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This blog discusses the importance of mental health and wellness for those on the frotnline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wellness in Emergency Medicine: coping with stress on the front lines

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Coauthored by Julie Welch, MD, and Kari Lemme, MD

The emotional toll of the current COVID-19 pandemic reaches each of us differently. We find ourselves in a period of uncertainty, both in our personal and professional lives. As physicians and healthcare workers on the front line, coping with the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a new reality. It is important to recognize that feelings such as anxiety, helplessness, fear of contracting disease, panic, and loneliness are normal reactions. The scope of the pandemic’s effects change by the day, and it is imperative to spend time checking in on your own emotions and state of mind. Finding ways to engage, cope, and recover is essential.

Especially in times of crisis or uncertainty, it’s important to remember that you are not alone: your colleagues, family, and friends are experiencing similar things. Talking with others and sharing experiences is a key strategy to getting through a crisis. Find a friend you can check in with regularly. Reach out to someone you don’t normally talk to and find a new way to connect with them. Share your stories. Don’t underestimate the power of building relationships and engaging with others who are on the frontline.

The Indiana University School of Medicine and IU Health have taken measures to enhance the resources available to learners, faculty, staff, and team members. IUSM offers mental health resources like mental health counseling and virtual workshops like the “IUSM Compassion Rounds.” Employee Assistance Programs are available through IUEAP and IUHEAP. You can also find a list of counseling resources, including national, statewide and IU campus-specific resources, on the Healthy IU website.

A variety of mental health resources are available online, through apps, and other sources like community or national programs. You can find activities and free memberships to healthcare workers for guided meditation on Headspace and Calm. Virtual counselling and therapy services like Talkspace, Betterhelp, and 7 Cups of Tea utilize tools like instant messaging and video conferencing to allow users to connect to peers and medical professionals. National organizations like the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association provide counseling and materials for coping during these uncertain times. For physicians, you can even check in and chat with a volunteer psychiatrist.

If you’re looking to improve your spiritual health, many places of worship have online services that you can attend while staying safe from the comfort of your own home. Also consider the connection between physical and mental health—utilizing virtual workout resources found on Facebook groups or apps like Solid Core to maintain physical wellness will also improve your mental wellness too.

For those with children, it can be difficult to talk to them about COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents and caregivers to filter information and talk about it a way their child can understand. Keep in mind these tips:

  • Offer them simple reassurance, give them Control, and empower them to do their part in areas like hand washing, cough etiquette, getting good sleep
  • Watch for signs of stress and anxiety, and find ways to refocus your children’s energy into something productive like a new art project or activities like reading and writing
  • Monitor their access to the media: keep young children away from frightening images on the news or social media, and talk with older children about what they are hearing and correct misinformation
  • Spend time with your children away from e-learning or time on TV through virtual resources like an online tour of Disney World.
  • As always, be a good role model and encourage your children while keeping them safe.

When nothing feels normal in the current world around us, it is still important to maintain as much normalcy of self-care and socialization as possible. Doing so may require finding new and creative methods but it is possible with the multitude of virtual resources available. We need to be the best we can for ourselves, our families, our patients, and our community. Remember to sleep well, eat well, try to exercise, spend time with loved ones, and refresh and rejuvenate in the moments you can that are best for you.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Emmy Schram

Emmy Schram is the Communications Coordinator for the Department of Emergency Medicine. She earned her MA in English from Ball State where she taught English Composition while working as a freelance graphic/web designer. She brings with her varied professional experiences which she uses to support departmental communications efforts while finding new ways to combine her passions for marketing and education.