Commentary

Tips for self-care during the COVID-19 crisis


 

I think it’s fair to say, none of us have seen anything like this before. Yet here we are, and we must lead. We are many weeks into the COVID-19 crisis. We moved our offices home and tried not to miss a beat. Our patients need us more than ever – and in different ways.

Dr. Eva Ritvo, a psychiatrist who practices in Miami Beach, Fla.

Dr. Eva Ritvo

Lest we become like the shoemaker’s daughter who has no shoes, let’s make sure we take care of ourselves. The shock waves from this pandemic are going to be massive and long lasting. I am already witnessing massive psychological growth on the part of my patients, and I hope, myself and my family. We must be strong as individuals and as a group of professionals.

Now more than ever, we need to set boundaries. So many are suffering. We must take stock of our own lives. Many of us are extremely fortunate. We have homes, families, and plenty of food. We are doctors performing essential services, and we can do so without risking our lives.

The priority is to make sure you are safe, and keeping your family and loved ones safe. As physicians, we have learned to distance ourselves from illness, but the coronavirus has affected us in disproportionate numbers. As a group, we must be risk averse as we will be called upon to heal a very traumatized nation.

To be physically and mentally strong, we must get enough sleep. This is exhausting for some and energizing for others. It is definitely a marathon not a sprint, so pace yourself. Eat well. This is no time for empty calories, and that goes for alcohol as well.

Create new routines. Exercise at the same time each day or perhaps twice a day. Try to be productive during certain hours, and relax at other times. Eat at similar times each day. We must strive to quickly create a “new normal” as we spend our days at home.

Find safe alternatives to your usual workout routine. Use YouTube and Instagram to help you find ways to stay fit in your own home. Ask friends for tips and consider sharing workout time with them via Zoom or FaceTime. New options are coming on line daily.

Make sure you are getting enough information to stay safe, and follow the advice of experts. Then turn off the news. I offer the same advice for financial worries. Try not to stress too much about finances right now. Most of us are feeling the pain of lost income and lost savings. Many of us have spouses or partners who suddenly found themselves out of work. Most likely, we will have ample ability to recover financially as we move forward and find ourselves with more work than ever.

Meditate. This may be advice you have been telling your patients for years but never found the time to try yourself. You can begin very simply with an app called Headspace or Calm. Google “5-minute meditation” on YouTube or find a meditation of any length you desire. If not now, when?

Reach out to one another. We can all use a caring word, or some humor or advice about how to move our practices online.

You may find your concentration is decreased, so be realistic in your expectations of yourself. I am finding shorter sessions more often are providing more comfort to some patients. Other patients are digging deeper than ever emotionally, and the work is becoming more rewarding.

Make sure you take a break to engage in positive activities. Read a book. Listen to soft music. Dim the lights. Watch the sunset, or be in nature if you can do so safely. Watch a TedTalk. Brush up on a foreign language. Take a deep breath. Journal. Puzzles, games, cooking, magazines, and humor all provide much needed respite from the stress. If you are lucky enough to be with family, try to take advantage of this unique time.

Try to avoid or minimize conflict with others. We need one another now more than ever. If you lose your cool, forgive yourself and make amends.

Even in these most challenging times, we must focus on what we are grateful for. Express gratitude to those around you as it will lift their mood as well. I know I am extremely grateful to be able to continue meaningful work when so many are unable to do so.

The next waves of this virus will be hitting our specialty directly so be strong and be prepared. It is an honor to serve, and we must rise to the occasion.

Dr. Ritvo, a psychiatrist with more than 25 years’ experience, practices in Miami Beach, Fla. She is the author of “Bekindr – The Transformative Power of Kindness” (Hellertown, Pa.: Momosa Publishing, 2018), and is the founder of the Bekindr Global Initiative, a movement aimed at cultivating kindness in the world. Dr. Ritvo also is the cofounder of the Bold Beauty Project, a nonprofit group that pairs women with disabilities with photographers who create art exhibitions to raise awareness.

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