It is no secret that this is an unprecedented time in history. The world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic and an overdue social uprising. Stress is at an all-time high. Tension is in the air, but also in individual bodies and souls. Well-being feels far from what one can achieve, as survival pulls ahead in the race for what is necessary. What is happening at the national level is making ripples into the local levels, and has landed on Indiana University School of Medicine's doorstep. Many are feeling a myriad of feelings—overwhelmed, inspired, enraged, fatigued, driven, exhausted, and/or forlorn. Moreover, some have been experiencing conflict, within oneself or with others. It is all so draining. So what does one do? How do students reenter the clinical environment feeling so weary? How does one deal with these emotions and preserve oneself for the journey ahead?
I admit, I am no expert at giving advice on surviving a pandemic or navigating a movement on racial inequality with grace and peace of mind. I do think, however, that there are situations that arise due to extreme stress that can be managed and worked through in similar fashion. Let’s talk about those. Let’s talk about how you can preserve your sense of self, how you can take care of yourself now and learn habits that will help you in your future.
Carve out time for yourself. Take a walk. Meditate. Journal. Try breathing exercises. Read. Pray. Do what you need to do to spend time with the person who matters most in your life…you. There are endless amounts of activities you can do with yourself, for yourself, that will help you understand yourself more. Be comfortable in that space.
Reach out to other humans with compassion and kindness. Write a letter. Send a card. A real one. Text someone out of the blue to tell them you care. PM someone and say, "Hi." Make a personal connection with someone. Have a real conversation. Ask about their day and really listen. Connecting socially with someone 5x a week will increase your happiness and well-being.
Refrain from social media when things get to be too much. It is hard to do. It will cause some anxiety and maybe some grief. But, sometimes you just have to step away or delete. It is not worth the sleepless nights, frequent distractions, and unnecessary frustration to deal with comments that may be read out of context, written behind anonymity without fear of repercussion, or overall just bad for your mental health. It is okay to step away for a while, too. Taking a break is very common these days.
Understand that conflict is normal. There is a website/app for neighborhood communities called Nextdoor. People in their 30s to 60s argue about politics, coyotes, and dog poop on lawns. Conflict is unavoidable. Your reaction is controllable. Focus on what you can control. Focus on you. Think about preserving yourself. You can stand up for what is right when you can do that safely, but, always take care of yourself first. The expression that you need to put your oxygen mask on first did not come out of “thin air.”
Now that we have mentioned standing up for what is right, and you intend to do so, educate yourself. In the current social climate there are many important issues that are worth understanding. If you want or need to learn about white privilege, anti racism, etc. please consult the many resources listed here. If you would like to learn more about the impacts of systemic racism and the global pandemic on the mental health of Black individuals and people of color, please consider visiting the websites listed below. Many of these resources provide information to help you with your own mental health at this time:
Seek mental health help. Seriously. There is an excessive amount of stigma around this for 2020. Yes, there are also many barriers in place for people who seek care, which cannot be ignored. Quite often, Black individuals and people of color are less likely to see mental health care in the United States. Truthfully, there are not a lot of BIPOC mental health care workers in the United States. Please do not let this stop you. If you would like to talk to someone, you can reach out to the IU School of Medicine Department of Mental Health Services. If you feel more comfortable reaching out to someone else, please consider reviewing the resources above as they contain links to sources to help you find someone who you feel comfortable with (nami.org is a great place to start, the full link is above).
Now more than ever, it is time to learn to work with and beside your friends and future colleagues. Don’t tear them down. Don’t publicly shame them or judge them. You may not see eye to eye. Now, or ever. That is life. That is natural. That is how we will continually live; in our neighborhoods, in our career fields, and even with our family members. Lead by example. Learn how to handle disagreements. Learn how to continue to work together to support the patient.
Take care of yourself. You are the only you that you have!
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.
Kristen Heath is a Lead Advisor in the Mentoring & Advising Program at IU School of Medicine. She has worked in higher education for over eight years, starting her career off on Air Force Bases teaching Psychology coursework. She is passionate about lifelong learning and devotion to personal well-being. When she is not in the advising office you can find her teaching Zumba, dancing, or riding bikes with her son, Ryder. She is a fan of the outdoors and loves to camp, hike and garden.