Wellness Wednesday: Coping with weariness and long-term stress

September 2, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

As we welcome September and the arrival of fall, it seems hard to believe that half a year has passed since the first COVID-19 inpatient was admitted to Michigan Medicine. Health care workers have been running at top speed, through days, weeks and months that seemed to drag out forever while passing in the blink of an eye.

The hectic pace, constant change and unknown variables of the pandemic have left front line caregivers and other employees feeling exhausted and weary. The current events, unrest and injustice in the world around us create additional stress and uncertainty.

“Many of us have experienced high levels of ongoing stress in recent months,” said Kelcey Stratton, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and program manager of Resilience and Well-Being Services with the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience. “As a result, it’s common and understandable for us to feel depleted, both emotionally and physically.”

Many faculty and staff still struggle to pause even now, long after the height of the pandemic in southeast Michigan. Some of our hospital units are still caring for COVID-19 patients, and with the ramp-up of operations across the health system, it can be difficult to slow down, reflect and fully acknowledge the impact of the past six months.

Making time to reflect and recharge

“We all need periods of rest and recovery to help us feel our best and cope effectively during times of increased stress,” Stratton said. “Finding time can be difficult so we need to make time to rest, pause and take care of ourselves.”

Kathleen Robertson, M.S., R.N., director of the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience, agreed.

“There are many things this pandemic is teaching us,” said Robertson. “One of them is just how important it is to pause and advocate time to reflect not only on our patients’ fears and concerns but on our own feelings and needs.”

Robertson said health care workers often suppress their own needs and don’t always take time from their daily work to recharge with family, friends or other supports. 

Micro-practices allow a moment of pause

There are a number of brief exercises, or micro-practices, that Stratton recommends to help build meaningful and mindful moments into each day. She said that making the time for these practices can help relieve stress and reset our attention, energy and mood.

Try these micro-practices and think about how you might fit one or two into your daily routine.

Three good things: Each day, list three things that went well for you. Then, write down your explanation for why those things went well. This brief reflection activity can help you recognize the sources of goodness in your life.

A mindful moment: Find a quiet time and place. Focus your mind on a pleasant image, sound or simply your own breathing. Try to focus on the present moment. Just a few minutes of mindfulness can help recharge your attention and energy.

Time to move: Every hour, make a habit to move your body for approximately three minutes. Try some stretches, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk down the hall, or try standing rather than sitting at your desk.

Celebrate small wins: Consider how you can celebrate the everyday successes that keep you and your team motivated, supported and engaged.

New video series designed to help employees reflect and recharge

Leaders from the Adult Hospitals (University Hospital and Frankel Cardiovascular Center, or UH/CVC) are working with the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience to develop a video series that will help faculty and staff pause and find ways to re-energize.

The series, Reflect and Recharge, was launched yesterday as part of UH/CVC’s ongoing Short Takes bi-weekly video updates.

“These videos will address a number of issues that we see impacting employees,” said Linda Larin, FACHE, M.B.A., interim chief operating officer for UH/CVC. “People are coping with long-term stress and the loss of so many things right now, like the ability to socialize and connect in person, the freedom to participate in our usual life activities and, for some, even the painful loss of loved ones.”

“We want to help faculty and staff begin to think about how they can build resilience and restore balance in their lives,” said Larin.

Each new bi-weekly episode will focus on a specific topic and offer information, tips and resources to help employees recognize, assess and address their own needs. Click to watch the first episode: Coping with Exhaustion and Weariness.

“The only way we can continue to do this extraordinary work is through reflection and resourcing,” said Robertson. “Our caregivers are so busy healing others. We want them to know that their own healing is just as important.”

For confidential counseling at no cost, referrals, and information on how to address mental and emotional health concerns, employees can contact the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience at counseling.med.umich.edu, or by calling 734-763-5409.

Source: Some practices adapted from Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2018) The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance