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By Jan Kasofsky, Ph.D./Vice President of Behavioral Health & Human Services for Access Health Louisiana
It is unlikely that you could find anyone whose world hasn’t been turned upside down due to this virus we call COVID-19. As you work and strive to keep yourself, your family, your friends and your patients physically healthy, let’s not ignore the importance of coping or even thriving, during this challenging time. While headlines warn of a pending mental health crisis, remember that in Louisiana we have stood resilient and recovered against what looked to the world as insurmountable losses.
Much of what makes our culture so enviable is now a threat to our health. It creates a sense of loss and a burden for us to not hug, and not congregate in our yards, restaurants and music venues. However, we know what we must do to keep our spirits up and to bolster those around us. Our connections to others is what we value most. So, what can we each do to bring “light” to our family, friends, coworkers, and even the strangers we meet while we social distance and cover our faces with masks?
Our routines and relationships define us and when that is challenged, we feel alone and experience a sense of loss. Aside from the loss of routines we fear for our health and for those we love, our jobs, our income, and we grieve for the ones we have lost. Quarantining with family, children and/or friends can bring added stress; we have lived with multiple generations and families under one roof before and know this is not easy.
If you are a caregiver, first responder or a medical provider you have the added stress and strain of long shifts, your own concerns for your exposure to the virus and concerns of infecting others. Additionally, you may have been exposed to a previously unseen and unfathomable amount of suffering and loss. While society and family members have expressed their thanks, and called you a hero, this potentially traumatic exposure can leave you feeling alone and struggling to comprehend the present situation and to be prepared for another day. It is critical that you focus on self-care and acknowledge what you have accomplished and achieved in the face of an unknown infectious agent. You must also focus on what you have learned and shared with your peers to better manage your patients each ensuing hour, day and beyond.
Here are a few things you can do for yourself, and for those close to you, to gain control and to provide support:
- Know enough of what’s going on to stay healthy; Information is power. Keep up with information on how to stay physically well or to recover, by listening to health professionals. Don’t get overwhelmed by taking in too much information. Too much news, especially repetitive news can be traumatizing.
- Attend to your ongoing health needs. Stay physically active and eat foods that optimize your health. When you need medical care, schedule a face-to-face appointment or ask if a virtual telemedicine visit is appropriate.
- Adopt a positive outlook and seek out people and opportunities that bring you hope, peace and joy. Consider using an app for self-care such as myStrength.
- Establish a daily routine and set at least one goal daily. Identify how you can stay physically active, even if you cannot go outside, and weave that into the day; you likely have more time now to “just do it”.
- If you are a parent or guardian of children or adolescents, be honest with them about what’s known. If you are okay, they will be too. They may need help from you to structure their day. They need a daily goal and routine even more than you do, and accomplishments build their self-esteem.
- You are not alone, even if you are quarantined. The whole world is going through the same feelings of isolation that you are. If you are quarantined alone, so are your friends and members of your family. Take the lead and be the one who calls to check up on others. You will not only make the other person’s day, but you too will feel uplifted knowing that you did something positive.
- Stay calm. Feeling stressed or anxious is a normal response to the coronavirus outbreak. It helps to look back at how you’ve successfully managed unknowns in the past. Don’t let your fear or edginess get the best of you and keep an eye out for your loved ones.
- Know when to get help. If you find yourself or others near and dear to you worrying to the point you or they cannot focus on anything else, seek help or encourage them to get help. If you find that you can no longer get a restful night’s sleep, seek help. If you find yourself drinking more or using drugs as a crutch to cope, seek help.
New and convenient ways to access professional help and even virtual support groups are now available right on your phone. With telephone and teletherapy accessible on your phone or computer, you can get relief from inside your home, or in another convenient and private location. Reach out, each of us will experience this pandemic differently and we need to be preparing for new, or better ways to cope.
We need to prepare for a new normal. Unfortunately, no one can tell us what the new normal will be. Now more than ever, being flexible and nimble, informed, and vigilant about our emotional state and of those around us is critical. Not unlike the BIG challenges we’ve faced together here in Louisiana before, we need to stand strong together, in solidarity, even if we’re standing six feet apart, in separate houses, or on separate front porches.
(Printed in the Healthcare Journal of New Orleans July/Aug 2020 Edition)