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Managing Worry About Your Own, and Your Family’s, Health

Health care clinicians are always asked to do a lot; but in the time of COVID-19, it’s even more. For some clinicians this means longer or more shifts. For others it might mean working with inadequate protective equipment. For others not on the front lines of the virus, it may mean coping with the unknowns of when and how COVID-19 will affect you and your practice in the future.

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In the midst of all these unknowns, how do we care for ourselves? In particular, how do we manage the worry that we might get sick? Or what about if we get our family or others sick? Times like these are ripe for the flourishing of anxiety and worry: lots of unknowns, an absolute barrage of news reports, isolation, and disruption of our normal routines and schedules. There couldn’t be a situation more perfect for anxiety and worry to take hold.

So what can health care clinicians in particular, do to manage the worry about getting COVID-19, and perhaps passing the disease along to our loved ones?

Identify What You Can Control and What You Can’t

Things we, as individuals, can control:

  • Our own hygiene
  • Maximizing healthy behaviors (water, healthy foods, plenty of sleep, exercise)
  • Minimizing unhealthy behaviors (using tobacco, illegal drugs, excess alcohol, junk food)
  • Keeping our homes relatively clean and sanitized
  • How we choose to spend our time outside of work (i.e., practicing social distancing and remaining at home as much as possible)

Things that we, as individuals, can’t control include:

  • What other people say or do
  • How long this pandemic lasts
  • How the virus is affecting the economy, including health care

Minimize Your Conversations About COVID-19

You have to talk about the virus at work, you have to been diligent about the care and safety of yourself and your family, and you can’t escape some conversations about how the virus is affecting things like your kids’ school, your bank, your favorite restaurant or the Major League Baseball season. But you DON’T have to talk about COVID-19 when in conversation with your partner, your parents, or your neighbor. Really, you don’t. In fact, it may be best for your mental health if you minimize talk of the virus as much as humanly possible whenever you can. Here are some alternative topics, just to get you started:

  • What you’re watching on Netflix
  • The next vacation you’re planning to take
  • Plans for your summer garden or next home improvement project
  • Upcoming sports seasons
  • The book you’re reading
  • The weather (boring, yes—but it’s always a good fall back topic)

If you find that the conversation keeps steering back to the virus, you just might have to end the discussion. No need to be rude about it, but (as noted above) we do need to take control where we can.

Change Your Environment

Take a different route home from work, listen to a different station on the radio, try a new restaurant for take-out. Go outside. Walk through a different neighborhood. One strategy for managing worry is to change our surroundings. That doesn’t mean flying to Hawaii, but it does mean that we should move our bodies and change our environment to the extent that we can. Feeling worried in the middle of the night? Get out of bed and clean the kitchen. Feeling anxious while reading the news over breakfast? Shut it down and jog in place on the porch for one minute. Co-workers driving you nuts with their talk of COVID-19? Lock yourself in the bathroom stall and dance to your favorite song.

This is a unique time. We all feel some sense of worry and fear; it’s normal and to be expected. However, we must remember that we DO have options for how to cope in healthy, effective ways. The worry might not go away, but we can lessen its intensity. And hopefully this will give us the psychological resilience to see us through.

Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection

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