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8 Healthcare Professionals Share How They Practice Self-Care During The COVID-19 Pandemic

The superheroes of 2020 don't wear actual capes – they wear scrubs.

Human Interest

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new meaning to the word 'superhero.' Superman and his homies can't hold a candle to the healthcare professionals, grocery store clerks, bank tellers, mail carriers, truckers, non-profit employees, civil service workers and the many more brave people who are at the forefront through this era of heaviness. Every day they sacrifice their wellness for the safekeeping of mankind.

In under two months, the United States is now the epicenter for the coronavirus disease with the number of cases rising daily. Shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing policies have become the new normal as we work together to flatten the curve. Then, there are the extra special people who work double-digit shifts delivering the best care to their patients. No matter the conditions – lack of supplies, overflowing hospitals, less time with family, sleep deprivation – they show up and they give every cell of their being to saving lives. Maybe the new normal is extreme resilience with a healthy cup of self-care.

We know that self-care has never been more important than right now because you can't pour from an empty cup. So we asked eight healthcare professionals what self-care looks like for them. Keep reading to see how they remain motivated along with some bright spots that push back the darkness.

Rose-Krystel Hegngi

Photo Courtesy of Rose-Krystel Hegngi

Emergency Medicine Resident Physician
Baton Rouge, LA

"I recently started yoga (something I've been wanting to do for years). I'm in the very beginner stages but it's so rewarding. My work schedule hasn't really changed at all, but now on the few off days I have each month I take time to stretch and meditate since it's easy to do at home now that gyms are closed.

"The overwhelming support from companies locally and nationwide offering support and goods and free food for those working during this time has been amazing! Recently, we got an email stating medical students at LSU were volunteering to help residents with daily household responsibilities such as running errands, grocery shopping and even childcare while we work if we're feeling overwhelmed. The good that hard times bring out in other people makes me smile!

"The idea that I am doing what God has called me to do, helping others [keeps me going]. Wouldn't have it any other way— it's a privilege and an honor."

Nonee Ngazimbi

Photo Courtesy of Nonee Ngazimbi

APRN/Nurse Practitioner
West Hartford, CT


"This has been a high-stress time for healthcare workers especially when we see our colleagues, young or older, dying from COVID-19. Everyone is anxious and morale continues to dwindle as we come to the realities of this pandemic; not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and not enough system support to support an influx of ill patients when they come.

"At work, one of my colleagues led out in a mindfulness exercise the other day. Another, brought in an aromatherapy lotion we can use periodically throughout the day to center our energy. I have been working on adequate hydration, eating well, and being intentional about being a helping hand to my friends, family, and colleagues. My colleagues and I started a group chat were we share fact-based information daily such as the newest research and policies that are coming out; helps to ease the anxiety. Lastly, my skincare routine remains the highlight of my personal day. Fresh out of a steamy shower, I always lotion my body from head to toe. I then indulge in a step-by-step facial routine to keep my skin firm, clear, and hydrated. These things are keeping me grounded and secure spiritually, physically, and emotionally right now.

"Local businesses and even former patients have poured out their love and support for us by sending us treats, lunch, dinner, cards and way more! It feels so wonderful to know that you are supported by your community. Also, we have received donations from everywhere with masks and other personal protective equipment since we are nationally short. That has been a huge blessing in the midst of this chaos.

"Every now again, I am reminded why I entered into this helping profession. My experience in various intensive care units in the last seven years has prepared me in every way for such a time as this. Praise the Lord I have the knowledge and the skills and now it really feels like [it is] my duty to humanity to utilize those to bless others."

Khaalisha Ajala

Photo Courtesy of Khaalisha Ajala

Assistant Professor of Medicine Emory Univ. & Grady Memorial Hospital Nonprofit Founder of Heartbeats & HipHop, Inc. Atlanta, GA

"I'm practicing self-care by doing my best to stay prepared during this COVID-19 pandemic where the U.S. now has the highest cases in the world. I care directly for patients who have or are have been tested for COVID-19. How do I try to stay prepared? I try to stay up-to-date on reputable medical literature, remain in daily communication with hospital leadership on the plan for our patients on a daily basis, stay as protected with proper personal protective equipment to decrease my chances of contracting COVID-19 and practice good hand hygiene.

"Also, I cry when needed, rest when needed and know that I can be vulnerable to/with my colleagues and husband as we all try to fight this pandemic and take care of our patients who are battling COVID-19 and other illnesses that bring them to the hospital.

"I'm also a DJ and when I'm not working at Grady or doing global health work in Ethiopia or Thailand, DJing is a mental health practice for me. My bright spot was tuning into D-Nice's IG live session after a really challenging day at work. I danced with 100,000 of my closest friends and witnessed the healing power of music. As a doctor and a DJ, I loved it. For a moment, I was actually the patient and 'the DJ saved my life!' He saved many others by having a social distance party. Go figure!"

Ashley Cockrell

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Cockrell

Family Nurse Practitioner
Houston, TX

"I have an attitude of gratitude for my current health and for my job – it is the mainstay each day and what keeps me sane. After a long day of caring for others, it is even more important to take care of myself. I've learned that self-care is giving the world the best of you and not what's left of you. As soon as I get home from work, I take my puppy for a walk and enjoy the outdoors. I also unwind by lighting my favorite candles and enjoying my favorite music in my favorite place in the house – the couch! It is equally important for me to decompress from the day and clear my mind by engaging meditating practices. My favorite mindfulness apps include Calm, Insight timer, and Headspace.

