During this time of immense uncertainty, health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are working tirelessly to care for others. As they focus their time and energy on their patients, many health workers are shouldering the heavy burden of their own COVID-19 stresses as well. While the nation continues to praise health workers for their selflessness and resilience, many are finding it difficult to cope with these burdens, leading to feelings of isolation, helplessness, and extreme mental duress.
The effects of COVID-19 span well beyond the physical symptoms. The anxiety, fear, and grief associated with this pandemic can affect anyone, making it crucial for health workers to receive the same care, compassion, and support they offer their patients.
The Effects of Stress on the Body
Ongoing or chronic stress can take a devastating toll on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. While everyone experiences symptoms of stress, grief, and anxiety a bit differently, some side effects of prolonged or extreme stress are more noticeable than others.
Here are just a few of the more noticeable effects of stress in the body:
- Muscle tension or body aches
- Frequent or severe headaches
- Increased heart rate
- Heightened blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach aches or other digestive troubles
- Poor sleep or insomnia
- Irritability or uncharacteristic agitation
- Problems with short-term memory
- Emotional irregularity
- Feeling “jittery” or “overly alert”
- Feelings of intense sadness or hopelessness
- Panic attacks
While some of the effects of stress are visible, the less-noticeable effects of prolonged stress are equally, if not more, concerning. High-stress levels have been associated with a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory health issues as well as musculoskeletal issues like chronic pain. Long-term stress has also been known to have a negative impact on both female and male reproductive systems.
In addition to these physical concerns, stress can be equally detrimental to our long-term mental and emotional health. When it isn’t properly managed, stress can lead to serious conditions like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), can impair our sleeping and eating patterns, and can ultimately lead to unhealthy coping alternatives like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or other dangerous behaviors.
Stress Management: Resources for Health Workers
Helping our health workers cope with their stress in a healthy way starts with making sure they are aware of the support resources that are available to them. Many health institutions have introduced support options that are specifically designed to help workers improve their overall health while managing their stress at work, and at home.
The simple act of talking about our fear, grief, or anxiety with those who can relate can be tremendously cathartic and can be an effective tool for combatting feelings of isolation. Health workers are encouraged to contact their employers or department administrators to talk about the group support options available for them and their coworkers.
Meditation and other mindfulness exercises are incredibly effective for reducing stress, alleviating anxiety, and promoting relaxation. Taking even a few minutes each day to reset, unwind, and re-center your thoughts can be greatly beneficial for those looking to manage their stress.
Mild to moderate physical activity can also be incredibly helpful when it comes to alleviating symptoms of stress in the mind and body. Bodily exercise like yoga, stretching, or even taking a walk can help the body release muscle tension and lower lood pressure while producing helpful hormones like endorphins, which can improve or stabilize mood. Exercise is also known to promote good sleep, which is crucial for our overall health.
Individual Counseling Services
Pandemics are overwhelming. It is perfectly normal to experience feelings of fear, anxiety, or grief during these unprecedented times. While these feelings are natural, they can cause a considerable amount of suffering when they aren’t addressed. Reaching out to a mental health professional or behavioral health specialist is always an option, and should be seriously considered whenever negative thoughts, emotions, or behaviors are jeopardizing your personal health, safety, or quality of life.
Visit the Main Line Health website to stay updated on our developing COVID-19 response, and to learn more about mental wellness, emotional support, and other care resources available for first-responders.