Psychologist offers advice to caregivers for turning stress of pandemic into personal growth

September 2021 Online

By LISA EISENHAUER

There is "no group more committed, creative, bright and compassionate than Catholic health care professionals," according to Robert Wicks.

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Wicks

Because of that devotion to their calling, Wicks said there's a tendency among Catholic health care providers to deny, avoid or minimize the trauma they are experiencing due to the relentless demand for COVID-19 care.

Societal expectations that health care professionals are able to easily shake off their bone-weariness and stress simply aren't true, said Wicks, a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus of pastoral counseling at Loyola University of Maryland. He's also the author of dozens of books on topics such as resilience and self-care.

Wicks shared his advice for how care providers can cope with the trauma of the pandemic and strengthen themselves mentally and spiritually during a webinar Sept. 8 titled "The Heart of Hope: Cultivating Post-Traumatic Growth." Wicks' webinar was the first of two on the topic of post-traumatic growth in a series sponsored by CHA.

Wicks said the chaos and stress of the pandemic will send many people down "spiritual and psychological dead ends." But, he added, the crisis also is calling people to "be open to a sense of intrigue about how we live our lives. It's amazing what can happen to us if we do that."

Openness can lead to a greater understanding of true friendship and an appreciation of how being compassionate spins a circle of grace that benefits the giver and receiver. Being open to new ways of evaluating and accepting experiences beyond one's control can lead to a deeper relationship with someone or something greater than oneself, Wicks said.

"Let's face it, everyone copes. You cope. I cope," Wicks said. "But the question is: How well do we cope? Do we deepen and grow in ways that would not have been possible had the stress of COVID-19 not happened in the first place?"

His advice for how care providers can find their way through the dark days of the pandemic covered nine themes. Among them:

  • Recognize that resilience and post-traumatic growth are not just about you. Those attributes can help health care workers take better care of others.
  • Appreciate that you can use stressful experiences to gain a greater understanding of yourself and others and start a more meaningful life.
  • Be aware of the constancy of change and cope with it by examining your habits. Those routines might need to be rethought or adjusted so as to better provide a sense of stability and personal security.
  • Just as you would wash your hands after any potential contact with physical contagion, take time to reflect on your experiences so as to clear your head of any negative spiritual and psychological contagion.

Accepting and acting on his themes, Wicks said, will help care providers to know their limits and not be distressed by the reality of them; to become more aware of their strengths and talents; to develop more flexibility; and to increase their emotional intelligence through healthy reflection.

To put his advice into practice, Wicks offered a set of self-care tools that he calls ABLE:

Assess the challenges – including the troubling emotions you are feeling and dysfunctional thoughts you may be having.

Brainstorm possible solutions during your quiet time.

Label the pros and cons including determining what you can control and what you can't – time and energy are precious and limited, so don't waste them on futile endeavors.

Explore short-term and long-term goals that inspire but do not threaten you.

"Please remember that on the most challenging days of your life, you can still be a blessing to others, and in the spirit of post-traumatic growth, may be blessed yourself in ways you don't see at the moment," Wicks said.

A recording of Wicks' webinar can be viewed here.

The second webinar, Well-Being Summit: Sharing Best Practice, is at noon Oct. 6. To register, go here.

 

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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