Emergency Medicine Staff and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Practicing Mindfulness and Fighting Burnout During a Crisis

On an ordinary day, an emergency room can be an emotional and chaotic place. For the emergency medical staff who work there, life seems to move a lot faster and decisions are often made quickly and with limited information. The price of getting things wrong can mean the difference between life and death.

Thriving in an environment with such extreme highs and lows takes a special type of person, and that has never been more evident in the medical field than right now as we?re finding ourselves in the middle of a worldwide pandemic where our emergency medical workers are on the front lines.

As an emergency medical worker, you are definitely a modern-day superhero. During the Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, you show up to work every day, putting your own life in danger, to save lives and care for the sick. It is work that can only be described as selfless, noble, and brave. But despite your superhero qualities, it?s also important to understand that you are still a human being.

Being human means you still get scared. You still get stressed. You still get tired. You still get burnt out. You still make mistakes. And you still need help. We want you to know that we?re here for you and we get it. And we want to help. We?ve assembled some tips and resources to assist you whether you?re on or off the clock.


When you?ve just had a patient take a turn for the worse or you?re on hour 10 of a 12-hour shift, it?s not always easy to just stay calm and press on, especially now. Practicing mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your own feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgement.

Right now, take a break from reading this. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and then exhaling slowly. This quick breathing technique can help you focus and calm yourself in the moment.

In addition to pausing and breathing, here are a few more techniques you can put to use immediately to help you reduce stress, focus, and stay calm.

  • Find Your Feet: That sounds pretty easy, right? Whether you?re standing, sitting, or lying down, become aware of where your feet are and how they feel. Are they cold? Can you feel your weight pushing down on them? Focus on the sensations you feel for 30 seconds to a minute.
  • Progressive Relaxation: To de-stress from head to toe, close your eyes and focus on relaxing each muscle group starting with your feet and toes. Move up to your knees, thighs, chest, hands, arms, neck, shoulders, jaw, and eyes. Relax each group for two to three seconds while maintaining slow, deep breaths.
  • Make Mundane Tasks Less Routine: Notice an activity itself. For example, if you?re washing your hands, focus on how the water feels. Is it warm? Try eating lunch with your non-dominant hand. As you?re walking through hallways or outside, go off autopilot and notice the sounds, colors, and shapes around you.

For more ways to practice mindfulness, you can also check out sites like Headspace that offer other tips for meditation and relaxation.

Fighting Burnout

If you?re doing all you can to reduce your stress on the job, but you still find yourself dreading coming to work, you?re having trouble sleeping, you?re constantly irritable, or you?re feeling disillusioned, you?re no doubt experiencing job burnout.

During the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, you?re putting in long hours in the ER. Sometimes you don?t have the supplies or support you need. Your work-life balance is often non-existent. In such conditions, burnout is almost unavoidable.

If you?re feeling the effects of job burnout, take action now. The Mayo Clinic suggests these options to get started:

  • Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait.
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends, or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope. If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation, reading, or art.
  • Exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.
  • Mindfulness. Use the techniques we mentioned above to help you stay calm and focus while on the job.

The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, but no one is seeing its impact more than our emergency medical community. Just know that you?re not alone. We?re here for you and we appreciate all you do. Thank you for your service. Stay well!

P.S. Don’t miss our latest Special Report update:

“Novel 2019 Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19): An Updated Overview for Emergency Clinicians”

Our mission is to provide innovative, high-value, evidence-based education that informs clinical decision making, highlights best practices, develops skills, and enhances performance.

In light of that mission, we have made this Special Report free for everyone. Please feel free to share with a friend or colleague. Visit www.ebmedicine.net/COVID-19 to read the article and our other COVID-19 resources today.

Last Updated on October 15, 2021

2 thoughts on “Emergency Medicine Staff and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Practicing Mindfulness and Fighting Burnout During a Crisis

  1. One of my very first attendings would tell his patients, “you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anybody else”. He would use this to refer to burden of being a primary caregiver for an ailing loved one however it couldn’t hold more true to our current pandemic. We have to take care of ourselves; emotionally, mentally, physically. That’s the only way we can continue to take care of others <3

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