Health Matters: We’re all souls on board

christina stern

September 8, 2021

My pen feels heavy as I sit here trying to organize my thoughts for this column.

How do I convey to the reader the gravity of what people are feeling, experiencing and living with each day as the pandemic continues and once again surges?

How do I put into words what we are all seeing and feeling?

How do I speak to an audience that is in midst of potentially one of the most challenging and perplexing times of their lives?

We have all heard it and we are all aware that these are challenging and uncertain times. We are living it and have been living it longer than anticipated. So rather than providing you with current statistics on the increased percentage of mental health concerns and needs or information on the already saturated market of self-care, burnout and resilience, I want share that it is OK to not feel OK.

Know that you are not alone in these feelings. You have every right to feel the way you feel (e.g. angry, confused, overwhelmed, afraid, sad, defeated, exhausted etc.) It is also OK to experience and feel joy, love, happiness and laughter during these times as well.

Know that right here, right now you are doing the best you can with what you have. Know that you can pause and reflect rather than act. Sometimes by doing nothing we are actually doing something. Taking no action allows us time to turn inward, reflect and get quiet amongst the business of life and can ultimately lead to what solutions work best for you.

We don’t have to have the answers today or even tomorrow. We mostly won’t and that’s OK too.

The more we focus on the future and the “what ifs” the more we feed into the uncertainty of the times. This creates an increase in anticipatory anxiety which can leave us feeling paralyzed. By taking a step back and doing our best to stay in the present moment we can combat some of the anticipatory anxiety.

None of this is easy and the more we practice trying to stay in the “here and the now” and recognize our emotions as they present themselves, the better we can navigate the challenges we face.

We will continue to face many challenges individually and together. Please know that you do not have to do any of this alone. There are services available and mental health professionals ready to assist.

We have heard, “we are all in this together” and as I sit here writing this article I am thinking, how can I convey that we truly are all in this together?

What comes to mind and what I can draw from and share with you stems from my experience as a seasonal helitack firefighter.

Every time the crew got on the helicopter, prior to take off, my manager would radio over to dispatch/air traffic control our current location. His final words were always "I have x number of souls on board."

To this day it still gives me goosebumps to talk about, but I feel like with this pandemic and the increasing number of unknowns and high stress, we are all "souls on board." Souls on board is standard communication in aviation and it is also one of the most sobering phrases used.

I believe the phrase "souls on board" speaks to the gravity and magnitude of what we are facing, and it also brings us a sense of unity rather than division. We may be in different parts of weathering this storm but ultimately, we are all “souls on board.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Tina Stern joined St. Peter’s in 2016 to serve as the Cancer Treatment Center’s social worker, helping patients diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones navigate the challenging journey. In 2021, Tina became our first-ever Employee Behavioral Health Professional to provide brief 1:1 therapeutic interventions for staff and offer evidence-debriefings after stressful events.