Time and time again, studies show that social support networks reduce the likelihood of burnout.¹⁻² But unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are required to social distance. We have lost the ability to hug friends and family or to meet new people without fear of spreading the virus. Based on research on the SARS pandemic, quarantine caused poor work performance and a reluctance to work.³ Isolation due to social distancing may cause similar effects.⁴
In April 2020, adults in the United States experienced more emotional distress than in April 2018.⁵ The mental distress experienced now could lead to further complications. Mental health challenges can lead to burnout, which dismantles companies and careers. But how do we reduce these mental health consequences while social distancing?
There are methods other than social interaction that have been proven to reduce burnout. General wellness techniques help people cope with their work stress. These include exercise, meditation, and therapy. In addition, many physicians have implemented research-based “micropractices” into their daily routine.⁶ Micropractices are small ways to increase mindfulness throughout your day.
Some of these are:
Focus on your breath when washing your hands. This is an opportunity to check in with your body, as well as make sure you’re washing your hands for the correct amount of time.
Breathe from your diaphragm while you are focusing on your breath. This type of breathing involves expanding your lungs downward rather than breathing from your chest.
Take a moment to name your emotions with specific words. If you notice yourself feeling sad, determine where the sadness comes from. It could be disappointment, loneliness, hopelessness, or some other emotion.
Think of the things that you’re grateful for. At the end of the day, think of three good things that happened, and write them down. Extending gratitude to others can also help bring positive emotions to the forefront.
Pick a regular downtime. It could be when you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re stopped at a red light, or when you’re about to go to sleep. Use this opportunity as a cue for a self wellness check. This way, you can use these micropractices regularly with ease.
Self-care during a pandemic isn’t easy. But in a time of crisis, we need to focus on wellness more than ever. So as we all take care to protect our physical health, we should take care to protect our mental health as well. With micropractices, we can check in with ourselves and prevent the feelings of stress and despair that lead to burnout.
1. Callahan, K., Christman, G., & Maltby, L. (2018). Battling burnout: strategies for promoting physician wellness. Advances in Pediatrics, 65(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yapd.2018.03.001
2. Rogers, E., Polonijo, A. N., & Carpiano, R. M. (2016). Getting by with a little help from friends and colleagues: Testing how residents’ social support networks affect loneliness and burnout. Canadian Family Physician, 62(11), e677–e683
3. Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395(10227), 912–920. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8
4. Dubey, S., Biswas, P., Ghosh, R., Chatterjee, S., Dubey, M. J., Chatterjee, S., Lahiri, D., & Lavie, C. J. (2020). Psychosocial impact of COVID-19. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome, 14(5), 779–788. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.05.035
5. McGinty, E. E., Presskreischer, R., Han, H., & Barry, C. L. (2020). Psychological distress and loneliness reported by US adults in 2018 and april 2020. The Journal of the American Medical Association. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.9740
6. Fessell, D., & Cherniss, C. (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Beyond: Micropractices for Burnout Prevention and Emotional Wellness. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 17(6), 746–748. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacr.2020.03.013