Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated May 5, 2020

Providing care to others during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and other strong emotions. How you cope with these emotions can affect your well-being, the care you give to others while doing your job, and the well-being of the people you care about outside of work. During this pandemic, it is critical that you recognize what stress looks like, take steps to build your resilience and cope with stress, and know where to go if you need help.

Recognize the symptoms of stress you may be experiencing.
  • Feeling irritation, anger, or denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Feeling helpless or powerless
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Know about stress-related disorders, compassion fatigue, and burnout:

Experiencing or witnessing life threatening or traumatic events impacts everyone differently. In some circumstances, the distress can be managed successfully to reduce associated negative health and behavioral outcomes. In other cases, some people may experience clinically significant distress or impairment, such as acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)external icon, or secondary traumatic stress (also known as vicarious traumatization). Compassion fatigue and burnout may also result from chronic workplace stress and exposure to traumatic events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tips to cope and enhance your resilience.
  • Communicate with your coworkers, supervisors, and employees about job stress.
    • Talk openly about how the pandemic is affecting your work.
    • Identify factors that cause stress and work together to identify solutions.
    • Ask about how to access mental health resources in your workplace.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.
  • Identify and accept those things which you do not have control over.
  • Recognize that you are performing a crucial role in fighting this pandemic and that you are doing the best you can with the resources available.
  • Increase your sense of control by keeping a consistent daily routine when possible — ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.
    • Try to get adequate sleep.
    • Make time to eat healthy meals.
    • Take breaks during your shift to rest, stretch, or check in with supportive colleagues, coworkers, friends and family.
  • When away from work, get exercise when you can. Spend time outdoors either being physically activity or relaxing. Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting, especially since you work with people directly affected by the virus.
  • If you feel you may be misusing alcohol or other drugs (including prescriptions), ask for help.
  • Engage in mindfulness techniquesexternal icon, such as breathing exercises and meditation.
  • If you are being treated for a mental health condition, continue with your treatment and talk to your provider if you experience new or worsening symptoms.
Know where to go if you need help.

If you’re concerned that you or someone in your household may harm themselves or someone else:

If you feel overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety:

If you need to find treatment or mental health providers in your area:

If you want more information on coping with stress and building resilience:

COVID-19 Resources