April 28, 2020

RO Corner: Staying Well in the Time of COVID-19

by Anna M. Laucis, MD, MPhil, radiation oncology chief resident Physician at the University of Michigan.

Woman sitting yoga pose

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

― Albert Einstein


There are uncertain times ahead. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us in radiation oncology and radiology may have been “redeployed” to do less familiar work on the front lines to help take care of patients suffering from this terrible new illness. One of my favorite scientists of all time, Albert Einstein, wrote words of truth and perspective many years ago, focusing on the idea that despite what challenges we may face there are miracles happening all around us.

As scary as this pandemic has been and as heartbreaking as it’s been to see the fear in my patients’ eyes as I try to reassure them that we’ll continue doing everything we can to treat their cancer even during this unprecedented time, there have been stories of hope and inspiration, too. I marvel every day at the bravery and selflessness of my colleagues and friends who are continuing their work as physicians either in their chosen specialty or in emergency or critical care scenarios. I can’t think of anyone who is not impacted in some way by this pandemic, directly or indirectly. Family members, friends, co-workers —all are doing their best to just get by and try to maintain a sense of normalcy. I hope that the tireless efforts of all frontline workers — including those in healthcare as well as grocery store workers, food delivery, and other essential jobs — will be honored and respected for years to come.

As days and weeks become months and we continue to march on during this crisis, I thought it would be timely to reflect on some of the positive aspects of this situation. The pain and suffering are real and I do not intend to diminish nor deny that in any way. Rather, as a matter of perspective, I’d like to illuminate some of the everyday miracles happening all around us that those of us in healthcare, and specifically the fields of radiation oncology and radiology, may value.

First and foremost, there are some wonderful organizations providing health workers with complimentary access to their wellbeing apps (see links at conclusion of this column), such as Headspace and Ten Percent Happier — the latter of which is actually offering free access to healthcare, grocery, and food delivery workers. Second, DePauw University has put together a free Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook to help guide users through tangible and practical exercises related to their anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilience. Third, even prior to the pandemic our ACR put a wonderful Radiology Well-Being Program into place; as part of that they are now offering a specific link for Well-Being Resources During COVID-19 that includes a collection of curated webinars, articles, and other content.

As a resident physician who has focused on wellness initiatives during my internship and radiation oncology residencies, I have learned that wellness is more than just formal programs, workshops, or sessions dedicated overtly to the topic. It also very much includes all of the fun past-times and hobbies that we may have put on the backburner during residency — like learning a foreign language, doing arts and crafts, exploring musical talents, or spending time with friends and family. Bandwidth may be limited during this crisis and stress levels may be high, particularly for those who have been “redeployed” away from specialty training programs. However, during any free time that is available, consider reaching out to friends and family on video chat (of which there are now many competing for our use as preferred platforms – Zoom, Bluejeans, Skype, Facetime, etc.) or re-igniting the “flame” for a favorite hobby while traveling and other activities are more limited. Many museums and other famous sites around the world now offer free virtual experiences from the comfort of your home.

In these uncertain times, when it may be easy to get stuck in a rut of overwork, anxiety, and stress from all of the current and future challenges, I challenge you to try to take it day by day and find the miracles each day that make life worth living. One of the practices that has brought me joy over the years is the gratitude practice of acknowledging “Three Good Things” that have happened that day. It’s ok to keep it simple. I found that after several weeks I began to change my perspective and actively record positive things throughout the day so that I could keep up the gratitude practice. It also helped me to have accountability by sending the gratitude thoughts to a friend — but there are multiple apps and other technological tools to help keep you on track with the Three Good Things practice. So let’s all help each other by providing support in times of hardship — to those in need, to our co-residents, to our friends and family — and by seeking out the daily miracles.

References and links to access resources

  1. Headspace: https://www.headspace.com/covid-19
  2. Ten Percent Happier: https://www.tenpercent.com/care
  3. DePauw University Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook: https://www.depauw.edu/files/resources/coronavirus-anxiety-workbook.pdf
  4. ACR Well-Being Resources During COVID19: https://www.acr.org/Member-Resources/Benefits/Well-Being/COVID-19-Well-Being-Resources
  5. Visiting famous world sites and museums virtually: https://people.com/travel/stuck-at-home-you-can-visit-these-world-famous-sites-from-your-couch-for-free/
  6. Three Good Things Happiness Journal App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/three-good-things-a-happiness-journal/id1242079576
  7. Action for Happiness Three Good Things Resources: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/find-three-good-things-each-day