COVID-19, Stress, and You

Written by Aaron Lacy

Spoon Feed
Emergency physicians reported that the COVID-19 pandemic made them feel more stressed, lonely, anxious, irritable, and sad. Overall, EM providers had an uptick in alcohol use and a decrease in daily exercise. Laughter (humor and positive reframing) was the best medicine during this time.

Why does this matter?
Psychological distress can negatively impact patient care and has a negative impact on physicians’ lives. We have covered how COVID-19 has negatively impacted physicians and pre-hospital providers, but how exactly has it done so? Quantifying and diagnosing the problem is a very EM thing to do and may help us figure out how best to help.

Shouldering the weight of COVID-19
517 emergency physicians (EPs) from 11 institutions took a survey sent to help quantify the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health. EPs reported that COVID-19 created more stress (31%), loneliness (26%), anxiety (25%), irritability (24%), and feelings of sadness (17.5%). There was substantial presence of mental health conditions, including depression (17%), anxiety (13%), PTSD (7.5%), and insomnia (18%).

Alarmingly, daily alcohol use increased from 8% to 15%, and regular exercise decreased from 69% to 56%. There appears to be a spiral of distress as ‘negative’ coping strategies such as self-blame, venting, and disengagement were significant predictors of psychological distress – although this could be a question of the chicken or the egg. While it can be difficult, using humor and positive reframing were negatively associated with psychological distress.

If you find yourself using ‘avoidant’ strategies to try and cope with the crushing weight placed on our shoulders the last couple years, it may be worth seeking help, as this could be making things worse. The last thing we need is more lectures and workshops on burnout – but knowing where we stand may help us know what next steps to take.

I am proud to be an EP, and proud to work alongside countless inspirational people. Make sure to check in your colleagues – and throw in a few good dad jokes along the way.

Sources of Distress and Coping Strategies Among Emergency Physicians During COVID-19. West J Emerg Med. 2021 Oct 27;22(6):1240-1252. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2021.9.53406.

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