I was talking to a patient yesterday, and she told me, “You deal with crises all the time. I cannot handle it! I want to go back to normal!” She was referring to the increased social unrest on top of social distancing and virus spreading prevention protocols in our current pandemic. What she is describing is Crisis Fatigue.
We all reach that point sometimes. What my patient was referring to is that as a trained emergency and trauma physician, I have been exposed to crisis after crisis and placed in stressful environments all my adult life. I belong to a unique subgroup of trauma physicians who have been to war. That unique situation where overwhelming injuries and limited resources is commonplace. Where on one side of the trauma area, you have an injured, friendly soldier, and the other you have a wounded enemy combatant. And in your mind, you have to reconcile the idea you are a uniformed healer in an organization designed to kill. Yep, I would call that conflict.
We are in a pandemic. At first, the public was “all in.” Then after a while, people got tired of washing down the groceries and wiping off delivered packages. People who never had to deal with multiple crises at the same time started to fatigue. “Crisis Fatigue” it is called. Even those who deal with crisis have breaking points. That is when people begin to let their guard down. Then the naysayers and conspiracy theorists chime in adding to the conflict. “Masks do not prevent the disease!” “It’s the same as the regular flu!” “The government is controlling you!” And so on. Now, add all the social unrest, and you accelerate that fatigue: Depression and anxiety increase, and overall health decreases. Heck, reading this blog up to now adds to the stress!
What do I do to manage all the conflict? I go back to the basics. Even in the face of the unknown, going back to the basics and centering your thoughts can calm the storm of conflict.
I am a pilot. One beautiful day I was flying over West Virginia at 9000 feet. Then my engine shut off. Completely. Talk about a crisis. Yes, for a quick moment, I panicked. But then, I immediately fell into a calm and remembered the countless times I said to my students in medicine, martial arts, and music…. “When you are panicked and confused, always fall back on the basics.” And in the case of engine failure in flight, it is “Fly the airplane.” That is it. No panic, no crying, and the initial anxiety fades away when you have the basics to fall on. I survived by the way. “Floated” the plane down to the ground safely. Not sure what would have happened had I remained panicked. And that is the point. The uncertainty of crisis is bad enough. Why make it worse with panic and poor judgement?
So, what are the basics of this pandemic?
- Wash your hands often.
- Proper social distancing (not social alienating).
- Wear the mask!
What are the basics of all this social unrest?
- Be kind.
- Take care of your family.
- Take care of your health.
I know. It is not easy. Conflict, change, and crisis is never easy. Always remind yourself to go back to the basics. It is ok to panic. Each time you tell yourself to go back to the basics, the length of panic time decreases. Do you want to Calm the Storm of Crisis? Fall back on the basics.
To Your Health,