Navigating the Stress of the Long COVID-19 Journey
This blog is the first of a two-part series written primarily for those who provide services to our senior adults (but is applicable to us all).
Given the ongoing struggles with COVID-19, we are concerned about the health and well-being of all employees, and especially those who give direct care in difficult settings (medicine, schools, long-term care, etc.). To aid in this process we have created versions of our Motivating by Appreciation Inventory for these settings – most recently for those who serve in Senior Care. The action items for each language of appreciation are tailored for the unique circumstances and demands in these workplaces.
The last 18 months have been brutal for virtually everyone and every position within long-term care. Long hours, isolation from family and friends, implementing new policies and procedures due to COVID-19, making deeper relationships with residents and then losing those friends, personal stress due to childcare and schooling issues, fear for one’s own safety . . . the list of stressors seems endless.
The seemingly endless nature of the challenges adds to the emotional drain. Initially, what was viewed as three to six months of “crisis” turned into 12-15 months of survival. Then glimmers of hope arose with vaccines being given and the rates of infection declining – to the point that many facilities began to “open up,” resulting in friends and family being able to visit their loved ones.
But the initial light of hope has dimmed again – with the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the increase of individuals being infected by the virus and the potential for reinstating measures to stem the spread of the disease. The uncertainty of the future clearly increases the anxiety for all.
What kind of race are we running?
Fairly early on, we realized this season was not going to be a sprint and we tried to pace ourselves for a long-distance event. Somewhere between six to twelve months into the pandemic, the situation was looking more like a marathon. But now it seems we are going to go beyond a marathon – but to what? Some may say “a new way of life,” but I wonder if a “journey” may be the best picture of where we are and where we are going.
Journeys are accomplished day by day. You get up, get ready for the day, take your bearings and head out toward your goal. Steadily. Persistently. Deliberately.
Why determining what may lie ahead is important
No one who is personally acquainted with those who serve our elders and disabled questions the emotional drain experienced by the frontline staff, managers and administrators in these organizations. But the reality (currently) is: the job isn’t done yet, and “we have to continue to serve, because if we don’t, who will?”
A key message to anyone in some form of leadership is: you and your team members are in the midst of a long journey and you need to think and plan for this. Why? Because understanding the priorities needed and the decisions which will follow will likely determine whether you (individually or as an organization) will survive the trek.
Understanding the nature of stress is key to surviving a long demanding journey. Often, stress is described as the experience when the demands in one’s life are greater than the resources to meet those demands. We experience stress when we have too much work to do in comparison to the time and energy we have. This can obviously occur in the social and emotional realm – we become stressed when the emotional demands of our job are greater than the emotional resources we have to cope with them. Working long hours with challenging residents (and difficult family members) would clearly overwhelm almost anyone.
The reality is – stress is more complicated than this definition. In reality, stress is the result when perceived demands are greater than perceived resources. This perceptual component is important to understand if we are going to successfully manage the stress in our lives created by extraordinary circumstances (the pandemic) and also fewer resources to meet those demands (e.g. lack of adequate staff).
We can (and do) increase the stress in our lives when we create higher than necessary expectations for ourselves and those around us. For example, if your organization historically has done “above and beyond” meals once a month in prior years, given the lack of available staff, you may need to reconsider whether this is a current priority. Retaining the high expectation is the result of a perceived demand on resources rather than an actual demand.
Similarly, the stress we experience (both individually and corporately) increases when we don’t allow ourselves to access available resources to meet daily demands because of how we think about those resources. For example, routinely not taking breaks (including lunch) because “there’s too much to do” will eventually wear a person down.
While we have just explained where stress comes from (and haven’t given you specific “to do” steps yet), use this information this week to begin to track the sources of the stress you are experiencing. From which areas (actual demands, lack of actual resources, perceived demands, perceptions about resources) does your stress primarily originate?
Next week we will give you numerous specific suggestions on ways to “attack” your stress and reduce it significantly!Tags: COVID-19, long-term care, senior care, stress
Categories Appreciation, Burnout, MBA Inventory, Perseverance, Stress management