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Improving the Psychological Recovery of Health Care Workers After Disaster

A healthcare worker presses her hand to a glass window, as a young boy holds his hand up on the other side.

You may not expect that natural disasters, nuclear incidents and terrorist attacks have much in common with a global pandemic. However, the psychological responses to each of these events are similar. There are methods for mitigating the mental impact of disaster that can be applied to almost any traumatic event. Regardless of the source of disaster, the mental recovery of a nation’s people is essential for the recovery of a nation as a whole. And while the development of vaccines is an important, life-saving step toward overcoming COVID-19, for society to recover as quickly as possible, we must also treat the psychological effects of the pandemic.

George Everly Jr., a renowned psychologist with faculty appointments in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, specializes in crisis intervention and human resilience. In early 2020, Everly helped develop a coordinated initiative called MESH (Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Help) to support employees within the Johns Hopkins Health System as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently attended a seminar in which Everly discussed the psychological aspects of the pandemic. His talk ended with a summary of thoughtful insights on how to improve our resilience, which I have adapted here.

  1. Be kind to yourself and compassionate with others. When angered or annoyed, try to see things from the other person’s perspective.
  2. Practice the art of mindfulness and meditation to combat worry. Buddha once said, “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” By actively working toward optimism and gratitude, we can steer our mind toward positivity even in the darkest of times.
  3. Exercise the body, as well as the mind. Just three 30-minute workout sessions per week can be as effective as antidepressants for some individuals.
  4. Know your limitations — change what you can and accept what you cannot. Only you can control how you react to the world as it unfolds around you.
  5. Stay connected to others, and put effort into improving your relationships. Although we are physically distanced, we do not have to be socially or emotionally distant. Plan virtual gatherings, study sessions or coffee hours. Having the support of your peers makes you stronger.
  6. Keep moving forward, even during adversity. Your life may not currently look the way you had imagined it a year ago, but remember that life is a journey, not a destination. There is no such thing as failure, only lessons to be learned and opportunities to shape that journey.
  7. Believe that you can direct your future, otherwise you will be forced to endure it.
  8. Have faith in something greater than yourself. People who have faith do better in difficult situations than those who believe only what they see.

If we can fully adopt these maxims, we can make it to the other side of COVID-19 while enhancing our overall quality of lives.

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