this? What will you take away from this experience?

That community is everything. I feel close to my neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers because we are constantly looking for ways to help each other. It's true that no one is ever alone in their struggles and that is such a beautiful testament to the fact that we are all just human.

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