Any way you slice it, we’ve all been tripped up from the effects of COVID.
I thought I was doing a pretty good job of holding it together. You know, with all the sudden changes and restrictions and not knowing what was about to happen next. The challenges just kept piling on, for all of us.
As time ticked on, and the tough got tougher, I had a stark realization that I was going to need a little more than positivity and silver linings to get me through this one.
Uncertainty was looming from this growing pandemic like a big ‘ol dark cloud closing in on us. … And at some point, I began to lose my footing. My mental health was wavering.
It was a night back in April that’s ingrained in my head. Hospital beds were overflowing, safety equipment was lacking, treatment outcomes were unknown and my next shift was on the COVID floor. That’s the night I lost it.
I could see what was happening all around me, and for the first time, I had no idea how to deal with it.
Somehow, the strength, gratitude, positivity and fearlessness that kept me standing strong for so long, disappeared and brought me to my knees.
As physicians, we dealt with not knowing (for sure) the best treatment protocol to choose for this new illness. Patients were entering the hospital in droves with symptoms and no diagnosis. Plus, we had previously hospitalized patients who were now at risk for this deadly virus. The tiniest cough made your ears perk up and your body freeze in fear.
…But the show had to go on. There were lives to treat, families and loved ones to consider. It was heavy stuff.
Like all physicians, we were rushing home after a shift only to strip down and run right to the shower before even looking twice at our children for fear we’d accidentally pass something on. Some physicians even stayed in separate housing from their families. We were all doing our best to contain it, treat it and prevent it.
The lives of each other, our patients, our families and communities were at stake, and it became more than I could bear.
…And I cracked.
Brokedown and couldn’t get back up. Literally, I could not breathe and all the clarity I thought I had was a complete blur. I wasn’t sure how I’d repair.
Has this happened to you yet? I know I’m not alone.
We’ve all had our own ‘over the edge’ moments and that one was mine.
I think what shocked me most is I’ve always performed well in challenging situations. Like I always manage to gather myself and keep moving forward with my patient’s and my family’s care still coming first.
Physician training (and being a parent) has taught me to compartmentalize my stressors and focus on the job at hand with efficient, ninja-like moves. But this was different.
It was then that I realized my positive glass-half-full self had to give my human self a break.
I wasn’t giving myself time to grieve the loss of control and acknowledge the growing fear I was feeling and it had officially caught up with me.
I hadn’t even taken a moment to say “this is hard”.
And so I decided to allow myself to feel and be more forgiving to me. I had to tell myself it’s ok to be unhappy with what’s going on, it’s ok to be mad or sad. Bottling those things up wasn’t going to make it any easier to move forward. I started to make a few little changes in my daily life to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety.
I asked for help.
I started calling for help more. Seems like a simple enough step but in reality, many of us have a hard time doing it. I leaned in on my friends and family and shared how I was feeling. Saying it out loud made me feel heard and helped release the negative and fearful thoughts (of the unknown) in my head.
You know what?… It made me realize that validating my emotions was crucial to understanding where they were coming from. And by sharing how I felt with others, it gave them an open forum to share their difficulties as well. It was quite refreshing and began opening up a world of solutions to help me overcome these challenging times.
I began asking friends and family if they needed help and they did the same —even if it was with everyday tasks like groceries. The same walls that were built up by fear were the ones that began lifting us up in unity. Knowing we were in this together started making the experience of getting through it that much easier.
I hired a trainer.
That’s it, I decided! I hired a trainer because I was ready to get more serious about my physical health and I knew if I were paying for it, I would actually do it.
My inconsistent workouts soon became regular retreats. It’s incredible what movement can do for your mind, self-esteem and physical health. My trainer became my accountability partner, which is sometimes all you need to motivate you to show up. If you’re unable to hire one, I suggest grabbing a friend and making a pact. There are so many free virtual workouts to choose from.
Committing to doing it is the first step, one I urge you to take today.
When your heart rate is pumping and the only thing you’re focused on is yourself, your form, and how hard the workout is (thanks trainer!), it’s like a zen moment for your mind. You can feel the stress flow right out of your body. And when the training is complete, I always feel so accomplished and in control and I know you will too. The feeling of overcoming hard things builds power and strength, not just in your muscles but in your mind.
I also believe that the obligation to my workout and trainer makes me feel a sense of normalcy. It gives me structure and something to look forward to.
…And in the grand scheme of things, those are the exact things that COVID-19 took away from us.
I focused on my morning routine.
Getting up before my kids has been a long-standing date I have with myself. Mama likes to have her quiet time before the raucous of the day begins. But this time, I started doing things a little differently.
Instead of getting up and scrolling my phone, checking emails or, heaven forbid, getting lost in the news, I began waking up and mentally planning my approach on the day. I make a list for my day as I’ve always done, but this time it’s different. I choose only the things that are must-do’s and everything else I let it go.
I quickly learned that if I’m always chasing a never-ending to-do list, I never give myself a winning chance.
I have a little morning pep-talk with myself (yes, that’s right and sometimes I’m staring directly in the mirror) because I know inevitably I’m going to run into obstacles in my day. Things like zoom meetings that get disconnected, kids who feel frustrated with their classwork, working longer hours to care for patients whose health I so desperately want to see improve and an overflowing sink of dishes when I return home.
Making the mental decision to take on the day with an open, positive mind knowing that things in my day will get out of whack just makes it easier to deal with them when they do.
The presence of anxiety in our thoughts means we are expecting a negative outcome to occur. So instead of allowing the anxiety— the expectation of something bad happening, I’ve been choosing to believe it’s all going to work out. It’s a much more relaxed approach. I even sleep better at night because of it.
Minding our mental health should be on our self-care checklist and it should say, “check in on your mind and heart and give yourself a hug today- really squeeze hard because you deserve it”.
If you have tips to share that have helped you power through, leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my day.