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Helping During the Pandemic

Health Promotion Coordinator Elizabeth Allen
by Elizabeth Allen04/05/2020 3:42 p.m.
Updated: 04/05/2020

Healthcare workers, first responders and others on the front lines: Working all the time may take you out of the COVID-19 fight all together.

Working in emergency response and essential services is stressful for everyone. The unprecedented scope of the COVID-19 pandemic brings unique challenges for health and safety first responders.  

And while everyone experiences stress differently, we all need rest to be at our best. Maintaining good mental health is important for you to continue to help those in need. 

First responders, healthcare providers and volunteers are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. They, along with grocery store workers, childcare providers, and others who are ensuring people can meet basic needs during the pandemic, may experience increased emotional stress.  

This stress affects mental health and can even prevent these essential workers and volunteers from continuing to work.

Managing Compassion Fatigue 

Compassion fatigue symptoms are displays of emotional stress from the care giving nature of emergency response work. Some symptoms include: 

  • Increased anger. 

  • Hopelessness. 

  • Mood swings. 

  • Sleeplessness. 

  • Fear. 

  • Chronic exhaustion. 

  • Physical ailments. 

  • Guilt. 

  • Avoiding work. 

  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances. 

Emergency workers often put the needs of other people before their own. As you work to help others, you sometimes forget to take care of you. Your emotional and physical well-being is a priority. Practicing self-care and other good mental health habits are essential. These steps can help you prevent and recover from compassion fatigue: 

  • Take breaks from work. 

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. 

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. 

  • Exercise! Move! Even a brisk walk with lots of fresh air can help to relieve stress. 

  • Limit work to no longer than 12-hour shifts. 

  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors and teammates about your feelings. 

  • Pray, practice meditation, or other breathing or relaxation exercises.  

  • Set boundariesit’s ok to say “no” to prevent compassion fatigue.

Ask for help early. Seek relief as soon as you feel mentally un-well, overwhelmed or exhausted—even after rest. Talk to your supervisors about how you’re feeling. You can recover and overcome compassion fatigue, but if ignored, it can lead to more serious mental health challenges.

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Use the Buddy System 

You may not recognize the signs of stress and compassion fatigue in yourself when you are  caring for others. The buddy system can help you tune into important emotions that can signal distress. In the buddy system, team members share responsibility for their partner’s safety and well-being.  

  • Be a listener.  

  • Monitor for signs of stress. 

  • Pay attention to your buddy’s workload. 

  • Encourage him or her to take breaks and practice self-care. 

Listen, but don’t pry or demand your buddy talk about his or her feelings. You are not your friend’s therapist. Don’t diagnose or prescribe treatment. But encourage your buddy to pay attention to mental health. Your buddy also takes responsibility for encouraging you to do the same.  

Remember: Healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the front lines of this fight: You are not alone. Many people are working to provide care and support to our community during the COVID-19 outbreak.  

Your well-being is important, and it is not selfish to take breaks. We will get through this together. 

Resources  

Sometimes you may need more. If problems persist or you experience drastic mood changes, you may need to seek professional help. Don’t neglect your mental well-being by taking a wait and see approach. 

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts:  

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

  • Call the Pierce County Crisis Line at (800) 576-7764. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

For an urgent, but not life-threatening, mental health crisis:  

  • Call the Pierce County Crisis Line at (800) 576-7764. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

  • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Mobile fees waived.  

  • Call the LGBTQ Trevor Project Support Center at (866) 488-7386.  

  • Call 211 to learn about additional mental health resources.  

Health Promotion Coordinator Elizabeth Allen

by Elizabeth Allen

Elizabeth leads our behavioral health efforts to promote better mental well-being.

 

We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.