Healthcare workers on the frontlines during the COVID19 pandemic are likely to experience an increase in stress, fear and anxiety. In these challenging times it is especially important that we take stock of our mental health and practice managing our thoughts. Similar to other skills we learn in emergency medicine (EM) practice, mindfulness takes deliberate practice and repetition. A mantra can be one tool for creating mindfulness and focus. A mantra can serve as a solace to come back to when we feel overwhelmed, distracted, or exhausted. In this post, we will describe the practice of creating your own personal mantra.
Many sources of stress
It is undeniable that we are all facing novel stress and anxiety as we navigate through the uncertainties of a pandemic. During this time, it is likely we are developing fears, exacerbated by the accompanying unknowns:
Will my family be safe?
How do I keep them safe?
Will I be one of the ones who get really sick from COVID-19?
Will there be enough protective equipment for me and my colleagues?
What is the right personal protective equipment (PPE)?
Will I need to choose which patients receive a ventilator?
How will I manage homeschooling my children?
How will I afford my bills if I get sick, or my partner loses their job?
And this list can go on.
As healthcare workers, it’s imperative that we have tools to limit our anxiety when we are at work, so our cognitive burden is less and we can make the best decisions for our teams and our patients. In addition to the work you are doing on the frontline in the emergency department, you may also be caring for family members at home, perhaps children whose schools are closed, or elderly and worry about exposing them. The ability to focus on the task at hand is more challenging than ever.
What is a personal mantra?
A personal mantra is a phrase that can inspire you to be the best version of yourself. It is your phrase that you can turn to for support and strength. It can be a phrase that can lift you through a stressful moment, or it can be used as a check to ensure that your mindset and actions are aligned with your desired self. When the stakes and pressure are high, a mantra will serve as your phrase. Repeat it in your mind to help you recollect and focus on why you are here on the frontlines doing this work. At home, a personal mantra can also help you be more present. Your personal mantra at work will most likely be very different than your personal mantra at home, as your roles in those places are often quite different.
Creating your personal mantra
Consider your role: When thinking about how to put together a personal mantra, consider what you see as your role. Make sure that this role is something that you are in fact capable of doing. For example, if your role as an attending physician is to make your residents feel safe, this is not, in fact, something you are in charge of because the residents’ feelings are something you cannot control. However, you can make it your role to be kind to the residents. Your own kindness is something you have control of. Similarly, as a clinician you cannot cure patients, you can give them the best medical recommendations and treatments that are available. Take time to think about what you want your role to be. Remember that your role during a clinical shift may be different than at home or during non-clinical work hours. At home, your role may simply be to give your attention to your family and your own personal needs.
What do you value? The second part of a mantra can be linked to a virtue or quality that is aspirational. Remind yourself of a value that you aspire to. Patience, steadfastness, kindness, consistency, and prudence are some virtues and qualities that may serve you well in this time. Linking your role to a virtue can help define that role further, and can help focus your mind on something you can work toward and be proud of.
Testing your mantra: Test out your mantra. Make a list of your fears, and feel/think about them. Then recite your mantra to see how it fits and how it makes you feel. Fine-tune your mantra phrase until it helps quell the anxious thoughts and fears. Mantras come in many forms. Some are polite and zen-like, while some are aggressive. The most important thing about having a mantra is to come up with something that focuses your mind, helps you define your role, and calms your mind when it is having trouble being focused.
My role is to serve with prudence and love, prudence and love will quell my fears.
I will give my patients my kindness.
This too shall pass.
At home my role is to enjoy my family and give them my patient love.
Use this worksheet to develop your own mantra
What should your role be at work? At home? Other arenas like your community, or social media?
What you CAN’T do
Example: Cure patients
What you CAN do
Example: Listen and care for each patient to the best of my ability
This work is often especially powerful if done as a community. If you are interested in getting together in a web-based small group and working with other frontliners on creating your own personal mantra, please send a DM to us on Twitter at @alifeofjoyMD or @JordanaHaber. We will arrange small group sessions to facilitate designing personal mantras.
In the meantime, consider the above questions and think of who you want to be.