Never before have healthcare professionals been under a spotlight. The entire world is counting on them to save the human race from the COVID-19 virus. Because of the news and social media, the world thinks that every nurse, physician, therapist, and technician is working on the front lines 24/7.
But that’s not the reality.
The reality is that many healthcare professionals are at home. Not by choice but because they got furloughed or forced to work from home.
What’s Really Happening In Healthcare?
One of my clients, a director in a surgical center, shared that when COVID-19 hit, he reassured his staff that nobody would have to reduce their hours. The next day he told them they were shutting down their center and they would all be furloughed.
Another client, a manager on a surgical unit, shared that at first, they were so busy preparing for their peak and so it was all hands on deck. But their peak never came. Because they stopped doing elective surgeries, she had to start downsizing her staff.
And another client, a nurse who recently went from the front line to a quality position, now has to work at home while her colleagues are gowned and masked everyday – caring for COVID-19 patients. She was along side them just a few weeks ago – now she is safe at home watching from afar.
So you see, not all healthcare professionals are putting themselves in danger, working 24/7, or forced to wear the same mask over and over again. But that doesn’t mean the ones at home aren’t suffering too.
Emotional Distress Among Furloughed Healthcare Professionals
After talking with many of the professionals now furloughed or working from home, I’ve seen a pattern of emotions bubble up in them. Some of those same emotions bubbled up in me too.
Like my client who just a few weeks ago was working alongside her colleagues who now sits in the safety of her home, feeling guilty that you’re not there with them can be overwhelming. I felt (still feel) the same way. I’m a nurse. I took an oath. It doesn’t matter that it’s been a few years since I’ve practiced at the bedside – I should be there too and feel guilty that I’m not.
Like the director who “promised” her staff at the surgical center that nobody’s hours would be reduced and then had to tell everyone the center was temporarily closing. Not only were his employees angry but he was angry too.
Many people fall into extreme negative thinking when something happens, like getting furloughed or when something beyond their control happens. Some of the thoughts are, “We’re not going to have money to pay the mortgage – we won’t have food – we’ll run out of toilet paper (seriously???) – we’ll become homeless.” It’s so easy to allow fear to create a very negative and extreme future for yourself and your family.
Believe it or not, many professionals who are at home either working or furloughed feel like they’re missing out on the attention. They may have “trained all of their lives for this” and aren’t able to take action.
Every one of these emotions can feel crippling to a healthcare professional. However, they are NORMAL.
How Do You Cope And Stay Positive?
Name your feelings
Psychologists recommend that when you feel anything negative, like fear, anxiety, or anger, NAMING those feelings helps you to cope with them. Your brain is a powerful exaggerator and can take you down a very negative hole. However, by naming what you’re feeling – “I feel scared. I feel guilty, etc.” it helps you to separate yourself from that emotion. In a sense, you are saying…yep, this is how I feel so now I can deal with it.
Step away from negative news and people
You are influenced by everything you read, see, and hear. When you expose your brain to too much negative news, you absorb that negativity, which only makes YOUR fears and concerns worse. Set boundaries with negative people and news. That doesn’t mean to stick your head in the sand – it means to stay informed yet limit exposure to the gloom and doom out there.
Step towards positive news and people
In every crisis, among the badness, you’ll start hearing, seeing, and reading about the goodness. Have you noticed more and more positive images, videos, and stories of hope on social media? Deliberately spend more time exposing yourself to those messages. When this crisis hit and the world started shutting down, my neighbor said that he didn’t expect that all of a sudden there’d be a cure and that everything was fine – go back to work. What he was hoping for is less negative news – something positive. Deliberately seek out the positive. It’s there.
Make a list of 5-10 things you CAN do
If you’re feeling guilty that you’re not on the front line with your colleagues, or like me, not working in a healthcare facility at all, there are still some things you can do. Send your colleagues bagels and coffee one morning or if money is an issue, send positive messages via text, on social media, email or snail mail! Let your colleagues know you’re praying for them, that you appreciate them, and that you are available to them. Just spend some time thinking of ways you CAN support them even though you’re not gowned, gloved, and masked.
Know that this is temporary – just a snapshot of your life
Remind yourself every day that this crisis is TEMPORARY. It will end and you WILL go back to work. Funny, as my business has grown, I’ve been traveling so much over the last 10 years that truth be told I’ve whined …”I don’t feel like getting on another airplane or staying in another hotel room. I just want to be home.” Well, this is the longest I’ve been at home since I started my company 10 years ago. I recently told my husband, “I can’t wait for the day I “whine” again about getting on a plane”. However, we know this is temporary and are doing everything we can while grounded to prepare to serve our clients better than ever before!
Even when furloughed or working from home, you can be the “best supporting actor” for your colleagues who are on the front line; you can still make a positive difference; and we will all get through this together!