Empty room with benches along walls.
Need help with COVID-19 Anxiety call: (601) 496-7234 between 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. weekdays
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Through employee/student hotline, UMMC experts offer stress relief

Published on Wednesday, March 18, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

There’s a room in University Hospital, a small and quiet space, where employees can go if they need to take a moment to de-stress from the angst wrought by COVID-19. 

Get there by walking past the Starbucks and Hospital Administration on the first floor. Look for a hallway that leads to the room. It’s the door on your left. Sit wherever works for you.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Office of Well-being has a suggestion on what to do next. It may seem simple, but it also may be what you need. “Plant both feet on the ground, and feel your feet on the floor, stable and strong,” said Sondra Redmont, the Office of Well-being’s administrator.

Sondra Redmont

“Take a minute to hear and feel the silence. Take three deep breaths. Focus on pushing your belly out as you breathe to push the oxygen down into your lungs.”

It doesn’t just take direct patient care for someone with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, to bring out fear, sadness or even panic among front-line staff and non-clinical employees who support them.

Uncertainty about the disease’s community spread, concerns about the financial devastation in its wake, and worry about getting the virus or spreading it to others are just a few concerns employees and students are processing.

Reassurance is a phone call away. The Division of Psychology, one of five divisions in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, has set up a COVID-19 hotline for employees and students to receive brief, supportive counseling for stress related to the virus.  They can call (601) 496-7234 between 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays.

A plan for the hotline was turned around within 24 hours by Division of Psychology leaders after Dr. Alan Jones, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, requested that vehicle to help those coping at a very stressful time. The division’s faculty and trainees who have been specifically trained for the hotline will answer calls.

Scott Rodgers

“Across all areas of UMMC, we have seen, time and again, a readiness and willingness to help during this crisis,” said Dr. Scott Rodgers, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. “It is inspiring to work with such people, and I am confident that we will get through this difficult period and emerge even stronger than before.”

The non-emergency hotline is free and confidential, and it’s not a substitute for a psychiatric crisis such as thoughts of suicide, or for in-person psychiatric treatment.  The hotline also isn’t for information about medical treatment or about COVID-19.

Employees having concerns or stress related to an adverse patient care case are encouraged to call UMMC’s RISE program for front-line “second victims” at (601) 815-RISE.

Terry Gillespie.jpg

Terri Gillespie, the Medical Center’s chief nursing executive and clinical services officer, knows one thing about the 2,700-strong UMMC nursing force: They are front and center on screening and care for anyone suspected or confirmed with COVID-19, and “they are unparalleled.”

“The last few weeks have been chaotic, exhausting, scary and emotionally draining,” Gillespie said.  “However, I know that the difference we are making in the lives of our patients and their families is likely far more impactful than we know.”

Try these coping mechanisms suggested by UMMC experts:

Josh Mann
  • Assess your needs and worries and how you can triage them. “For a lot of us in health care, we have all of our normal workplace concerns and tasks, and at the same time, we have to keep up with the recommendations on COVID-19, how to navigate schedules, and how to make sure everyone is safe, but still accomplish what we need to accomplish,” said Dr. Joshua Mann, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and director of the Office of Well-being. “That’s more stressful in some ways than the big-picture (infection) worries,” he said.
  • Portrait of Dr. Daniel Williams
    Pace yourself. Remember that your job is a marathon and not a sprint, said Dr. Daniel Williams, division chief in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and associate director in the Office of Well-being.

“Monitor yourself for excessive fatigue, irritability, poor focus or building anxiety. Work with your team to take mini-breaks. Even a 10-minute walk during your shift is calming and can improve your energy and focus.”

  • Accept circumstances that you can’t change, and focus on what you can. You might need to modify your definition of a “good day” to meet the new normal, Williams said. “Problem-solve and set achievable goals within the new circumstances in your life,” he said. Remember that it’s understandable for you to be anxious or worried.
  • Reduce anxiety about contracting the virus or spreading it. Take healthy actions that make you feel safe. That ranges from frequent hand-washing to cleaning and disinfecting your desk or other surfaces you may encounter that can carry germs, Williams said. That also includes your phone!
Portrait of Dr. Peter Arnold

Concern about safety “is a complex issue, for sure,” said Dr. Peter Arnold, chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Surgery and chief of staff in the office of Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Henderson. “I feel that anyone in health care delivery has a unique obligation to treat our patients, no matter what.  

“This can create competing feelings in providers that want to treat sick patients while maintaining their own health and the health of their family and friends.  This scenario is a perfect set-up for anxiety, especially when we are all being constantly bombarded with news that may or may not be accurate.” 

  • Remembering to breathe is key, and so is self-care. That includes eating and drinking regularly, getting adequate sleep and reaching out to others for emotional support, Mann said. “We definitely can’t provide good care if we aren’t providing self-care,” he said.
  • Promote teamwork. If a co-worker needs to get away for lunch or take a moment of solitude, offer to cover for him or her.

“Remember to lend your co-workers a hand and your shoulder, when needed,” Gillespie said.

  • Find safe ways to get around social distancing, if contact with others is important to you.

Mann this week found himself in that boat. He’s home-isolated for two weeks because of recent out-of-state travel. “I’m a very social worker. I do pretty well for a couple of hours at home alone on my email, but I start going a little stir-crazy without the opportunity to bounce ideas off my colleagues,” he said.

Arnold also is under home isolation due to travel. “I’ve been much more anxious than normal because I’m not able to go to the hospital,” he said. “I really don’t like being away from work for extended periods of time.”

Keep up co-worker contact via email, Face Time, Zoom, Skype and old-fashioned phone calls, and keep meetings going electronically. Without that interaction, “it really does make it difficult to get work done, and that’s stressful,” Mann said.

  • Good deeds and meaningful action can help you de-stress. “When we take action to protect the people who have underlying health conditions or who are older, we are doing something good,” Mann said. “There is research that shows if you are experiencing a high level of stress, serving others helps to diminish it. It benefits the giver as well.”
  • Try to put what’s happening at work into perspective. “Things of this scale don’t happen all the time, but we face stresses in our lives all the time,” Mann said. “We’ve figured out resources for that, and they’re the same ones you use for other challenges. Sometimes, you forget what they are because you get distracted by the scale of the challenge.”

“We are getting done what needs to be done in a safe and efficient manner,” Arnold said. “This is a testament to everyone in our organization, and I am even more proud to work at UMMC when I see us all coming together around a problem.”

COVID-19 hotline, (601) 496-7234