Are you exhausted? Feeling like we are taking one step forward and two steps back? That there is no end in sight?

If so, you are not alone. Like the rest of the world, healthcare workers and public health officials have been through a lot during the last year and a half. But for this group — all of you — the experiences often differed somewhat from those of the general population. Early on, this took the form of limited information about the virus causing COVID-19, limited knowledge about the disease and effective treatments, and limited tools to protect oneself, including things as simple as gowns and masks.

Over time, those early issues have partially or completely resolved, but what has not changed is the spread of this infection, and what was once gratitude by a scared public has in some cases become an expectation and even lack of respect for what healthcare providers and public health officials have done day in and day out for many months now — care for the people in their communities, often at the expense of time with their own families or even at the expense of their own health.

Further, for some healthcare providers the high number of critically ill patients, excess deaths and impossible situations, such as filling in for or communicating with families unable to share their loved one’s final moments have made an already difficult situation even more so. As described by Judith Haefner (Haefner, J. Self-care for health professionals during coronavirus disease 2019 crisis. J Nurse Pract. 2021 Mar; 17(3):279-282), these types of situations can have severe psychological consequences, such as:

  • Moral injury (MI) — occurs “when someone violates his or her personal moral or ethical code either from one’s own personal actions or from regret of nonaction” (p. 280).
  • Compassion fatigue (CF) — occurs when healthcare professionals are continuously exposed to situations requiring the use of empathy and results in depersonalization and emotional exhaustion. (p. 280)

Right now, we don’t know when this situation will resolve, but we do know that we are not at the end of it. So, this month, we wanted to stray from our usual vaccine-related topics to share some tips for making sure you stay strong physically and mentally while together, we work our way out of this pandemic.

Staying well physically

  • Make sure you take advantage of the tools we now have to protect ourselves from the virus, most specifically the vaccine.
  • Get enough sleep and take breaks during your shift.
  • Stay well-hydrated and maintain a healthy diet, including taking time for relaxed meals during which you talk with family or co-workers about things other than pandemic-related or other stressful issues.
  • Avoid too much sugar and caffeine.
  • Maintain your exercise routines or build in time for some type of movement, even if it is just a short walk sometime throughout the day.

Manage stress at work

  • Work in teams and support one another.
  • Take breaks.
  • Ensure that systems and procedures are in place to prevent uncertainty and promote some sense of control over the situation.
  • Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t.
  • Try to find positivity throughout the day.
  • Realize you will experience emotional reactions and it is natural to do so.
  • Try to vary your tasks throughout the day.
  • Use breathing and stretching techniques to decrease stress or tension.

Manage you overall mental health

  • Spend time with family and friends or do hobbies you enjoy when you are able.
  • Create support networks, so that if things come up at work, you are not also worrying about something that is unattended at home.
  • Limit your consumption of social and traditional media coverage related to the pandemic.
  • Use prayer, meditation and relaxation techniques.
  • Use vacation time.
  • If you feel overwhelming sadness, depression, anxiety or hopelessness or if signs of excessive stress last for a few weeks, seek outside support. If you are having feelings of self-harm, call 911, text TalkWithUs to 66746, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

The pandemic has tested everyone, but healthcare providers have been among those whose lives have been upended since the beginning. Remember, we will get to the end of this, and your efforts will have helped many people through this difficult time. Be well!

Additional resources

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.