Lessons from Italy: Reflecting on the Pandemic

June 17, 2020 by Claire Higgins

“COVID-19 teaches us that we are part of something far greater than ourselves,” said Kristinn Heinrichs, PhD, ATC, PT, an athletic trainer in Vicenza, Italy. The coronavirus pandemic has known no bounds; it doesn’t see territory lines or know cultural differences, it has affected athletic trainers in every part of the world. 

How Heinrichs, an athletic trainer specializing in patients with complex concussions in northern Italy,found some peace during the past three months has been through reflection on maintaining priorities and a daily routine, she said.

Ranked No. 2 by the World Health Organization (WHO), Italy’s health care system has been ravaged by the coronavirus since late February. The country’s northern regions began implementing lockdowns starting in February, and only began to ease mandates and allow residents to populate local bars and retail stores in mid-May with stringent restrictions. The country has seen more than 231,000 confirmed cases, and more than 33,000 deaths, but the number of daily new cases has steadily declined since the end of April.

In the first few days of the national lockdown, Heinrichs said there were socially distant flash mobs that sang the national anthem, played music from the balconies, lit candles every night and displayed the national flag or a rainbow banner emblazoned with “andra tutto bene,” which means, “everything will be all right.” 

Heinrichs was able to transition to working remotely, still seeing patients via telemedicine, but her reflection on what was happening around her was realized gradually.

As the clinic followed the national decrees in facility closures, her work, frequently hands on, was deemed “high risk.” Heinrichs was able to transition to working remotely, still seeing patients via telemedicine. “I focused as much on how our patients were coping with the sacrifices we were asking of them by physically and socially isolating. We included mindfulness, sleep strategies and virtual Pilates sessions. Conducting virtual orthopedic examinations required creativity and teaching self-assessment,” she said.

“Once I transitioned to telework, I had more control over my daily life – whom I would see during the day, the routine I would establish for each day and setting goals to accomplish,” she said. “Yet, I was inextricably drawn to checking the daily Italian and American news, public health data and social media. Doing so only increased my feelings of helplessness and anxiety in the face of this global catastrophe.”

Heinrichs developed a list of 10 lessons she learned through reflection while locked down in Italy.

“I’ve seen so many of my colleagues who have unexpectedly found their daily home and work lives turned upside down during this unprecedented time. I hope to offer these lessons learned to athletic trainers stateside as the United States also continues to re-open after lockdowns. Setting up an action plan restores your sense of control over your situation.”

  1. Be present in this moment. As much as you can, be present in the immediate reality of your life. The future exists only in your thoughts and the past exists in your past. Mindfulness meditation practice can help ground you in the present moment. Try a 10-minute meditation to stay in the present moment.
  2. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Find three new things daily for which you are grateful.
  3. Sleep well. Sleep is the single most important thing you can do for your mental and physical health. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Start to turn off technology and turn down artificial lighting an hour or more before bedtime and go for an early morning walk. Watch Matthew Walker’s Ted Talk, "Sleep is Your Superpower."
  4. Guard your mental health. Apps are available to help you with tools for coping, relaxation, distraction and positive thinking with personalized audio, video, pictures, games, mindfulness exercises and inspirational quotes.
  5. Connect with your spiritual foundations, religious traditions and faith community; we are not alone and connection is vital to life and health. 
  6. Build a financial safety net. Review your expenditures, minimize your expenses and set up a budget to get out of debt. Build a three-month emergency fund as best you can. Invest in a financial education program to learn how financial principles can help you eliminate debt and put you on a better financial path, no matter your current income.
  7. Laugh. Laughter boosts your immune system, speeds healing, puts fear in its place and encourages us to look at the lighter and more positive sides of a situation. Laughter is contagious and spreads happiness. Laugh at the little and big things. Watch a good comedy movie.  
  8. Learn a new skill to complement your professional skill set and add value to what you offer.  Public health, disease prevention and public policy will now take on a more important role.  Volunteer. Take advantage of on-line educational offerings.
  9. Know your worth. Your job security is defined as your ability to secure the next job. Take the time to understand the value of your talents and how you can benefit a potential employer. 
  10. Know that you have the power to adapt and thrive. Feed your mind, body and spirit with healthy choices for food, exercise, learning something new, reconnect with family and friends and deepen your faith connection.