The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented stress to all of us. Even though the rollout of the vaccine is helping turn the corner toward more normal life rhythms, we’re reminded that the journey forward is a marathon, not a sprint. How long the crisis and its impact will last is uncertain, and the world may be navigating the aftershock for years to come.
At the forefront of absorbing the stress are health care workers who have served tirelessly on the frontline of care. “They have continued to give their all despite personal risk of infection, fear of transmission to family members, illness or death of friends and colleagues, and the loss of so many for whom thy care,” says Stephen Chee, director of employee wellness at Lifetime Wellness. “They have also coped with perpetual exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of compassion fatigue.”
Encouraging and Empowering
In response to the daily dangers of dealing with COVID, most caregivers have been running on adrenaline for more than a year, he notes. “Stress has been compounded as staff have had to cope with restrictions, learn new safety protocols, and navigate through personal losses. So much has suffered in the wake—from physical and mental health to interpersonal relationships. They have shouldered a disproportionate share of the pandemic and will need extra care as we begin to emerge from it.”
Over the past year, Lifetime Wellness has provided services virtually to its partner communities to promote health care wellness and help workers manage pandemic fallout – and take better care of themselves. The company opened hotlines for suicide prevention and domestic violence support, added grief counselors to help employees through their losses, and formed a prayer team to field a surge in prayer requests.
Recently, Lifetime Wellness has started to return in person to partner communities that have reached Phase 3 of reopening and have no resident cases of COVID. First step: a “Days of Encouragement” program. “We’re going onsite to encourage health care wellness within the staff and empower them to tend to their own needs,” Chee says. “We come bearing healthy snacks, a listening ear, and problem-solving guidance.”
In the Days of Encouragement, Chee offers five guidelines for health care workers to cope with the ongoing stress of the pandemic and its aftermath:
- Cultivate awareness. Be honest with the symptoms of stress in yourself. Observe them without judgment. Then, bridge from awareness toward openness to getting help. “It takes a lot of humility and self-acceptance to ask for help, and then open the doors to receiving it. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a show of strength.”
- Find support. Some may need professional counseling or treatment, Chee notes. For others, peer support from friends or colleagues may work best. “Check in with a friend or colleague periodically. Share concerns and coping strategies. Carry each other’s burdens.”
- Let compassion be your guide. Caregivers have a special heart, and practicing compassion for others comes naturally. But compassion must extend not only to others, but to oneself. “Don’t put yourself last. Be as kind to, and forgiving of, yourself as you are for others.”
- Make room to grieve. “So many of us have lost someone – or several someones – to COVID. Take the time you need to acknowledge your grief and honor your losses.” Lifetime Wellness offers its partner communities access to counselors to provide support throughout the grieving process.
- Feed your spirit. Continue to grow in the quest for meaning and purpose in life through the channels that feel right to you. “Pray, meditate, take a long walk through the woods – whatever nurtures your spiritual health.”
“The pandemic has stretched us all to our limits and exposed our vulnerabilities,” Chee says. “Yet it has also expanded our resilience. We are united in our grief over what we have lost, but we are also bonded in our relief over what we have found: a deeper awareness of our capacity to survive a catastrophe, be there for each other, and rebuild a better world.”
Lifetime Wellness offers a continuum of solutions that help promote health care wellness and address caregiver employee needs holistically – helping employers to create a great place to work. Click Here to Learn More.