The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of stress for the Canadian medical profession, which had already seen nearly one in three physicians report high levels of burnout. A survey conducted in February 2021, completed by over 1600 practising physicians, found that 69% of respondents reported increased fatigue while 64% experienced anxiety due to the pandemic.
The survey also found that physicians reported that several factors associated with the ongoing pandemic were contributing to mental health concerns, including:
- longer time with social restrictions;
- continued uncertainty about the future;
- concerns about vaccine rollout; and
- increased workload/lack of work–life integration.
With the vaccine rollout ramping up across Canada, lockdown restrictions being lifted and physical distancing protocols relaxing, what will follow is an adjustment to the new normal, recovery and reintegration. As noted in Psychiatric Services, most front-line health care workers who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic will face some adverse psychological outcomes (e.g., stress, anxiety, burnout). Physicians, leaders and organizations need to prioritize wellness recovery and reintegration into society.
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress’ article on Recovery and Reintegration for Healthcare Workers Following COVID-19 Surges summarizes the stressors affecting reintegration, as well as individual and organizational strategies for reintegration.
Stressors affecting reintegration*
To achieve healthy reintegration, the stressors that can negatively affect the goal of reintegration need to be addressed. These stressors can be classified into two categories: work-related stressors and home-related stressors.
Work-related stressors include:
- coping with and processing events experienced on the front line that would be considered stressful, traumatic and morally injurious; and
- adjusting to new working norms — working in an environment that is not as fast paced or urgent.
Home-related stressors include:
- reintegrating with family and within the community after isolating while working on the front line; and
- uncertainty surrounding childcare (e.g., being reluctant to place children in communal settings because of increased risk of exposure).
Individual strategies for reintegration*
To promote healthy reintegration, individuals should consider practising the following strategies:
- Practise compassion and self-compassion — be patient with yourself, family members, friends and colleagues throughout your reintegration process.
- Pay attention to how you feel — practise cognitive reframing. When you feel angry, worried or stressed, try to focus on alternate explanations for your beliefs and strive to think more positively.
- Practise mindfulness — find a practice that works for you and schedule it into your routine.
- Connect with peers and colleagues in person; find opportunities to discuss COVID-19 experiences and other interests beyond the pandemic.
- Participate in peer support groups — look for local peer support group offerings or join a free CMA Wellness Connection virtual peer support session, led by trained physician facilitators.
- Pay attention to your staff — encourage the use of wellness resources available to health care workers.
- Acknowledge the stressors that many have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and allow space for staff to share their experiences while working on the front line.
- Recognize the value and contributions of all team members.
Organizational strategies for reintegration*
Organizations can play a crucial role in supporting physicians during the reintegration phase. Consider these organizational strategies for reintegration:
- Encourage the use of wellness resources available to health care workers.
- Share openly the challenges of reintegration to ensure all health care workers know they are not alone during the process.
- Sustain learning, innovations and collaborations — ensure that the lessons learned, new and effective innovations and collaborations developed during the pandemic are not lost.
It is important to know that you are not alone on this journey of recovery and reintegration. If you or a colleague feel you need formal support, we encourage you to contact the Wellness Support Line or talk to your local provincial health program.
*Content adapted from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress - Recovery and Reintegration for Healthcare Workers Following COVID-19 Surges.
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