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Reflect, Reestablish Routine, Recharge: A Personal Pandemic Survival Plan

Kathleen Ruby, PhD, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

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Published April 9, 2020, at 8:12 AM CST

COVID-19 has turned our personal and professional lives upside down in less than a month. Veterinary teams, like human medical personnel, are essential workers in a society that has quarantined at home. We have a major stake in saving lives throughout the pandemic.

This is not just an epidemiological crisis—it is also a psychological one. The scientific effort to find ways to combat the virus must be matched by our individual efforts to care for our well-being throughout this crisis. Distress, grief, fear, and apprehension abound as we adjust to this new reality. These feelings are normal and expected, but they don’t have to define this time for us, nor should they control us.

Our brains are hardwired to look for threats, and when life shifts as it has done during the pandemic, we become hyperalert and vigilant. This “fight or flight” reaction is one element over which we have some control. We can ensure our endurance in this marathon by actively managing the “fight or flight” response. Without focused attention, chronic activation will take its toll and can result in emotional paralysis, depression, anxiety, and numbness. How do we guard against these maladies?

Our weapons in this battle are reflection, reestablishing routine, and recharging

Reflect

One of the first things we do in a medical emergency is check vital signs. Emotional emergencies are no different. Reflection is self-assessment. Check in with yourself before you head to work or jump out of bed to walk the dog. Take your emotional temperature. On a scale of 1-10, how grounded do you feel? How full is your metaphoric bucket, before you start dipping into it to serve others? If you tend towards anxiety, how agitated do you feel? Do you need to do some deep breathing or meditation to calm yourself? Would a long, hot shower reinvigorate you? Are you noticing feelings of depression? What self-care steps could you take? Would it help to talk to someone? Thankfully, prior to COVID-19 taking us by storm, online coaching and counseling resources had expanded to make counseling more accessible. Getting professional support is easier than ever before. Take advantage of online tools to track your responses and to get professional support if needed.

By taking the time to assess the pandemic’s impact on your emotional state, you strengthen your psychological muscle. Just like working out each day, reflection, honest self-assessment, and course correction as needed strengthens your capacity to navigate the trials created by the pandemic with increased endurance.

Reestablish Routine

This worldwide crisis has shattered normal life, and the resulting chaos is disorienting. Reestablish equilibrium by constructing a simple routine for the day. Get up and have breakfast together. Exercise. Share daily plans and schedules. At work, create practical systems, with time for breaks and connection. Start the day with time for guided deep breathing and positive thoughts. Consciously commit to appreciate your patients. Order in lunch with your team. Rely on each other. Take time to check in. Share funny or poignant stories. Be kind. Be forgiving. Connection with colleagues can pay great dividends, now and after we all return to a more ordinary time. Providing structure to this new way of doing life creates an anchor in the storm. It allows us to feel some normalcy and comfort, two elements that ground us in the midst of uncontrollable change.

Recharge

The third component, recharging, is a mandatory element in a survival kit. What does this look like for you? A walk with the family dog, or a challenging run? Making time for online yoga, or spending half an hour writing in a journal or creating a poem? Maybe it is a movie and a cup of tea with your partner or a Facebook call with a buddy before bed. The tendency for most of us when we do have down time is to skim the news or social media. Although it is imperative to stay informed, set a time limit on news consumption. Decide on a healthy amount of information to take in and then stop. Stick to it. Balance it with reading a novel, taking a bubble bath, or baking a cake. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Sew. Create a list of soothing, enjoyable activities that you can do that fill you up. Consciously create time to do a few of them each day. Think of these actions as recharging your emotional batteries on a regular basis.

Reflect. Reestablish Routine. Recharge. In the midst of the pandemic tsunami that has washed over all of our lives, these 3 elements provide an oasis of calm and well-being. Human beings thrive on certainty and this situation provides none. We cannot control what is happening outside of our doors, but with these tools, we can respond to the chaos with tempered reactions and conscious self-care.

Wellness Apps

Our phones and tablets have opened a new world of easy to use resources to assess and manage personal well-being and teach evidence-based coping skills. Here are a few to check out:

  • Calm
  • Happify
  • Headspace
  • Stop, Breathe, Think
  • Moodnotes
  • Mood Path  

Resources

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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