Ways Healthcare Workers and Patients Can Reduce Social Isolation During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic increased social isolation for nearly everyone across the globe, but it's especially heightened for caregivers and hospital patients. This is partly because of vital infection protection protocols and social distancing processes such as single-patient isolation rooms and restricted visitor policies.
Research shows us that isolation can lead to loneliness, an upsurge in anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and decreased levels of energy. It can increase chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure and even up the risk of dementia. Prolonged isolation has a negative impact on the mind, body, and mood.
Extroverted staff, those who gain energy from social interactions, face a more uphill battle than introverts, who derive pleasure from alone time. Although introverts might have an easier time coping short term, they still need some level of social time.
Ideas for Staff
Studies show that body language may account for up to 65% of all communication. Since PPEs and masks hide facial cues, it's important to incorporate additional signals for collaboration. Glass doors or windows allow spaces for caregivers to hold up notes to each other. Digital and analog messages posted on walls, various surfaces, and electronic devices, provide opportunities for co-workers to share words of encouragement to help boost moods.
- While potlucks, restaurant outings, and holiday gatherings have been a mainstay of hospital units to connect outside of work, healthcare professionals are finding new ways to bond, like with outdoor picnics
- Changing break room locations to those with operable windows to let in fresh air and sunlight has been shown to help
- The addition of plants can further enhance mood, improve cognition, and reduce stress
- Larger break rooms allow for better social distancing, too. Additional options for staff to duck away to meditate or cultivate mindfulness—say by dedicating stairwells or corridor ends—can also help to recharge and promote new coping skills to aid in stress reduction
- Enabling additional supportive spaces with comfortable furniture, soft lighting, or views outside fosters environments for healthcare professionals to listen and provide emotional support to each other
- Putting feelings into words, planning, and problem solving together can work wonders for mental health
- Private atmospheres also offer workers the opportunity to connect virtually with a therapist. The State of Minnesota recently released a handy Wellness Pocket Guide for healthcare workers to reference daily during the pandemic
Ideas for Patients
While some facilities have strict no-visitor policies in place, others allow for one or two people at a time. Employing creative communication methods can help, like offering iPads to aid in the display of critical medical information and wellness plans, and FaceTime capabilities to connect with loved ones. Spiritual care and advisors can also help patients navigate through life's more challenging moments. Additional proven tools are increased entertainment options, such as electronic readers or bedside games, as well as giving patients local newspapers to read and phones to call friends and family members.
Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection