Healthcare Heroes: Mary Bazylewicz, LICSW

Mental Health Tips to Ease COVID Stress

Patient care has completely changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not just on the front lines of the outbreak, but for social workers and therapists, too. Mary Bazylewicz, LICSW, is a licensed social worker in Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s Department of General Internal Medicine. In this time of social distancing, she has had to provide therapy via telehealth. 

For now, she has been speaking with patients over the phone, which has been an effective alternative while the hospital works to curb the spread of COVID-19, but it has also been an adjustment. “I think the benefit of therapy is being able to sit with somebody,” Mary said. Meanwhile, the hospital is working to install secure video calling software so caregivers can see their patients virtually while ensuring their privacy.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked Mary about the struggles people are experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis. Her tips: 

Tip #1: Focus on the things in your control.

How much you’re sleeping, exercising and eating well are all things you can control. “They’re nice because we feel in control, we feel comfortable and they’re good for our mental well-being and emotional well-being,” Mary said. “But they’re also really good just for our health.  They’re good for our immune system, which is ultimately what we want, to stay healthy.”

Tip #2: Create a routine and stick to it.

With everyone’s lives being disrupted and the upheaval of our daily routines, creating a routine and sticking to it can help foster a sense of normalcy.

“Whether you’re not working or working from home, being able to establish new routines and rituals that are conducive to the environment and having structure establishes boundaries,” Mary explained. “When you go to work, you get to leave home at home and compartmentalize, leaving work at work. And I know that’s a big challenge for a lot of people right now because the lines are blurred. You have certain rituals that signal you’re done with work and can shut off. There’s a temptation to check email or follow up on something. And not doing that, I think, is really important.”

Tip #3: Embrace the opportunity to slow down.

With more free time on your hands, it’s easy to feel obligated to be productive. But Mary doesn’t think you need to be.

“I notice people are still falling into the trap of go, go, go, do, do, do,” she said. “I look at this as a really great opportunity to slow down, practice mindfulness strategies and to take that self-imposed pressure of having to do everything all the time off.”

Tip #4: This isn’t permanent.

Every day there is a new report about something scientists have discovered about the coronavirus, but there is a lot that we still don’t know, which can make people uneasy.

“I validate people’s uncertainty, anxiousness and fear,” Mary said. “But I also remind people that as we know more, whether that’s developing vaccines or more research is done, that  helps us better control the virus. It’s going to get better.

“As the CDC comes out with new recommendations, I tell people to just continue to follow those. Practice social distancing, wear a mask and avoid public places if you can, because we can’t always prevent getting sick 100 percent. But if you can prevent it 90 percent, then let’s maximize that opportunity.”

Racing to the Finish Line

Mary is also running the 2020 Boston MarathonⓇ as a member of Team Lahey, raising money for behavioral health programs at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. Despite the race’s postponement, she’s staying optimistic and continuing her training for the Marathon’s new date in September. “There’s a lot of room to be creative because we’re living through a very strange time right now,” Mary said. “I’m being cautious not to fall into this ‘everything needs to be traditional’ trap that I think we fall into.”