The psychological effects of wearing PPE: Coping strategies for healthcare workers
Does wearing PPE have any psychological effects? What are the coping strategies for healthcare workers?
PPE is a set of equipment, clothing, and wearables donned by an individual to reduce the risk of hazard exposure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone had to don respiratory PPE to protect themselves from the pathogens. Healthcare workers, on the other hand, have to don many other PPE, which covers their whole body & face. While donning PPE is essential for the prevention of pathogens & protection of the wearer, it is a proven fact that it may have many psychological effects. The article focuses on these psychological effects & coping strategies.
Curious ones can check out our article on PPE evolution.
What are the psychological effects of wearing PPE?
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that people understood the psychological effects of wearing PPE. Wearing respirators and face masks for long durations made people realize that wearing PPE can cause various psychological effects. It has been observed that these effects are due to prolonged use only. These psychological effects include anxiety, fatigue, stigma, discomfort, isolation, and stress. Let’s discuss them in detail.
Anxiety and Stress -
Wearing PPE, especially respiratory PPE, can lead to difficulty in breathing & communicating effectively. In hot & humid weather, PPEs can increase stress levels. It may cause anxiety. Most of these emotions are caused due to improper fitting or donning of the PPE. It is known that even after donning PPE, healthcare workers still worry about the risk of infection. The constant worry about the failure of the PPEs and the possibility of infection may instill anxiety.
Moreover, the discomfort of donning the PPEs for a prolonged duration and the constant reminder of donning the PPE for extended periods may increase anxiety levels. While wearing PPE, many healthcare workers have made it clear that the communication between their colleagues & patients becomes muffled and challenging to comprehend. The possibility of miscommunication & not being able to take proper care of their patients may cause an increase in stress levels & anxiety.
Many healthcare workers have explicitly mentioned that donning PPEs causes isolation, especially from their patients. PPEs act as a physical barrier, thus preventing effective communication due to the lack of any visible facial expressions & non-verbal cues. Moreover, wearing PPE may cause healthcare workers to look bulky and even unapproachable. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distancing & avoiding any physical contact made people feel isolated. Just imagine what the healthcare workers may sense while donning the PPE.
PPEs cause discomfort only when they don’t fit well. Choosing and donning the wrong size of PPE causes discomfort where it either causes suffocation or requires constant adjustment. Even for shorter durations, healthcare workers may feel highly uncomfortable. Many healthcare workers have stated that wearing PPE for a prolonged duration has caused discomfort. One may feel entrapped in the PPE, or the worst cases cause rashes, irritation, or even itching. Many healthcare workers have even reported soreness & body pains.
Donning PPE can cause physical exertion. Healthcare workers may feel that it constantly hinders their movement & even cause them to exhaust quicker. Additionally, soreness or body pains caused due to donning PPE may also cause fatigue.
People somehow believe that one who dons PPE is carrying infections & may cause harm. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many cases of discrimination were reported. Even healthcare workers may be perceived as disease carriers and fall prey to the stigmatization. Stigma may increase negativity, which isn’t the environment type one would like to be in.
One may also check out the article on PPE stigma.
What are the coping strategies for Healthcare Workers?
Healthcare workers often work long works and already face many mental health issues. With the addition of PPE-related psychological issues, it becomes vital to have coping strategies for healthcare workers. Coping strategies help healthcare workers deal with their mental health issues & promote their overall well-being.
Practicing self-care is one of the ways healthcare workers manage stress & deal with mental health issues. Self-care involves a bunch of activities that help an individual relax & enjoy. These activities can be getting a nap, following a healthy diet, going for a walk, or spending time with their loved ones. Any activity which recharges your battery is self-care.
Healthcare workers should be encouraged to take breaks that help them rest & re-energize. During these breaks, meditation or yoga can be practiced to help them calm their mind. Even conscious breathing can help make them relaxed. If any healthcare worker prefers having a call with their loved ones or playing a game during their breaks, then they can prefer doing it.
To know more, you can check out the article on how breaks promote mental health.
Spending time with Colleagues -
Building a rapport with colleagues helps combat isolation. Moreover, it helps relax when you know there are people on whom you can count & rely for help. Even spending time discussing one’s issues, problems, and coping strategies helps improve the mood & solve mental health issues.
Professional help -
As healthcare professionals & workers, one must not shy away if they feel having extreme psychological effects from donning PPEs. There are mental health professionals who will help in identifying coping strategies & understanding mental issues and provide solutions accordingly. Many healthcare centers have employee assistance programs that often involve sessions & workshops dealing with mental health concerns. Raising the psychological issues caused by PPE can help you to cope with it.
Healthcare workers must understand what psychological effects of wearing PPE are affecting their mental health & well-being. Understanding what is causing these psychological effects can help them to eliminate the issues if the problem can be solved. For example, if the PPE is causing discomfort due to wrong fitting, that can be eliminated by replacing it with a proper fitting PPE. If there’s an issue of miscommunication, healthcare workers can start using gestures & body language for effective communication.
Practicing coping strategies of self-care, taking breaks, socializing with colleagues, and taking necessary professional help when required can help healthcare workers to tackle the psychological effects of wearing PPE. Healthcare workers can also urge their organizations to arrange regular workshops & sessions of PPE training. Organizations need to help their employees to understand & solve their mental health issues and build a culture that thrives on positivity. Helping them be aware of their psychological issues and actively striving to ward them off will help mitigate the aftermath.