Sourav Sengupta, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, has compiled a list of helpful advice for health care workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sengupta, who directs the child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, knows that fear, uncertainty and seclusion have become all too common for many people, especially those on the front lines in the battle against the novel coronavirus.
Here is Sengupta’s advice, which applies to health care workers and the general public alike:
- Acknowledge that these are exceptional times. “While we are sharing these experiences, risks and distress as a community — as we have in previous difficult times — the prolonged uncertainty of this ‘invisible enemy’ makes it challenging for all of us,” Sengupta says. “What’s important is what we choose to do next.”
- It’s normal to be stressed. You may be worried about your health, how this is impacting family and loved ones, or financial strains. “But we want to be aware of how our stress is impacting our thinking, feelings, our bodies, our behaviors,” he says. “A little stress can encourage peak performance, but too much can keep us from what we want and need to be doing.”
- Arm yourself with (reliable) information. But not too much or too often. Consider what Sengupta calls a media “diet.” “Focus on growing your knowledge and skills that help you adapt to these new challenges,” he says. “If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust. And if you find yourself getting stuck, shift gears — it’s okay to distract yourself.”
- Monitor your thoughts and feelings (not just your temperature). If you find yourself losing emotional control, take a timeout, Sengupta advises. “What’s really on your mind? Are those thoughts accurate? Are they helpful right now? Ask yourself, ‘How would I advise a good friend if they came to me with this problem?’” he says.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. We’re communicating challenging information, often through a phone or screen, so it’s important to remember your “pleases” and “thank yous,” he says. “Praise publicly and criticize privately. Look for and make attempts to heal interpersonal ruptures.”
- Find ways to help your team/neighbors/family. “Working together helps us feel better,” Sengupta says. “Communicate as regularly as possible. Ask for help and be specific about what you need. Compromise when possible,” he suggests.
- Acknowledge the tension between communal and personal. “We are being asked to sacrifice to safeguard the community. But the community is made up of you and people you care about. Try to find ways to protect yourselves and your loved ones while helping out as best you can,” he says.
- Care for yourself. “Take breaks. Eat (mostly) healthy. Try to sleep. Be physical, even if just to stretch,” he says. “Make active plans for physical, social and fun activities for the week ahead and do your best to follow through.”
- What’s less helpful? “Excessive substance use and other impulsive or high-risk behaviors,” Sengupta says. It’s also not a good idea to continually worry about COVID-19. “Frequently worrying out loud with others can actually make us feel worse at times. If you find yourself here, it’s OK, but consider getting some support from a professional.”
- Remember: It won’t always be like this. If it’s not feeling like that right now, reach out for help — or at least to connect — Sengupta says. “We’re going to get through this,” he said.
Sengupta, who sees patients through UBMD Psychiatry, is co-coordinator of the COVID-19 Emotional Support Task Force, which is providing free counseling for health care workers during this critical time through its Emotional Support Warmline (716-859-2010).