April 8, 2020

5 Ways Health Care Staff Can Manage Stress During the Pandemic

“It seems like everyone’s calling us ‘superheroes.’”  

A health provider made the comment this week during a PCDC virtual open forum. It speaks to a common sentiment — that providers’ courage and abilities transcend “human” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.    

While well-intentioned, the accolades gloss over the very real stress experienced by health care professionals, from emergency room doctors and nurses to social workers, paramedics, and front-desk staff.

Their challenges are far-reaching, including managing a new disease without a playbook, addressing new ethical dilemmas, and feeling isolation from families and even colleagues. Self-care may fall last in their list of priorities.    

We have heard from many on the front line about how to mitigate anxiety and tensions. Below are five of the most effective practices:  

Stay connected.

For some, it means taking a minute outside with a colleague. For others, it may mean a quick text, call, or video chat with friends or family. Several health care providers have noted the importance of maintaining contact with their own therapists. Identity those who offer some separation and relief from the urgencies at hand.   

Take a full-body scan.

What are you feeling, physically? Are your shoulders hunched up to your ears? Is your jaw hurting? Are your headaches more frequent? Are you having trouble concentrating? These are physical manifestations of anxiety and stress and signal that we should do something to intervene. 

Acknowledge the tremendous expectations.

As health providers, we often think we should have all the answers. But balancing an emergency workload — and managing the stress that accompanies it — requires a new kind of awareness. One of the biggest challenges is to consciously recognize the anxiety and uncertainty of this moment, rather than push it away or ignore it.  

Embrace routine.

Doing what you would normally do — or some modified version of that schedule — is one of the best ways to impose a sense of normalcy. The simplest, everyday tasks are key, such as maintaining the same hygiene, sleep, and wake patterns as much as possible (although we know those will be interrupted). Keep a regular eating schedule. Finding even a few minutes to “disconnect” is a necessity, not an indulgence.  


The power of physical activity cannot be emphasized enough. In our most recent poll, over 60 percent of health care providers said their most effective antidote to stress levels was walking, running, biking, or any other movement — in whatever time allows. Even if you don’t have access to a gym, any activity counts, whether indoors and outdoors.  

PCDC held a free 15-minutes “Weekly Wind-Down,” created specifically for health care staff. Each session featured:

  • A live 5-minute guided relaxation practice
  • Practical tips for resilience
  • Open conversation with peers