As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches year two, mental health has become a top-three priority for most industries, including healthcare.
According to a March 2020 JAMA study, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on workers across all industries who report distress (71.5%), depression (50.5%), anxiety (44.6%), and insomnia (34.0%).
The pandemic has added new stressors for the healthcare workforce. “Physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers had to learn about this new disease as fast as possible, taking on multiple roles as healers, priests, and therapists to their patients, each other, and to their family members,” says Dr. Izzy Justice, a neuroscientist and the author of eight books on emotional intelligence.
Justice says the pandemic is one of many stressful events that happened (and are still happening) simultaneously. “COVID-19 came on the heels of the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, a divided political climate, and the growth of social media,” he says.
In the Fall 2021 CPSI-sponsored webinar Neuroscience of Mental Health, Justice explores the impact of rising stress and mental health issues in healthcare, which he also attributes to modern society’s constant pursuit of stimulation. “Our brains were designed to process a very limited amount of stimuli. Today, however, we carry stimuli wherever we go on our cell phones and through social media,” he says.
During the webinar, Justice, who co-authored the book Healthcare EQ: A Clinician’s Guide, shared how the brain reacts to stress and why traditional stress-relievers like Yoga, walking, and meditation are not ideal in fast-paced healthcare environments, where clinicians have little available time.
He also offers simple neuroscience-backed solutions that are helping physicians, nurses, and healthcare workforces alleviate stress as it is happening. “Emotions are contagious,” says Justice. “Mental health isn't just about you as an individual, but it's also about your physical family and your peers,” he says, adding that clinicians may not be adequately prepared for the emotional part of their jobs during a 12-hour shift in high-stress environments like the ER.
Neuro solutions and tools
Justice says the first step in addressing the healthcare worker’s mental health needs starts with developing a new language that accurately describes how a person feels, including mad, happy, or stressed.
He proposes a simple language using the colors red, green, and yellow (reflected on an EEG) to label emotional health more accurately. “It's a universal language that we use in traffic, and these colors can describe what is happening in the human brain,” he says. “A person’s ability to function at a high level is reduced by 50%, just by going from green to yellow and is reduced to 5% when the brain reaches red.” Justice even developed a neuro app using this language called EQ Health that is free for healthcare workers. The app tells a person if their brain is red, yellow, or green while offering personalized neuro activities, neuro thoughts, and a visual image.
Justice adds that advances in neuroscience have changed how stress is measured over the last five years. “We used to perform an EEG in a psychiatric clinic,” he says. Today, however, wireless neuro tools and devices are game-changers. Wireless devices, for example, can give live EEG readings of the brain. On top of that, healthcare workers can do 10-15 second activities to reduce stress in the middle of a shift that are backed by neuroscience. “We have found these activities, when done correctly, are the equivalent of almost 15 to 20 minutes of traditional interventions for mental health,” says Justice.
Watch the full webinar titled "Neuroscience of Mental Health" here
Download the EQ Health app here