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Healthcare workers and holidays: Finding peace, feeling sadness, and being gentle


Even at a time of joy, healthcare workers may battle with despair. The head of spiritual care at Mount Sinai Hospital offers a message of encouragement and comfort.

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are hard-wired to help people.

Image: Mount Sinai Hospital

The Rev. Amy Frances Strano, director of spiritual care and education for Mount Sinai Hospital, leads a team of 20 chaplains. (Image: Mount Sinai)

“We go in those fields because we believe in healing,” says The Rev. Amy Frances Strano, director of spiritual care and education for Mount Sinai Hospital.

Healthcare workers can be that much more demoralized when surrounded by heartache, whether it’s inside the hospital, or their neighborhood, or suffering around the world. Sometimes the holiday season can add to the burden.

“It almost creates a certain pressure to be joyful and celebratory, and I think it also sometimes makes the sadness, almost the disconnection feel more acute, when it's hard to really let go and relax,” she says.

Strano talked with Chief Healthcare Executive® about the complicated emotions healthcare workers, including chaplains, can experience during the holidays. She offers a message of encouragement and comfort and some insights on finding peace.

She suggests that those who are struggling shouldn’t try to deny the darkness that exists. She talks about the comfort she takes in lighting candles in her home for advent.

“In the midst of darkness, we light a candle and I think part of it is, how do we explore the darkness, embrace the darkness and while also holding that flame, that light within ourselves, seeing it within each other either way through that darkness. I find comfort there,” she says.

Strano leads a team of 20 chaplains of various faiths at Mount Sinai. Chaplains care for the patients and family members in hospitals through difficult times. But especially since the pandemic, more healthcare workers have come to rely on the support of Mount Sinai’s chaplains, she says.

“If you're going to compare it to a congregation, the patients are more like visitors who come and go, and the staff are the congregants that are there week after week,” Strano says. The staff are the people we as chaplains build our long-term relationships with, and that's part of what leads to really good patient care. So yeah, we've been seeing more of that and especially around the holidays.”

For those who are aching over the loss of a loved one during the holidays, Strano suggests acknowledging those emotions rather than trying to ignore those feelings.

“I think creating rituals, whether it's lighting our candle to remember the loved one or taking a moment to do something to honor the feeling,” she says.

It could also be as simple as finding a stone and carrying it along as a reminder.

She also suggests reaching out to others who knew and loved that person.

“I think finding people to remember with can also convey a lot of healing, to be able to tell stories or hold that narrative with other people creates that connection,” she says.

When possible, Strano points to the value of slowing down and taking some quiet time for peace and relaxation. Sometimes, she says, she’ll grab a novel, and a cup of tea.

“I'm just going to lie in bed and read and take that time,” she says. “I find it very, very healing.”

“I think it's easy to have our calendars fill up with so many activities or to feel like our calendar should be filled up with so many activities,” Strano adds.

Mostly she says, “Be gentle with ourselves. Ultimately, I'm telling people to be gentle with themselves. I tried to tell it to myself, too. Show kindness and be gentle to ourselves to those we love.”

At times, comfort can be found in doing something for others, even if it’s just a simple gesture. For those frustrated by the inability to fix “all the chaos and pain happening in the world,” Strano suggests showing a little kindness to a stranger, even with a simple gesture of helping a neighbor or making eye contact and offering a smile.

Rather than viewing interaction with strangers as a hassle during the holidays, Strano says offering a moment of kindness and warmth can go a long way.

“It can be something that's healing and joyful,” she says.

Read more: ‘Leadership is about building hope’ | Lessons for Leaders

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