Keeping a solid and consistent focus on your patients is paramount to proper care
2020 has been a tough year so far for many people. We started off the year with international tensions. This soon followed with coverage of Australian bushfires. Then the news about COVID-19 started to accelerate, and the previously strong economy began to negatively respond by April. Somewhere in this mix we were introduced to murder hornets. We then witnessed the death of George Floyd, and the social unrest that followed (and continues). Now that we are in July we are all closely following the continued events of COVID-19, and the uncertainty of what is upcoming for the rest of the year.
While this is going on, some clinicians may struggle to maintain focus on their patients. As time goes on, we need to find ways to cope in order to give our full attention to those who trust us with their care. Here are some ways manage this during these difficult times:
Connect and engage with friends and family
Meaningful interpersonal connections have been shown to improve a person’s mental and emotional well being. In fact, a landmark study revealed that a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health and focus than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. It is reported that a strong social connection has the benefits of:
- 50% increased chance of longevity
- Strengthens the immune system (Seven Cole’s research indicates that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation)
- Helps to recover from disease more quickly
- May increase life span
Since it has become more difficult to connect and engage with others, we need to make it a priority to do so. Technology, while not perfect, has given us many options to remain connected. Using Facetime, Zoom, etc. can help us to feel more present and engaged verses phone calls. Consider weekly check-ins with those who are not in your local area. If you live in the same area as friends and family plan to meet up in a safe, socially distanced manner.
Focus less on news, including social media
We have all been spending an extraordinary amount of time watching the news over the last few months. Social media tends to be a huge source of news for most of us. Unfortunately, most of this news is slanted towards negative events. In fact, there is now a name for this: doomscrolling. While social media is a new way to take in news, the tendency towards negativity in the delivery of it is not novel. Mesfin Bekalu, a research scientist at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that while a lot of the news is bad, “as humans we have a ‘natural’ tendency to pay more attention to negative news.” This, along with social media algorithms, makes doomscrolling—and its impacts—almost inevitable. “Since the 1970s, we know of the ‘mean world syndrome’—the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is—as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related content on television,” Bekalu says. “So, doomscrolling can lead to the same long-term effects on mental health unless we mount interventions that address users’ behaviors and guide the design of social media platforms in ways that improve mental health and well-being.”
So, while it is important to stay informed, it is equally vital that we limit the amount of time and energy we focus on doing so.
Make your mental health a priority
For anyone who struggled with mental health in the past the events of this year have been even more challenging. Even if you have never had any challenges with this previously, the events of 2020 may have triggered some. When employees suffer from poor mental health, their workplace engagement and ability to focus may be impacted. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 24% of respondents in a recent poll said, “they have trouble concentrating on other things because they’re thinking about COVID-19.” When employees are not fully engaged with patients the patient experience suffers. Those who reported that they were experiencing moderate to extreme stress, “62% noted losing at least 1 hour a day in productivity and 32% lost at least 2 hours a day due to COVID-19–related stress.”
Monitoring yourself for symptoms is important. According to the CDC and Mayo Clinic some of the most common symptoms associated with poor mental health due to COVID-19:
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear
- Excessive irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty completing daily tasks
- Emotional dysregulation
- “Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or other drugs”
Keep in mind that it is important to take care of your mental health even if you are not experiencing any problems. Maintenance has become more of a challenge this year and should be done on a consistent basis. If you are struggling with these issues, it is important to reach out to professionals. Many are available virtually as well as in person.
Engage in your community
Now is a great time to give back to your community. Finding ways to positively contribute and help others ultimately increases your happiness and well-being. According to Mental Health America research, those who consistently help other people experience less depression, greater calm, fewer pains, and better health. They report:
- Students who performed five acts of kindness a day increased their happiness
- Providing emotional support to others significantly decreased the harmful health effects of certain kinds of stress among older people
- People who donated money to charity got a boost in a feel-good part of the brain, as revealed in brain imaging research
Many people report that these acts have benefits of:
- reminding you that you are relatively lucky
- make you feel connected to others
- help you feel needed and effective
- take your mind off your own worries for a while
- make you feel generous
- add a sense of purpose and meaning to your life
While we can not control all of the events going on in the world, we can take action to maintain a sense of wellness and ultimately be fully present for those who trust us with their care.
JS House, KR Landis, D Umberson. Social relationships and health. Science 29 Jul 1988: Vol. 241, Issue 4865, pp. 540-545 DOI: 10.1126/science.3399889