PTSD in Healthcare Workers: How to Heal From PTSD and Manage Everyday Stress?
Healthcare is a challenging industry, demanding steadiness under pressure, fast-thinking, and a willingness to help others.
If you are a healthcare worker on the front lines, you have likely faced a massive upheaval in your work and personal life curing COVID-19.
In many ways, your working environment became a war zone almost overnight.
You have been struggling with feeling unsafe each time you go to work, or even feeling guilt or responsibility for some of the losses.
You may have to isolate yourself from your family for weeks on end and comfort patients who die alone with no soothing human touch.
This takes a toll.
These challenges can result in a real and serious traumatic experience and you might be at risk for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the traumatic stress you experience.
This is especially true when you get no time to process your emotions.
In this article, you’ll learn more about PTSD and how to heal yourself and become more resilient.
Ready? Let’s get started!
What Is PTSD?
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious disorder that occurs in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, an accident, a terrorist act, war, or rape, abuse, serious injury, or who have been threatened with death.
On the surface, people suffering from PTSD might appear to be healthy and functioning. But in reality, they are struggling to survive and are faced with disabling symptoms, including a hyper-alert nervous system, dissociation, numbness, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts, and sometimes they develop depression, eating disorders, or substance abuse.
Thankfully, PTSD is treatable. You can reduce your symptoms, reclaim the peace and happiness you lost, and resume a healthy life.
How to Recover From PTSD?
True recovery requires accepting and processing the trauma you have experienced and living with. It requires acknowledging that you’re in any danger even if your body is still reacting to danger.
In the case of COVID-19, the threat is ongoing, and you may in fact be in danger. However, you can continually work toward processing traumatic experiences and so you can prevent any posttraumatic stress.
#1. Reaching Out For Support
When you reach out to a safe person and feel not just understood but also felt, your body releases a surge of oxytocin (bonding and closeness hormone) that often induces crying from relief and feeling safe.
When oxytocin goes up, cortisol (the stress hormone) goes down, and that previously stressed-out person calms down and engages in a rational and constructive conversation.
Therapy can be the best way to find that support, but having a safe person with whom you can open up about your traumatic experience can also help.
If you can’t think of a safe person who’s willing to listen, try 7cups of tea. It is an online service with thousands of volunteer listeners stepping up to lend a friendly ear.
#2. Managing Your Distress
Learning how to manage your distress is especially useful when you feel triggered by anything that reminds you of the trauma, such as sirens, a COVID-related news story, etc.
Exercise 1: Distress Relief Exercise
Notice your feelings and your reactions to your feelings by taking a pause and mentally answering the following questions:
- What just happened?
- What did I think when it happened?
- What did I feel when it happened?
- What does it make me want to do now?
Take a deep, calming breath.
- What would be a healthier thing to do now?
- Why is that healthier?
Recall what just happened that made you feel triggered and think about the feelings and thoughts you had. Then think about what that made you want to do – sometimes people cope with painful emotions through addictions and destructive behaviors.
Before you act on your impulses, pause, take a few calming breaths, and think about what a healthier option to manage your painful emotions would be.
6. Healthier Ways to Ease Your Distress
- Take a ten-minute walk.
- Lift weight
- Contact a close friend or a safe family member
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Listen to soothing music
- Practice deep breathing for 5 minutes.
Exercise 2: Breathing Exercise
Deep breathing, especially abdominal breathing helps calm your nervous system and stimulate the vagus nerve – the nerve that connects your brain to your digestive system, heart, lungs, throat, and facial muscles and helps regulate autonomic nervous system ANS.
To try the exercise, follow these steps:
1. Start by noticing your breath.
2. Breathe deeply through your nose and into your belly (not into your chest).
3. Make a “voo” sound on your exhale to help stimulate the vagus nerve.
4. Repeat the exercise three to five times and notice if you feel calmer.
Exercise 3: Journaling
Journaling is a great way to process your emotions and thoughts.
Use the same questions in the first and answer them.
You can even think about a supportive friend, a mentor, or any safe person, living or deceased, and imagine them asking these questions and supporting you.
Imagine this person’s support can cause a surge of oxytocin as if you were talking to them for real.
#3. Manage Your Anger
When you have PTSD or have faced trauma, anger can reach unhealthy levels and it can harm you and your loved ones.
Here are a few guidelines to help you control your anger:
1. Notice What Happens When Anger Hits
Awareness is the first step to get control of your emotions, not just anger.
1. Notice where you feel the tension in your body. Is there a knot in your stomach? Are you clenching your jaw?
2. Notice what thoughts you have about what this anger makes you want to do. Do you feel like screaming at the next person you see? Breaking something?
3. Imagine what would happen if you actually act on your impulses and mentally review all possible consequences.
4. Ask yourself, “What is a healthier thing to do instead?” and, “What the benefits of that alternative would be?”
2. Take a Pause
When you start feeling angry, take time-off, if possible.
Go for a walk, or distract yourself with another activity.
If you’re with someone else, ask for time-off or excuse yourself to the restroom and take a minute to cool your temper.
3. Use “I” Messages
When you have an argument with someone, keep the focus on how you feel, rather than on another person’s faults.
Instead of saying,
“You did this,”
“You made me feel awful.”
