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Is There an Easy Way to Walk Away from Stress?

healthcare workers taking time to be mindful

If the internet were rationed, would your work life crash down? If I told you that tomorrow your internet connection would only work for four hours at a time, twice a day, and that system would become the new normal, how would it affect your daily life?  A Pew Research paper says that 93 percent of Americans surveyed felt like an internet outage would interrupt key activities in their lives. And notice: that paper was published in March 2020, before the pandemic was in full swing and before many of us retreated to our basement offices or kitchen tables for our everyday work experience. 

But be honest with me: in your secret heart, would you be relieved? Fewer telehealth connections, less email, fewer media distractions, maybe a chance to breathe or go outside! It might be the best thing ever.

Our constant connection to work has caused many of us to feel low-level stress almost all the time. This article published in May 2020 says “Our ability to remain virtually connected … is not without an unintended fallout: physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion beyond what living through a pandemic is causing.”

Take a breather

Maybe the thing we need to do to improve our wellness is to enforce this internet rationing ourselves. We could pretend the internet is unavailable for 15 minutes and find a little distance from our offices or exam rooms.

When I reach a fatigue point, I occasionally “walk the perimeter.” I stop my work, go outside, and walk slowly around my yard. I think about what I’ll do to that plum tree in the spring, what I can do on the weekend to make things look better, or what it will take to fix that fence. It’s a different kind of creativity, and it’s more physical than sitting in front of my screen. It really helps me shake off the dull ache in my eyes and puts some energy into my brain. I’m privileged to work from home, but maybe you can find a place to just stroll and think, even if it’s around a parking lot.

Do something for yourself once a day

It’s nice to walk away for a few minutes, but it’s only a little relief. Our brains are constantly stimulated to solve problems or respond to questions, and we often feel a weight on our minds and shoulders that doesn’t go away when we end our workday. “To counteract this,” says the Journal of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing, “We can build simple activities into our daily routine to help us center and recharge.”

Find one thing you can do for yourself every day, something you commit to, something  that you can do even if the weather is bad or your friend flakes on the schedule. The journal article suggests: 

Unplug to cope with stress

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers stress to be a major component of living with the pandemic. “Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.”

The CDC suggests that we “Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media…. Hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.”

Being plugged in isn’t all bad. In this blog post we talked about how telemedicine has helped reduce stress for healthcare workers. In this case, screen time saved healthcare workers from the effects of the pandemic in their work lives. Also, now that we are seeing some patients in person, we can again experience the in-person care we were trained for.  In the end, we are the only true measure of how we’re doing, and we should be honest with ourselves about our levels of fatigue and stress.

We have all created new routines and coping mechanisms during the pandemic, and of course in most cases we are doing the best we can. However, if we consider planned and mindful breaks from our routines, and especially from screen time and the internet, we might find a whole new level of wellness.