For two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental well-being of health care providers. Today, many people are feeling hopeful as vaccination rates have increased across the country. Despite the improvement and return to a semblance of normalcy for some, you may be continuing to deal with a sense of anxiety and stress. You are not alone.
In a March 2021 survey of over 1600 physicians, 64% of respondents reported experiencing anxiety around the pandemic. With a significant backlog of medical procedures and an increase in complex medical care for patients, this trend of rising anxiety among physicians could continue.
These feelings may be compounded by a hesitancy to reintegrate into society. After a year and a half of being told to keep our distance and living through repeated lockdowns in which most of our interactions with other people were via Zoom calls, we are being expected to return to somewhat normal routines and social interactions — and this can prove challenging.
We have pulled together some tips for individuals and organizations to help you to manage what you are feeling.
How physicians can manage anxiety
- Remember your training: your training has drilled into you the right actions to take in any given situation — this is the grounding you need to be flexible and adapt quickly to situations you are dealing with.
- Focus: Even in the pre-pandemic world, too much information could be overwhelming. Try to remain focused by slowing the flow of information and putting limits on your news intake.
- Pace yourself: Start your day by spending five minutes planning and visualizing what you want to get done. Take breaks over the course of the day. At the very least, pause for tactical breathing between tasks.
- Breath: The Canadian Armed Forces — an organization that knows about working in stressful conditions — uses tactical breathing to focus, gain control and manage stress. This strategy also helps control worry and nervousness. Here’s how to do it:
- Visualizing each number as you count, breathe in slowly for a count of four.
- Pause and hold your breath for a count of four.
- Exhale slowly for a count of four.
- Repeat three to five times.
- Recover: Stress builds up under unrelenting demands and may lead to depleted energy. But all of us have “energy makers” that give us strength and build resilience. Yours might be working out, playing with your children, reading, doing something creative, focusing on your spirituality, etc. It won’t be easy to find time for it, but just a few moments can have a positive impact.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, or are looking for someone to speak to, we encourage you to visit the Physician Wellness Support page for a list of national crisis numbers and provincial physician health programs.
You can also visit the Wellness Connection, which offers free, virtual peer support sessions led by trained facilitators to physicians and medical learners.
Are you in distress? Get help now.