In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers face the challenge of navigating grief while providing care and support to others. Studies show that 58% of nurses experienced a long-term grief disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic. The emotional toll of losing patients and beloved colleagues can be immense. Healthcare workers must acknowledge and address their grief to continue delivering quality patient care.
In this article, we will look at several types of grief, including grief from losing patients and colleagues and stress and burnout. We will discuss tips for coping with grief that will help healthcare workers in their personal grief journeys and create a resilient healthcare workforce.
Grief is a natural yet complex response to loss and trauma; healthcare workers must understand it thoroughly. Grief encompasses a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, resentment, and depression, and it is not predictable. No two people experience grief the same way, so there is no “right” or “wrong” way to cope.
In healthcare, grief is further complicated by healthcare workers’ professional roles. These medical workers are trained to provide care and support, which often causes them to suppress their emotions to remain strong for patients and their families. The heavy emotional burden of remaining strong for others can make navigating their grief challenging for healthcare workers. Understanding grief and how to cope with it can make healthcare workers more effective at patient care and support and improve their mental health.
Healthcare facilities are responsible for educating and supporting healthcare workers through their grief. Supplying group therapy, individual therapy, and educational courses can help healthcare facilities create a healthier, more supportive working environment.
Coping with the Loss of Patients
According to a study done by Harvard University, over 700,000 patients die in US hospitals every year. Healthcare workers, like nurses, doctors, and medical assistants, are the first line of support for grieving families, but many will experience some level of grief themselves. The first step to coping with the loss of a patient is allowing yourself to recognize and accept your emotions regarding the loss of a patient. It is natural to feel grief following the death of someone you cared for. Here are some tips for dealing with grief over a patient death:
Chances are there are colleagues and advisors within your organization who have experienced a similar loss. Reach out to these trusted peers and share your feelings and experience. These colleagues can provide validation, comfort, and support as you cope.
Reflect on positive moments.
Try focusing on the patient’s positive impact on your life and vice-versa.
Attend debriefing sessions.
If you feel some responsibility, participate in debriefing sessions or case reviews facilitated by your healthcare organization. These sessions allow you to learn what happened holistically and serve as a place to share your experiences, process emotions, and gain insights from other professionals.
Coping with the Death of Colleagues
A harsh reality of nearly every profession is the death of a colleague. With nearly 50% of physicians over the age of 55, experiencing the death of a colleague is almost inevitable. You and your co-workers can cope with this type of death in several ways, such as creating a memorial. A memorial could include anything from a gathering to a moment of silence during the work day to a memorial display somewhere in the facility. These memorials allow colleagues to come together and share their memories.
Additionally, sharing stories and memories can be an incredibly healing experience. It allows you to connect with others and create a shared sense of understanding and comfort. If there are memorial services or funerals planned for your colleague, consider attending to pay your respects. These events can provide closure and a sense of community as you join others in remembering and honoring your colleague.
Coping with Stress and Burnout
Burnout and stress can also lead to grief. Burnout is a sense of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that can result from prolonged stress and overwork. Almost two-thirds of nurses report experiencing burnout due to being overworked. Luckily, there are several practices you can use to cope with this unique kind of grief.
Establishing a clear work-life balance is essential for managing stress and preventing burnout in the first place. Designate time to spend on hobbies and relaxation.
Practice stress-reducing techniques.
Incorporate stress-reduction techniques, like yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness, into your daily routine. These practices help calm the mind, promote relaxation, and reduce stress levels
Seek professional help if needed.
If your stress and burnout are persistent or getting worse, it is time to seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can provide professional guidance and help you get to the root of your situation.
Remember, coping with stress and burnout is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness and active effort. Prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support are critical steps toward preventing burnout and dealing with all types of grief.
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