How to Care for Yourself While Treating COVID-19 Patients


Right now, people who work in healthcare across the United States are being stretched beyond their limits due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and we are still in a relatively early phase of its spread. Working in an industry that normally experiences a rampant burnout problem, it is important to take extra care of yourself during this especially trying time, not only so you can continue to be effective in your role, but to stay as mentally and physically healthy as possible. Here are some tips, based on recommendations made by the CDC, on how to properly care for yourself while treating patients of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make a Plan

  • Try to learn as much as possible about what role you will play in responding to the outbreak, so you are able to plan, both for work and your home life.
  • Speak with your supervisor about any concerns you have and any questions you need answered regarding your role in response to COVID-19, as well as day-to-day operations.
  • If you will be working abnormally long hours, explain this to your loved ones and set boundaries, particularly for communication. Your work will be demanding and you will not be able to respond to every call, text, or email in real time, and this needs to be expressed to people who may not understand the pressure you will be under.

Understand & Identify Burnout & Secondary Traumatic Stress

  • Anyone and everyone can be susceptible to burning out or experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress when dealing with a crisis such as COVID-19.
  • Knowing the difference between the two is important. Burnout is defined as feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed, while Secondary Traumatic Stress is categorized by experiencing stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.
  • Symptoms of burnout include: experiencing sadness, depression, or apathy; feeling easily frustrated or irritable; lacking feelings, or feeling indifferent; disconnection from others; poor self-care and hygiene; feeling tired, exhausted or overwhelmed.
  • Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress include: excessively worrying or fearing about something bad happening; being easily startled, or feeling like you must be “on guard” all of the time; physical signs of stress, such as a rapid heartbeat; experiencing nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation; feeling that others’ trauma is yours.
  • Coping techniques such as taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, routinely sleeping, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress.

Get Support

  • You are not alone in what you are experiencing. Enact a buddy system, in which you and another person who is responding to the COVID-19 crisis partner together to support each other, as well as monitor each other’s stress, workload, and safety.
  • Check in with each other on a daily basis to offer support, be that in the form of listening or sharing.
  • Help each other with basic needs, such as sharing supplies or transportation.
  • Encourage each other to take breaks, and share opportunities for stress relief, such as exercise or meditation.

Practice Self Care

  • Caring for yourself may be the last thing on your mind when treating patients impacted by the virus, but it is the most important thing you can do.
  • Given the contagious nature of COVID-19, having your immune system in top shape is imperative. Beyond that, stress prevention and management is critical so you can stay well and continue to help in the situation.
  • Effective self care techniques for healthcare workers include:
    • If at all possible, limit workdays to 12 hours or less.
    • Work in teams as much as possible and limit the time you spend working alone.
    • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, teammates, or mental health professionals about your feelings and experiences.
    • Journal your thoughts on a regular basis.
    • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
    • Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
    • Avoid or limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Know that it is healthy to draw boundaries and to say “no.”
  • It is important to remind yourself that it is not selfish to take breaks when you need them, and that asking for help is okay.
  • The needs of your patients are important, but they are not more important than your well-being. There are others who can help, when you need to help yourself.

Get Help If & When You Need It

You are not alone. You are just a call or text away from reaching professionals who can help you to process what you are experiencing. Reach out to them, if you need support at:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
  • The Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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