A Mental Health Clinic's Response to Stress During a Pandemic

August 6, 2020
illustrated woman hugging knees to create a heart shape

With an already high level of stress and anxiety for mental health care workers, our clinic took the initiative to practice what we preach.

As a therapist, I am often educating and advocating for my clients to practice regular self-care. Self-care can come in a variety of forms ranging from daily healthy practices and maintaining a routine, to setting boundaries with others or engaging in a relaxing and enjoyable activity. I consider self-care similar to filling up the gas tank in our vehicle - maintaining enough fuel and efficient energy to continue traveling on our journey. As a therapist, it’s also important for me to practice self-care in order to allow me to be present and engaged to my full potential for my clients, as well as in my personal life.  Many find it hard to dedicate time to a regular self-care practice when so many of life’s responsibilities call for our attention at all times. 

In the recent months, with the increased stress and adjustments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health needs in the community have heightened and the time for self-care seemed even more limited. Those of us in the mental health community were uniquely challenged with the increased need for support in our community while also adjusting to providing services virtually through a new Telemedicine platform, battling compassion fatigue, burnout, and managing our own personal response to the health crisis.  

Fortunately, our leadership team at Mid-Atlantic Behavioral Health quickly recognized the importance of maintaining self-care during this crisis and the challenges we faced to be able to do so. When you receive safety instructions on an airplane, you are told in an emergency to place your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you - this is the essence of self-care. It is vital to take care of yourself in order to be able to help others.  So, we jumped into action in some creative ways, as clinicians, to practice our own self- care, that allowed us to be fully present and engaged with our clients and the community we serve. 

Photo Scavenger Hunt for Laughs and Smiles

One way to engage in self-care is to laugh! A few members of the Mid-Atlantic team developed a virtual photo scavenger hunt, challenging all the members to be creative and think outside the box. Staff captured things like unique spring flowers, teddy bears in house windows, social distance from friendly neighbors, virtual social gatherings, and Joe Exotic even made an appearance!  At a time when stress was high and so much change was coming to our world, staff were able to connect and laugh together and utilize positive distraction as a means of self-care.  

Not wanting to lose sight of the importance of self-care as we settled into our “new normal” of remote work and telemedicine, a self-care challenge was made.  

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"Take a photo of a bear in a window and share on Slack!"

A Self-Care Checklist

For the month of May, staff were provided a list of creative self-care activities and encouraged to make it a priority to complete one item on the list each day. We shared photos of our experience with one another via Slack channels, allowing us to support one another and to learn from one another. We engaged in things like sharing recipes, new hiking trails, and recommended readings. A core value at Mid-Atlantic Behavioral Health is “Let’s Grow!” and we were able to use these activities to grow personally as individuals, as well as a team.

At a time when we were all remote, we were able to feel more connected.  Highlighting this crucial need for support and self-care allowed us to maintain the core values for Mid-Atlantic, both in our professional and personal lives -- and I can say it made a big difference! Finding the balance between work and home, self and others, and give and take can be challenging, and it is reassuring to work at a company with a culture of  “I care!”.  We are a team that shows compassion and support to ourselves, and shares that with those around us. While these activities were specifically identified to address the stressful circumstances of remote work within a public health crisis, they are not an isolated event. We’ll continue to find these opportunities to grow, recharge and maintain a healthy work environment  for both our team and our clients. 

Has your workplace instituted anything to help with the stress of isolation? We would love to hear how! Let us know in the comments below!

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