"One moment that made my heart smile was after performing COVID-19 testing for a patient who appeared severely sick. She informed me that she stood in line at several other testing sites for hours and was eventually turned away due to high volume. Once she arrived, she was extremely thankful because not only did we get her in and out fast, but we were able to accommodate her family members who were at risk as well. She was extremely grateful for the service we provided her and complimented that we truly helped break down barriers to access care. It always brings a smile to my face when I know I've helped someone and served my mission.

"Knowing that I'm fully operating in my calling and my purpose to serve communities and help others keeps me motivated. It's fulfilling and rewarding to know that I am making an impact not only on the people I see daily, but the world at large. The genuine support, encouragement and prayers of my family and friends keeps me going. Because of my faith and support system, I'm feeling recharged and full of hope, positivity, resilience, love, and light. I am extremely grateful!"

ChiChi Okpaleke AKA Dr. Chi

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Chi

Family Medicine Physician
Tampa, FL

"Initially, as a physician, self-care was honestly not on my list of things to consider when being on the frontline in combating COVID-19. My concerns were very patient-centered, and making sure they were being treated appropriately. But it took reality to set in for me to realize that if I am not healthy, how will I be able to treat my patients effectively? These last several weeks have been stressful and I needed to buckle down and control my mental health.

"It's easy to get caught in the panic mode with all the media outlets and uncertainty on what the future holds, but I found for me that my faith never fails me. I vowed to be intentional with my mental, physical, and spiritual health; purposely integrating my workouts with yoga, prayer, and meditation. Even with all the chaos and noise, this is an opportune time to personally slow down and embrace the process of life.

"Even through this storm, a simple moment of hearing my nephews pray with the family on the phone, really made my heart smile. My family motivates me to keep striving in medicine. I'm inspired to continue to treat patients, because I know they deserve someone they can trust with their health, especially during difficult times like these. Life is hard, but the bright side is 'This Too Shall Pass.'"

Sheena Williams

Registered Nurse
Philadelphia, PA

"I have been maintaining a sleep schedule by staying active during the day and having nightly dance fitness workouts on IG live. I think it's important to have a schedule and not get into the habit of being up very late and throwing off your body. When I feel anxious or overwhelmed I pray or meditate and just list the things I'm grateful for to get my mind off of the chaos.

"I think this time home is a blessing in disguise. I rarely have time to watch a favorite show, read a book or work out. This time home has helped me achieve goals, sort through life and force me to be still. I'm enjoying time with my son and the random moments I have to read a book or relax.

"I'm motivated by my son. He needs me more than ever. I'm also motivated by my patients. They need me, so I have to stay healthy and positive for them. Our lives and how we do things will change forever, we have to support each other."

​Brittany Grimes

Photo Courtesy of Brittany Grimes

Registered Nurse
Nashville, TN

"As a full-time travel nurse, I'm used to having four days off a weeks to run errands, relax and spend some QT with myself. However, with everything shut down, I can't leave the house for anything more than groceries. So, I started doing yoga and it has been a game-changer for me! I do it every morning on my off days and every night before the days I work. I am less tense, I sleep better, get up earlier and I'm more productive. NAMASTE, sis! I have also found a way to stay creative during this time by practicing calligraphy (modernly knows as 'hand-lettering'). I get lost in it for hours at a time and it makes me so happy. Oddly enough, having to be in the house during this pandemic has made me a lot more active. Although it is stressful, I am grateful.

"As an ICU nurse, I rarely get the chance to talk and interact with my sedated patients. My brightest moment recently was with a woman who had a tracheostomy. She had just gotten her speaking valve and was finally able to eat. I sat with her, fed her, brushed her teeth, combed hair and we talked. Boy, did she talk! Before that, I was having the craziest day, but after watching her hear her own voice again, none of that mattered.

"Being able to see a critical patient make a complete turnaround at the hands of my coworkers and I is what keeps me going. It is not easy and I cry more than I like to share but I will never take it for granted."

Kristamarie Collman

Photo Courtesy of Kristamarie Collman

Family Medicine Physician
Virginia

"In medicine, the mental and physical demands of the profession can be extremely challenging and tiring. Coronavirus and COVID-19 have added increased stress and uncertainty and therefore it's more important now than ever for me to look after myself. As the saying goes, you have to 'secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.' At the end of the day, I cannot be the best doctor for my patients if I'm not performing at my physical and mental best. To do this, I try to keep a healthy diet, incorporate physical activity, and get regular sleep and rest. With constant reports being released daily about deaths and illness associated with COVID-19, it's important to protect my mental space by scheduling media and social media breaks.

"This is where a period of time where I silence my phones, disconnect from social media and turn the TV off. I use this time to either read for pleasure, journal my feelings, take a mindful walk or simply meditate to check in with my body, reflect and quiet my mind. I have also turned to activities which I used to practice when I was younger but lost touch with during my schooling and training. These activities include playing my old guitar and learning choreographed dance, both of which help me to unwind and brings me joy.

"Throughout the chaos, there have been moments that made my heart smile. A friend of the family is aware that I work in medicine and that we are experiencing a nationwide shortage of equipment such as masks. I came home unexpectedly to a package filled with a few hand-sewn masks along with a thank you note for being a doctor during this time. It reminded me that even in distressed times, human good can still prevail.

"I am constantly asked what motivates me and pushes me to keep going. For one, I know my purpose is so much bigger than me. I know that I'm helping to pave the way for many other individuals who are coming along on the journey to medicine. I am also helping people in a very real way every time I go into work.

"Sometimes I'm the first doctor they have seen in years or the first black female physicians patients have had or either way, I'm helping them in some way and they show appreciation. I will admit, I am also intrigued by the fact that I am experiencing and living through a pandemic and want to be able to tell my future children their mom was helping on the front lines!"

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

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I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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