Maintaining Wellbeing Amidst the Fear and Uncertainty of COVID-19

19 Apr 2020

By Taylor S. Riall

With the COVID crisis upon us, we are being called upon to be our best as we navigate this uncharted territory. To be our best, we must take care of ourselves, which is challenging under normal circumstances. Now, in addition, we are all afraid and grieving simultaneously…as are our colleagues, family, and friends across the world. As healthcare providers we are afraid of becoming seriously ill, of our colleagues and friends being seriously ill, of infecting others, of being “redeployed” to somewhere where we may not feel comfortable working, of not having access to PPE, of being alone or unsupported, of watching people suffer or die alone without their families by their sides, and so many other things. And, at the same time, we mourn the loss of our “normal”. Whatever “normal” was to each of us, it has changed.

I fluctuate between intense, irrational fear, and thinking that maybe I am overreacting to the whole thing. I used to be able to sleep (my superpower), but now, ironically, when I have the time, I no longer can. I worry that any one member of my team will get really sick. I struggle every day wondering if we are making the right decisions about which patients can be offered necessary operations and which can’t. My mom is 75. She lives in NJ – I worry every day that she will get sick and if she does, I worry about not being able to go see and care for her. I fluctuate between compassion for and frustration with people around me. I know that everyone around me is scared. They are grieving the loss of their normal and many are hurting financially. But sometimes, my container is not big enough to hold all of it. I struggle with the irony of having time with Charlie (my husband) and Winston (my Goldendoodle), yet being consumed by my own fear and worry and wasting that precious time. And I feel bad grieving over the temporary loss of what seem to be insignificant things… eating out, running marathons, having people walk by me and not be afraid to come near me. And then I worry about tomorrow…what will our world, and, selfishly, my world look like after this. 

Ask yourself who you want to be during this crisis (I actually ask myself that question all the time). Take the time to do  things that help you maintain your sanity so you can show up the way you want. Then inspire others to do the same. In this unusual time of social distancing, connect with each other. It is essential to our wellbeing. Communicate. Listen. Acknowledge fear, grief, and uncertainty. There is no playbook for this situation; say “I don’t know but I am here to listen.” Inspire and empower those you care about to care for themselves and to support others when they need it the most. Joke with each other, laugh together, cry together, ask for help when you need it. Recognize that you are human – that all of the emotions you are experiencing are normal. And know that you are not alone.

Join the Association of Women Surgeons in a tweetchat to discuss wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. This #AWSchat will be hosted on Monday April 20th, 8pm Eastern Time. To participate, follow @womensurgeons along with our moderators Dr. Taylor Riall (@TaylorRiall) and Dr. Minerva Romero Arenas (@minervies). The questions will be posted directly from the @WomenSurgeons twitter account and you can also find them following the hashtag #AWSchat. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more.

We will be discussing the following topics during our tweetchat:

  1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work-life balance?
  2. How have your interactions with patients changed during this pandemic?
  3. In what ways have you seen healthcare workers positively support one another during this time?
  4. What types of wellness measures have you personally found helpful during this time of uncertainty?
  5. In what ways do you think healthcare workers can support one another and feel more supported?

Taylor S. Riall, MD, PhD, FACS, is Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Tucson. Her clinical expertise is in general and pancreaticobiliary surgery, including pancreatic and periampullary cancer, acute and chronic pancreatitis, gallstone disease, gastrointestinal cancer, and general surgery. She has extensive expertise in comparative effectiveness and health services research. Dr. Riall is also an executive leadership coach, trained at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. She applies her leadership training as a developmental tool to help surgeons and residents reach their full potential by raising self-awareness, developing emotional intelligence, clarify their goals, identifying and addressing personal challenges, and consciously improve and integrate the many facets of their lives. In her free time she loves to run and enjoys time with her husband and 2 year old goldendoodle, both of whom are essential to her wellbeing.


Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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