An Open Letter of Love and Hope to Essential WorkersNone By Homaira Kabir
My dear frontline healthcare worker,
Never has it been this hard for me to begin writing. But the reality is that words cannot do justice to the awe and gratitude we feel for you. You’ve stepped up to roles you hadn’t signed up for. As doctors and nurses, you rarely had to worry about catching your patient’s illness. As administrative and cleaning staff, you never feared the patients coming in and out of your hospitals.
And yet, today, this is your reality. Your heroism in the face of very real threats to you and your families has touched every heart. We each feel compelled to do our part in helping however we can. Mine is to share science-backed strategies to help you stay grounded when your world is in disarray, and to strengthen you when so much has been placed on your shoulders. It’s my sincere hope that these tips will see you through this immediate time of crisis and help you cope with the lingering effects of this time in the weeks and months to come.
Find Your Refuge
A refuge has traditionally been the place where your body can shift from fear and anxiety to the inner calm and wisdom that lives in all of us. Think of it like the peaceful seabed deep below the choppy waters. Given that you’re facing enormous challenges all day, I would urge you to identify three to five places of refuge you can turn to multiple times a day, so you get the little breaks you need to face what’s coming next. At work, these could be as simple as taking a couple of minutes to focus on your breath and slow it down to a steady pace. It could be looking out the window at the shining sun or the budding spring flowers. It could be a warm cup of coffee or a quiet moment with a colleague. Think, too, of your sources of refuge at home. Maybe it’s a warm bath, a comfortable bed, or the joy of swaying gently in your child’s loving hug. The longer you rest in what has stayed the same while so much that is out of your control has changed, the more grounded you’ll hopefully feel.
Manage Your Mind
Right now, you’re being bombarded and surrounded by negative experiences, and many of you are finding it difficult to let go of them. We tend to hang onto these experiences and replay them in our minds, even after we come home. That’s because the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is released in the fight-or-flight response, also helps the retention of memory. Unless you intentionally let go of them, your thoughts will exhaust you, and hinder your ability to think clearly and decide quickly. They will also affect your sleep, your ability to be patient and forgiving; and, eventually, can lead to caregiver burnout. As a longtime worrier myself, I’ve learned to manage my mind by turning my attention to my thoughts often, identifying the ones that serve no purpose, and then imagining they’re weeds I need to pluck out of the beautiful garden I’m growing in my mind. This practice has helped me ease my emotional baggage and go with the flow of life, instead of resisting what can’t be changed. Try it, I hope it helps.
Process Your Emotions
As important as it is to stop ruminating on these negative experiences, it’s equally important to find a way to work through your emotions, so they don’t come back to haunt you later. Because of the pace of activity at work, many of you may only get to do so once you return home. I’ve heard healthcare-worker friends talk about feelings of anger, helplessness, guilt, even shame. If you’re feeling a whole host of emotions and unable to make any sense of them, what helps is journaling, where you simply let your thoughts flow with no direction and no editing. Journaling creates coherence in your mind when logic and reason cannot. If you’re someone who tends to be hard on yourself, bring an older, wiser, kinder version of yourself to mind, and write to your current self as him or her. What will they say to you? Here’s what the kindest version of myself would say, if I were you: “My love, it’s okay. You’re tired and afraid. Give yourself permission to be human. Recognize the goodness and courage with which you show up every day to do your part, even when it feels like a drop in the ocean. Go eat, and sleep. I love you very much.”
Find and Create Joy
It can seem almost insensitive to suggest joy when you’re surrounded by so much grief and misery. But trust me, it’s precisely the time when you need it the most. The research on positive emotions shows that they not only broaden our perspective in the moment, but also build our resilience for the long haul because we don’t know when this crisis will ease or end. The research also shows that it takes a lot more positivity to balance out the negative emotions we experience. Given what you face every day, I would urge you to look for “jolts of joy”—little moments that bring a smile to your face. It could be a spark of color, a moment of laughter, a recovered patient, a colleague who waves at you from the other end of the corridor. Similarly, create these moments when you can, so you can become the light in another person’s darkness. A sense of humor does wonders to counter stress. So does being the voice of hope—the antidote to our tendency to catastrophize.
Connect to Duty
I don’t think I need to remind you of this one. I’m pretty sure it’s what gets you out of bed, and helps you show up with the professional skill, kindness, and tenacity you demonstrate all day, every day. But I still mention it because some days will be harder than others. Fear will speak louder than dreams. Sadness will feel like quicksand, and draw you in. That’s when it will help to reconnect to who you are and the duty that calls you forth. Be mindful of what you’re saying to yourself about it, because our words impact our emotions and behaviors. Sometimes a simple shift from “I have to …” to “I want to …” is all it takes to connect to duty. Have-tos create resistance because they are externally driven. Want-tos are intrinsic; and, as human beings, we need to know that we’re the captains of our own lives. Even when we need to surrender to what is, deep inside, we want to do our part in leaving the world a little better than we found it. You, my dear healthcare worker, are a living example of that. A guiding light in this darkness.
Please stay strong, and stay safe. And even though we don’t get to say it loud or often enough, please know that we’re holding you and your families in our hearts.
Homaira writes, coaches, and teaches about confidence, and about life. Her short confidence quiz is based on her scientific research and will help you find out whether your confidence is fragile or authentic.
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