“I feel this way …”
“I felt hurt when …”
“I got frustrated by …”
Using I statements, gives the other person insight into your true feelings, without making them feel blamed.
4. Get Some Exercise
Exercise is a healthy way to release feelings of anger.
When you feel your anger surging, do aerobic exercise or go for a run. Housecleaning or yard work can also help release anger.
#4. Manage The Demands of Work
You will likely need to continue working while dealing with the trauma, and your work environment being the major cause of trauma in the first place can make healing even more challenging.
This is why it is important to incorporate small ways to help you get through each day, including the rough ones.
1. Instant Relaxation Techniques
Using your imagination to picture relaxing memories or places can help ease your intense emotions.
1. Get in a comfortable position.
2. Start breathing deeply and slowly and feel your body as you release any tension in your muscles.
3. Once you feel relaxed, picture yourself walking toward a long, sandy beach. The sand is soft and warm under your bare feet. The air smells salty and fresh. As you move closer to the water, you notice the brilliant water is crystal clear with shells of all shapes and sizes glistening beneath the waves. The sun feels warm on your skin. You hear the far-off high-pitched cry of a gull. You breathe in and out, letting go of all stress.
2. Use Laughter Therapy
Humor is a great way to alleviate stress. Other benefits include:
- increasing trust in turn improving social relationships
- stimulating the release of endorphins
- reducing depression and anxiety
- boosting problem-solving skills and creativity
- improving sleep
- enhancing memory
- broadening minds
Watch a funny video on Youtube, or read jokes from the internet.
3. Calming Affirmations
Positive affirmations can boost your mood and offer comfort. You can even imagine a supportive friend saying these to you.
I am great at my job and making a positive difference.
I feel energized and ready to handle anything the day has in store for me.
I am enough. I accept myself as I am.
I am safe at this moment.
#5. Practice Self-Care
1. Get Some Sunlight
Sunshine matters a lot, not just to your physical health, but also to your emotional and mental health. (1)
But how sun much is needed?
Researchers have estimated the duration of sunrays exposure required in order to obtain enough vitamin D to be 10 to 20 minutes in spring and summer and almost two hours in the winter months. (2)
2. Draw a Bath
If your mind is cluttered from the demands of your day-to-day life and your muscles are sore from all of the physical activities of the day, warm water can alleviate your ailments.
You can add Epsom salts to ease the ache of your sore muscles.
3. Go on a Digital Detox
A great way to purposefully give yourself a break from the stressful fast pace of our world is to unplug digitally as often as possible.
But putting your phone down isn’t just important for your mental health.
Putting your phone or computer away one hour before sleep will help improve the quality of your sleep.
And when going out with friends or spending time with loved ones, putting your phone down will make you pay more attention to others and actually enjoy their company.
4. Adopt Some Plants
Studies reveal that plants have many positive impacts on our mental and physical health such as improving air quality and humidity levels, reducing stress, making people calmer and happier, reducing workplace negativity, speeding up recovery from illness, improving concentration, productivity, and creativity, and the list goes on.
Spend as much time in nature as you can and try bringing nature to you. Get yourself a houseplant, or start a window herb garden. Try common herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, or parsley that you can use to prepare your meals.
5. Eat Some Happy Food
Happiness can be on your plate too. It’s been proven that some food is responsible for releasing hormones that are responsible for your happiness, and by that, we’re not referring to junk food that can leave you bloated or constipated, or even distressed for the whole day.
The happiness diet is nutritious, light, helps you stay active all day, and keep the sad blues away as well.
* Green tea: helps reduces your stress level up to 20%
* Raw walnuts: it’s rich in magnesium that can help manage symptoms of anxiety and stress
* Dark chocolate: the antioxidants in the dark chocolate help lower stress hormone level
Find out more about it: 16 Foods That Boost Your Mood and Fight Depression
6. Spend Time With People You Love
Healthy relationships are a source of happiness and contentment and spending time with people you love might be all you need when you’re having the blues.
It’s true that once we’re adults, it can be hard to make new friends. Doing the things you love can help you meet like-minded people, like taking yoga classes or joining a book club if that’s something you love. If not, pets can be their best friend.
7. Adopt a Pet
Studies show that spending as little as 10 minutes interacting with cats and dogs produces a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.
Just make sure to get expert advice on properly caring for your chosen pet before you commit.
Looking For More Self-Care Ideas? Check Out This Article: 45 Easy Self Care Day Ideas at Home for a Healthy Mind, Body & Soul
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Wondering what to read next?
- PTSD Guide: How to Heal Emotional and Psychological Trauma?
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): How to Heal Your Trauma?
- How to Heal From Childhood Trauma and Transform Pain into Purpose
- CPTSD: 9 Therapy Approaches to Heal Childhood Trauma
- Undermothered: 9 Powerful Ways To Heal Your Inner Child
- How To Let Go Of Shame After Trauma?
- 4 Way to Use Mindfulness Safely to Heal from Trauma
- 10 Signs You Were Shamed In Childhood
- 30 Signs You Were Emotionally Abused and How to Overcome Emotional Abuse
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Why Cope When You Can Heal?, © 2020 by Diana Hendel and Mark Goulston. All rights reserved.