By Lisa E. Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT
Nothing captures the zeitgeist of America like a great comeback story. And as we struggle to recover and reopen amid the tumult of COVID-19, a strong dose of comeback is exactly what we need.
One of the greatest comebacks in sports history unfolded last year on a Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Ga. On April 14, 2019, after enduring a series of back surgeries and personal scandals, Tiger Woods claimed his 15th Masters title. “I had serious doubts,” Woods said. “I could barely walk. I couldn't sit. Couldn't lay down. I really couldn't do much of anything.” Capturing the title “meant so much to me and my family,” he said. “To have everyone here, it's something I'll never, ever forget.”
We, too, are playing an important tournament as we plot the safest way to return to business during an ongoing pandemic. The Academy’s member pulse surveys revealed that 63% of U.S. members in private practice have furloughed or laid off staff due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, screenings for anxiety and depression have risen by 70% during COVID-19, according to research by Mental Health America. The return to business as usual will be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
Our prize for persevering through this crisis will not be a green jacket, as in the PGA, but rather regular paychecks and a clean bill of health as we resume work that we once took for granted. If we unleash our spirits of healing and innovation, as Woods did, we may come roaring back with an epic win for ourselves, our practices and our communities.
Comebacks Begin at Rock Bottom
“When my house burned down, I gained an unobstructed view of the moon.” - Mitzuta Masahide
The Japanese word for “crisis” includes the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” Indeed, in every disaster, seeds of opportunity and possibility are buried beneath the ashes. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
The stark contrast between crisis and opportunity — or gratitude for personal health and grief for lives lost — can give rise to complicated emotional responses. Depression may develop or intensify, inspiring feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. Additionally, people who have endured traumatic experiences may develop survivor’s guilt, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Survivor’s guilt can cause someone to regret their actions during a crisis, feel guilty about living while so many others have died or ruminate over ways that they could have intervened to save lives.
Emotional responses such as survivor’s guilt can disrupt life in major ways, making it difficult to focus on work. This can manifest both physically and mentally, causing:
- headaches, stomach aches and nausea;
- nightmares or difficulty sleeping;
- flashbacks to the traumatic event;
- emotional numbness or feelings of anger, confusion, disconnection, fear, helplessness, irritability or lack of motivation;
- social isolation;
- substance abuse;
- thoughts of suicide;
- recurring concerns about the meaning of life; or
- a shift toward viewing the world as a dangerous, unsafe and unjust place.
During these turbulent times, it’s important to monitor yourself and others for warning signs such as:
- suicidal ideations;
- homicidal ideations;
- violent thoughts or aggressive behavior; or
- panic (beyond appropriate anxiety expressed toward threats or uncertainties).
These warning signs should never be ignored. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or others, seek professional help right away. Contact a doctor or therapist who specializes in trauma, a local hospital or the National Suicide Line at 800-273-8255.
Physician Tips for Coping With Emotional Trauma During COVID-19
By Lisa E. Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT
- Recognize that intense emotional reactions are normal.
Medical professionals cannot save all patients. It’s important to accept feelings that surface during these unprecedented times and allow time to process these emotions. Focus more energy on recalling the good experiences than on perseverating over the negative ones.
- Accept that our current knowledge of COVID-19 is limited.
It’s helpful to concede that COVID-19 is a new virus, and that experts have limited experience managing pandemics of this scope. It’s only natural that the medical community and individual professionals are learning on a day-by-day basis how best to help patients navigate the mental and physical implications of COVID-19. Give yourself a break.
- Take note of lessons learned.
Record your insights, learn from your mistakes and take note of strategies that work well when relating to yourself and others. Don’t make yourself learn these lessons twice.
- Be mindful of how COVID-19 interferes with cultural and religious traditions.
Social distancing and medical procedures compromise cultural and religious traditions, which may exacerbate grief.
- Stay connected.
Share emotions openly and honestly with a trusted network of family, friends, colleagues, clergy or neighbors.
- Boost resilience through a healthy lifestyle.
Certain lifestyle chances can increase your resilience and help you rise above the emotional response to trauma. Make an effort to go to bed on time, eat a balanced diet and avoid alcohol and drugs. Find ways to incorporate physical exercise, mindfulness techniques and relaxation into your daily routine. Journaling, listening to music and creating art can be especially therapeutic. Limit your consumption of news and social media, and go out of your way to help others when opportunities arise.
- Prepare now for future pandemics.
Knowledge is power. Empower yourself by learning how to get ahead of future pandemics.
- Know when you need professional help.
Everyone handles grief and trauma differently. If these tips aren’t helping, reach out to a doctor or therapist who can tailor treatment to your individual needs.
Achieving a Successful Comeback from COVID-19
“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.” - Dali Lama
What about the seeds of possibility that lay buried beneath the ashes? Though the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on health and the economy, it also presents opportunities to eliminate practices that no longer work and innovate new solutions for the future.
Coming back from COVID-19 will require a transparent and supportive approach that balances mental health support with forward movement. Some team members may be ready to jump back into work immediately while others will benefit from counseling, resources or wellness referrals. Establish a protocol for linking employees to physical and mental health services.
Remember, too, that leadership can take a toll. Schedule in extra time to prepare before meetings and allow time after the meetings to process and check in with yourself on everything that transpired. Reach out to colleagues and peers for support. Prioritize self-care so that you’ll have the endurance to lead others.
Explore the value of mental health apps, such as:
Communication is Key
Communication from leadership should take a transparent, supportive and nonjudgmental tone. It’s important to emphasize that employees are not in this alone; rather, they are part of a team that will work together to rise above the situation. Cultural awareness is essential, especially considering how culture shapes our responses to grief and trauma.
Here’s an example of a supportive statement from leadership:
Like many businesses, we have experienced a severe impact from COVID-19. Protecting our unique and revered brand, as well as the wellbeing of our highly valued employees, is a challenge that we [OWNERS] fully dedicate ourselves to. We have been in business for [NUMBER OF YEARS], and you don’t come this far without learning how to persevere through tough times. Our commitment to each other will help us overcome the current COVID-19 challenges through collaboration and innovation.
Plan for Contingencies
Unlike natural disasters, which are localized, COVID-19 has a global reach and its impact is pervasive and unpredictable. Businesses must develop plans for a variety of contingencies. Share these plans with the team and provide space for all employees to offer input and discuss concerns about returning to work.
As we move forward as a global community, may our practices continue to support and learn from each other.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
Lisa E. Rogers, MA, LPC, LMFT is a therapist in private practice in New York, N.Y. In office & telehealth in the following states: NY, NJ, VT, CA, TX, IL, MA, and RI. Individual, group, family and marriage therapy for adults, adolescents and children.