Stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty – they are all strong emotions that many people are experiencing during the pandemic that has been a part of our lives for months now. Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and health care workers of all kinds may be responding to this illness and treating individuals who have tested positive with COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to those same stressors affecting workers across all other sectors of the economy.
“The challenge we face today is we are all being exposed to repeated or prolonged stress resulting from everything we are encountering with the pandemic, and this is in addition to the normal stressors that we each face on a daily basis,” said a registered nurse employed with Merit Health River Region who prefers to remain unnamed.
“Add to that the frustration that comes from hearing so many people in my own community that don’t even believe this virus is real or as serious as I know it is,” she added.
With the extent to which so many individuals’ worlds have been thrown off balance, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain focus on needs at work. Coupled with the decreased ability to engage in activities that help counter stress – nights out with friends, family dinners, all kinds of social gatherings and close human contact – the workforce, including the health care workforce, has a decreased capacity to function at its normal level due to emotional exhaustion.
Prolonged stress weakens the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to infections. This is especially dangerous for health care workers and anyone that regularly comes into contact with COVID-19 patients.
For health care providers, the loss of even one individual can be deeply impactful and traumatizing, as the goal of their entire career is to offer healing and save lives.
“The other night I went home after an especially rough day at the hospital. We’d lost a patient to COVID-19 that was very dear to me,” the RN said. “So I was trying to relax and scrolling through Facebook. I should know better, I guess. To read so many posts from people I know complaining about something as simple as putting on a mask is maddening.”
During times of such personal and professional difficulty, some people may experience unhealthy coping skills – anything that diminishes someone’s physical, emotional or spiritual well-being.
“Back in June and July when our numbers (of positive COVID-19 cases) were high, my family sat me down to tell me I needed to figure out a way to handle the stress at the hospital in a better way. My husband was concerned because my personality was changing. I snapped at him and my children over inconsequential things. I was close to calling it quits and started looking into other career options,” she said.
The nurse said things then started looking up for her as local and state numbers dropped.
“I love nursing. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. But I love my husband and my children more. I didn’t want to have to choose between my career and my family, so when things started to stabilize, I was thrilled,” she said.
The RN said that most of her coworkers are experiencing the same problems, and she wishes the public could truly understand what effects the coronavirus has on them.
“If the people that think this virus is a hoax and mandatory masks are just a way to take away their personal rights could spend just one day in my position, they’d understand,” she said. “I really just want the naysayers and anti-maskers to know that I am exhausted. We (health care workers) are all beat emotionally and physically. Most of us have spent our entire adult lives here in Vicksburg taking care of its residents. We’ve probably cared for and helped heal someone close to one of the people complaining about wearing masks and staying home. All we’re asking is that they try to understand what this virus is doing to us. And even if they can’t understand and never believe, just put it on to humor me and shut me up.”