Since the start of the pandemic, people have been so focused on numbers. How many people have gotten sick with the coronavirus? How many have died? How much longer will we be impacted by the pandemic? 

Society has centered their conversations around the repercussions of COVID-19 and how we can prevent the virus from claiming more innocent lives. But what they aren’t talking about, however, is the mental health crisis plaguing America’s healthcare workers.

To an outside observer, healthcare professionals appear powerful and resilient as they stare into the face of the unknown. We call them heroes, and rightfully so. They’re working tirelessly to keep us safe. 

But underneath their calm demeanors, they’re struggling to keep it together. They’re overworked, the dire reality of the situation prevents them from sleeping, they’re isolating themselves from loved ones so they don’t expose them to the virus, and are risking their lives to save others.

As a result, healthcare employees are suffering from record levels of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and burnout. Their allegiance to saving lives has them putting patients before their own well-being, but paradoxically, it is only by focusing on their own mental health that healthcare workers can most effectively care for their patients. 

Here are five critical self-care habits I share with the healthcare facilities I work with:

1. No matter how fast you feel like you should be going, slow down

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities were already lively environments before the pandemic, which has only increased this restlessness. It’s rare for a nurse to even have a few minutes to themselves during any given shift, between visiting their patients and fielding phone calls and emails. 

As you switch tasks, force yourself to slow down and pause for at least ten seconds. Even this small respite can reset your nervous system and help you recenter yourself. 

2. Be mindful of how you use your downtime

During a break, or when you have a second to rest, be conscientious about how you’re using that time. It may be tempting to scroll through social media to take your mind off things, but heavy social media usage has actually been linked to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. Instead of logging into Facebook, go for a walk, sit and listen to a meditation app, or mindfully eat a healthy snack.

3. Give yourself time to recover after a challenging moment

Healthcare workers have one of the hardest jobs of anyone in any industry. Maybe a patient took a turn for the worse or you had to share some difficult news with a family. Instead of immediately moving on to your next task, give yourself some time to recover. If you don’t, everything will continue to bottle up and take a toll on your mental health.

4. Maintain your healthy habits

You can’t control what happens during your shift, but you can control what you do once you get home. 

When you engage in healthy habits, whether it’s minimizing your intake of junk food or working out, it helps to alleviate the stress of the workday. Keep these healthy habits to ensure you’re doing something positive for yourself every day. 

5. Connect with your loved ones

Nurture your relationships with your family, friends, and colleagues. Social isolation can feel like the right thing to do in the midst of a pandemic, but too much can have serious consequences. Even if you don’t feel comfortable seeing a loved one in person for the time being, you can still set aside time for a phone call or a video call.

This is one of the most difficult times to be a healthcare worker. You want to do everything you can to protect your patients, but when you don’t take care of yourself, you not only jeopardize your ability to provide the best care possible, you put your mental and emotional well-being on the line.