Burned Out from Lingering Pandemic, Some on Front Lines Find Faith an Antidote
Registered Nurse Edey Gomez got flashbacks when the Omicron variant started emerging around the country, taking her back to the despair of rushing to save patients gasping for air. Now entering the third year of the pandemic with Delaware cases soaring to an all-time high, she describes feeling a sense of dread and anxiety when driving to work. “We are overwhelmed with COVID patients,” she said of the Seaford hospital where she works. “I am constantly running from one patient to another with hardly any time to eat.”
Many medical workers like her are exhausted from working through the pandemic. With the current surge straining short-staffed facilities across the country, some on the front lines are experiencing added physical, mental and emotional stress.
“I have absolutely experienced burnout,” said Gomez. “I can’t sleep; I’m constantly thinking about my patients and their families. It’s very stressful.”
What pulled her out of despair in the early phases of the pandemic continues to keep her afloat. She credits her faith as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for helping her and other health care workers in her religious community endure the ongoing toll of the pandemic.
“My faith is like an anchor,” said Gomez, who attributed regular Bible reading to help her endure. “It’s amazing when you immerse yourself into the Bible. It gives such peace and relief. It’s a safe feeling.”
Gomez also incorporates prayer before her shift to ready her mind and heart for the challenges that lie ahead. “I always pray for strength and insight to make good decisions,” she said. Gomez benefits from her prayer’s soothing effects when feeling anxious or overwhelmed. “Praying is just like taking medicine,” she said. “You know you’ll feel better afterward.”
Support from fellow believers has further helped Gomez cope. Throughout the pandemic, she received phone calls, texts, gift bags and food delivered to her doorstep to help her get through the crisis and not give up.
Gomez gets a weekly dose of that encouragement and support at her congregation meetings, held on a virtual platform since the pandemic started. “Seeing everyone on Zoom gives me a tremendous boost,” she said. “And hearing the children’s comments and others’ expressions of faith is wonderful. It has been very encouraging.”
American psychological and psychiatric associations, while not advocating or endorsing any specific religion, acknowledge the role spirituality and religious faith can play in coping with distress and trauma.
Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Mission Hills, California, noted some ways spirituality can help, including giving people “a positive hope and meaning toward life, comfort by looking for answers and strength from a higher power, and a collective shared experience of support and community.”
Gomez finds joy in passing along to others what has helped her. She joins friends online to write or call people in the community with a message of hope from the Scriptures.
“Telling people about the Bible’s promises helps you focus on others and just makes you feel better.”
One favorite resource for her is jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with short comforting videos such as “The Resurrection – Soon a Reality,” and its collection of practical articles like “How to Beat Pandemic Fatigue.” Gomez said she never misses the daily articles. “They help me deal with stress.”
Gomez also listens to the website’s uplifting music during her commute to and from work. “The songs are very soothing,” she said. “They help me stay positive and give me hope.”