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Caring for the caregivers: How to manage stress and trauma in the COVID-19 era

Posted By Christina Triantafyllou, PhD, Thursday, August 20, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has created extraordinary new pressures, risks and challenges, not only for entire communities and countries, but especially for healthcare systems and healthcare staff. During the pandemic, caregivers have facedinconceivable physical and psychological challenges that will affect individuals in manifestly different ways. This situation is further complicated by changes to their once-familiar clinical environments and routines in the form of emergency plans, procedures, and workflows introduced to prevent transmission.

At the outbreak of COVID-19, many hospitals were not adequately prepared to protect their staff and safely care for patients, leading to an increased risk of stress, burnout, and depression for healthcare workers. In the U.S., data from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital indicates that 57 percent of healthcare workers reported acute stress, while 48 percent exhibited symptoms of depression. Physician suicides have even been linked to COVID-19 pressures.[1]

Especially at a time like this, the ability of healthcare leaders to cope with the trauma and stress of their employees is crucial. Dealing with this situation will be essential for the viability of healthcare organizations, as the well-being of all involved will influence the future of patient care, the patient experience, patient outcomes and team performance.

But how can this be managed amid the storm of all the other challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brings?

Siemens Healthineers partnered with Dr. James Gordon, CEO and Founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), to create a white paper that analyzes the current situation and suggest applicable relief strategies:

1.     Incorporating mind-body techniques as self-care for stress and trauma relief

Mind-body techniques like mindful breathing with the abdomen soft and relaxed, biofeedback, and guided imagery have been shown to be effective antidotes. The value of incorporating self-care techniques has been well-documented for example at Aetna, an international health insurer, where the implementation of stress and trauma programs for employees led to a change in culture and subsequent increase in productivity.² 

2.     Benefiting from expert-led small groups

Being a part of a facilitated group significantly enhances participant outcomes. The majority of participants said that the techniques they learned gave them the balance they needed to deal with the fears and challenges of the pandemic, and that the group has been their single most important source of support. They found it far more comfortable to engage with a group of peers than in individual sessions in which they often felt objectified and stigmatized.

3.     Sustaining mind-body health by training the trainers

Ambassadors learn the science of mind-body medicine, practice the skills themselves and will then receive additional training on coaching to implement self-care strategies throughout the organization. Eskenazi Health (Indiana), one of the largest safety net health systems in the U.S., created a comprehensive wellness program for more than 4,500 employees and more than 100,000 patients in their care. More than 300 staff have been trained as trainers for self-care strategies. That implementation was so efficient that the organization saw a substantial reduction in their previously escalating healthcare costs which went from 5% growth per year to just 1% per year after the program was implemented.³


It is essential that we understand the stress and trauma that healthcare workers experience and take steps to deal with it. Taking steps to safeguard their health and well-being not only helps them safely navigate their own way through this crisis, it also helps ensure that patients can receive the care they so urgently need!

You’ll find suggestions for strategies and best practices on how healthcare organization can effectively manage caregiver stress and trauma relief here:







Christina Triantafyllou, PhD, is the Vice President Head of Improving Patient Experience at Siemens Healthineers, with a strong ambition to improve the sum of all interactions that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. She holds a PhD in the field of Medical Physics from Kings College, University of London, UK, and prior to joining Siemens Healthineers, she also held appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, U.S.


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