In a letter to the Annals of Internal Medicine, two mental health professionals from Vanderbilt University Medical Center offer a plea to healthcare workers who are feeling the stress of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic: Please seek help.

The pandemic has created anxiety and fear in health care providers, from physicians and nurses to allied professionals and first-line responders. We fear for our safety and the safety of our families and patients. We grieve for those who have died. We feel guilt for not being able to save all of our patients, for getting sick ourselves, and for abandoning our families. Many have adopted the phrase “We will get through this together,” but none of us will survive unscathed.

Regardless of our training, backgrounds, or personal strength, we are all human and are affected by pain and loss. These experiences make us susceptible to fear, anxiety, and stress—emotions sharing a neurobiological cascade that prepares a physiologic response for our body to respond and adapt to challenges. Stress exposure alters the function of brain circuits involved in fear detection, mood regulation, cognitive performance, and decision making. These changes shift our systemic physiology, altering autonomic, endocrine, and immune system function. For short periods, these changes are adaptive. However, for some, these changes persist after the danger has passed and become maladaptive. 

Read more from the Annals of Internal Medicine