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How to Prevent COVID-19 From Taking a Toll on Your Mental Health

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September 1, 2020

Care for Yourself and Watch Out for Your Colleagues

  • We still don’t know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health
  • Try to control what you can, such as your sleep, exercise, and eating habits
  • Look out for colleagues who may feel depressed or overwhelmed
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We often talk about COVID-19 in terms of infections and deaths. What sometimes remains unspoken is the emotional toll this virus has had, not only on patients, but also on the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who care for them. Research finds that these frontline medical workers face high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Dr. Oliver Dorigo, gynecologic oncologist at Stanford Medicine, tells SurvivorNet Connect the pandemic could have both short-term and long-term impacts on health care professionals. “Ultimately we don’t know what the impact of this COVID-19 situation will be on mental health overall,” he says.

Doctors face the double burden of having to care for their patients while also worrying about themselves and their loved ones. “Some people’s family members are sick. Some people’s family members are dying. Some of our colleagues are in the ICU and intubated, and that can affect people in different ways,” says Dr. Douglas Levine, gynecologic oncologist at NYU Langone Health.

“I tell people to think about locus of control. There’s always some things you can control — when you get up, when you shower every day, when you get your exercise,” Dr. Levine says. “And there’s some things you can’t control. You don’t know if your sick relative is going to get better or not, and you just have to hope. Try to control the things you can, and have ¬†judgement to know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t control.”

The American Medical Association recommends that health care providers incorporate coping strategies such as:

  • Getting enough rest
  • Taking breaks between shifts
  • Eating healthy meals on schedule
  • Exercising often
  • Staying in regular contact with family and friends

It’s particularly important for physicians to look out for one another, says Dr. Levine. “There are doctors who have committed suicide. So it’s really important to reach out to people, just support people. Ask them to talk.”