Facing Another Wave of Pandemic Stress

​We hoped that we were going to get back to "normal", but the Delta variant has swept through the country and made its way to Nashville. It feels like déjà vu, except at this point we still have access to toilet paper. At this juncture, Vanderbilt faculty, staff, and students are mostly protected by vaccinations.  

Canadian Psychologist Melanie Joanisse likens our pandemic journey to traveling the ocean in a boat. It has been said that we have all been weathering the same storm, but we have not been in the same boat- some have been in yachts, some in canoes, and others in lifeboats. Joanisse notes that we tend to focus our attention on controlling the waves. We are exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed when we compare our journey to those who appear to be navigating a calmer ocean. It is important that the captain of a ship remains aware of the forecast and overall conditions of the ocean. However, she proposes that we, the crew, focus on maintaining the ship-worthiness of our boats so that when we must "hit a wave head on, we have a fighting chance to get through it, bounce back, and potentially grow from the experience." A sinking ship cannot help other vessels (patients, families, or colleagues). It remains critical that our healthcare team re-commit to nurture own ships and crews.

Here are some suggestions for self-care that we learned during the first wave of this pandemic and the wisdom continues to hold true:

  1. Diminished exposure can reduce triggers. It is easy to become consumed by the news media reporting COVID-19 numbers, low vaccination rates, weather disasters, and other traumatic situations outside of our immediate control.  (Focus on the boat, not the waves.)
  2. Engage in intentional actions that are calming such as massage, mediation, mindfulness, float therapy, prayer, nature walks, music, art, or other restful activities.
  3. Physical activities such as walking, running, working out, cycling, tennis, bowling, or hiking are also useful in counteracting the stress from trauma.
  4. Utilize cathartic modalities such as journaling, therapy, or talking with others about your feelings.
  5. Employ technology:
    1. PTSD Coach is a free app developed by the VA National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology. It provides education about trauma symptoms, self-assessments, and techniques for managing distress including mindfulness and grounding tools.
    2. CBT-I Coach is a free app for insomnia and sleep concerns, developed by the VA, Stanford University Medical Center, and Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology. It provides education about sleep disordered symptoms, self-assessments, and techniques for managing sleep including mindfulness and monitoring tools.
    3. There are Mindfulness apps that you can download at various prices such as Calm, Headspace, 10% Happier, UCLA Mindful, and countless others. Work/Life Connections-EAP and the VUMC Osher Center for Integrated Medicine recorded four brief free mindfulness video exercises that you can access on demand. 
  6. Make an appointment with a counselor at Work/Life Connections-EAP (615-936-1327) to discuss your distress.  Many times, brief solution-focused counseling is what is needed to address your symptoms, formulate a strategy, or learn about additional resources. If a longer course of treatment is desired, WLC-EAP can make referral recommendations.
  7. Visit Your Well-being Navigator on the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Home page to keep abreast of an array of resources .

Most importantly, remember that self-care is critical care for your well-being. Take care of your "boat" so that you can weather the next wave of the storm until we can again return to smoother waters.