Cognitive Reframing: HCPs and Emotional Trauma
Healthcare providers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic face daily mental and emotional trauma. Stepping up in a time of need and caring for those in any kind of disaster, whether a natural disaster, an unprecedented accident or a world-wide pandemic, is both rewarding and a challenging act of selfless service. It doesn’t come without a price, however.
Battling COVID-19, healthcare workers find themselves witnessing human suffering, making life-and-death decisions and carrying intense workloads. They are exposed to the virus and in many cases, isolate themselves from their families to keep their loved ones safe from harm. These healthcare providers are experiencing the stress and anxiety that comes with being exposed to traumatic situations for extended periods of time.
In China, a recent survey found 70% of healthcare providers on the frontlines suffered from extreme levels of stress, 50% had depressive orders, 44% suffered from anxiety and 34% had insomnia. PharmaAce reports “… numerous accounts of physicians and nurses talking about their grim experiences around the COVID-19 pandemic on social media: how they sometimes need to make hard decisions about which patient gets the ventilator or hospital bed and which does not; how they face death multiple times a day; how they need to console grieving families; the feeling of helplessness and so on.”
Stress management is crucial for healthcare providers, particularly during this pandemic. Without proper coping skills, the stress can minimize their ability to do their job. There are many healthy coping skills a healthcare practitioner can embrace, such as eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising daily. However, research shows that healthy coping skills will not protect you if you still believe the stress is going to harm you. Before implementing any set of coping skills, you must first reframe what you perceive to be happening.
This is where cognitive reframing can be used. Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique used to help create a different way of looking at a stressful situation by changing the meaning attached to the events. Cognitive reframing can help healthcare providers to feel less stress and to gain a greater sense of peace and control over their day.
One study found that people who reported high stress in the previous year were 43% more likely to die than those who did not. But that correlation held true only when they believed the stress was harmful to them. Those who did not view stress as harmful had a lower likelihood of death; even lower than those who reported little stress.
When facing stress, our perception of what we’re experiencing can either aggravate or reduce our stress level.
By changing the way you look at a situation, you change the way you experience the situation. Reframing a stressful event can take a major trauma and turn it into something else, such as a challenge to overcome, a really bad moment in an otherwise wonderful life, or an opportunity for growth.
Healthcare providers can use cognitive reframing to alter their perceptions of their current circumstances and thereby relieve significant amounts of stress before they ever incorporate other stress-reducing coping skills into their days.
After reframing the situation, it is still recommended to implement healthy coping skills, however. Healthcare providers should practice a high level of selfcare, employ strong boundaries and practice disassociating from traumatic events. Healthcare providers are also advised to use the buddy system while providing care in the middle of a disaster. Finally, all healthcare workers should be aware of the signs of emotional trauma, in themselves and presented by colleagues.