Dr. Lorna Breen’s death shook the nation. The 49-year-old emergency room doctor treated many COVID-19 patients in New York City before contracting the virus and taking time off to recover. The illness left her weak and exhausted, but Dr. Breen continued working alongside medical personnel until she was taken to a hospital and treated for exhaustion. After being released from the hospital, Dr. Breen stayed with her sister to continue her recovery. But the coronavirus claimed yet another victim: Dr. Lorna Breen took her life Sunday, April 26, 2020.
Dr. Breen’s death has drawn attention to the challenges facing America’s front-line workers: doctors, nurses, EMTs, health care professionals and law enforcement officers. In “normal” times, front-line workers deal with humanity at its worst, its most vulnerable and its most broken. The coronavirus pandemic has added increased stress as front-line workers deal with additional challenges.
Unfortunately, it’s not just front-line workers who are struggling. Their spouses must deal with extra stress and fear. It’s enough to break even the best marriages. If you’re a front-line worker … or married to a front-line worker … there is help.
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, offers ways you and your spouse can deal with the added challenges caused by the coronavirus.
Practice good self-care
“Front-line workers are already dealing with exhaustion,” Dr. Smalley says. “They’re working under extreme pressure for long hours without breaks or days off. The workload has doubled. They’re not getting enough sleep. They feel lonely if they have to isolate themselves from the rest of the family just to keep their spouse and kids safe.”
For couples in this situation, Dr. Smalley recommends paying attention to the challenges and taking action to deal with the challenges.
The first step — awareness — begins by looking at what’s happening to you and around you. “Be aware of what’s happening in your life,” Dr. Smalley says. Awareness involves:
- Noticing what you’re grieving. “Are you grieving the losses you’ve experienced?” Dr. Smalley says grieving is an important part of self-care.
- Notice the extra stress and worry you’re facing.
- Notice the physical toll of working on the front line. Identify (name) the emotions you’re feeling.
Now that you’re aware of your response to the coronavirus pandemic, take action. “Figure out what gives you life and rest during the quarantine,” Dr. Smalley says. “What does it look like to decompress?”
Engage in heart talk and work talk
Once you know what’s happening to you and you’ve taken steps to decompress, Dr. Smalley recommends couples engage in both “heart talk” and “work talk.”
“Work talk is about the day-to-day. It’s ‘family administration’ — to-do lists, schedules, kids’ needs.” Dr. Smalley says work talk is about finding solutions you and your spouse feel good about.
Heart talk, however, is a deeper, more intimate communication that involves setting aside time — 10 minutes a day — to create a safe place to talk about your inner life and listen to your spouse’s inner-life needs with the goal of showing care, understanding, validation and empathy. Heart talk requires vulnerability, but it creates intimacy between you and your spouse.
Cultivate a strong support system
Both the front-line worker and his or her spouse need a strong support system to weather the coronavirus storm. Your support system can include families of first responders, church friends, Bible study groups and others. Creating a support system gives you and your spouse a safety net and a safe place to turn during the challenges of life.
Talk to a professional
No one expected the massive changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Not only are front-line workers dealing with increased job duties and stress, but there are few opportunities to get away from the stress. If you’re overwhelmed by the extra stress, talk to a professional. There is no shame in admitting that you need help. Focus on the Family offers a free counseling consultation and can connect you with licensed Christian counselors in your area.
Whether you’re a front-line worker or married to a front-line worker, we’re here to help.