The last few months amid the COVID-19 pandemic have been extremely difficult for all of us. From financial insecurities to missing our loved ones, the fear and uncertainties have taken their toll on our mental health. But among the negativity and heartache, so many strong women on the frontlines have found the courage to rise each morning, put on their scrubs, and keep going. Truly inspired, we reached out to these healthcare professionals and frontline workers to find out how they have been staying active and positive during these unprecedented and often dark times. Here’s what they had to say.

D'neil Schmall, RN    Age: 36    Location: Brooklyn, New York

STRONG Fitness Magazine: How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

D’neil Schmall: I went to New York to take care of COVID-19 patients on March 29, 2020, not knowing what was expected of me. I have intentionally avoided watching the news because I did not want to be affected by negativity or sensationalism of the pandemic. I worked six weeks on a COVID unit where I witnessed firsthand how devastating this virus can be for patients from all walks of life. Oftentimes [my patients] just died by themselves with no one there. This was a life-changing [time] for me personally, and the way I see myself as a nurse and healthcare provider. I have seen a lot in my career and worked with various disasters, but I have never seen death in this magnitude.

SFM: How have you been staying positive during this time?

DS: It has been difficult. However, every morning I exercise for about 45 minutes, which gives me peace of mind and solace.

SFM: Has your job impacted your home life more than usual during this time?

DS: Yes, it affected my life in every aspect. Starting from my sleep and my interaction with others.

SFM: How have you been staying active during this unprecedented time?

DS: I have made a conscious effort to remain active. There are so many apps, books, magazines, and resources to help us do something. I’ve implemented STRONG’s online [workouts] for the days I need a little extra motivation.

SFM: What advice do you have for our readers in regards to staying healthy during the unknown?

DS: It is so important for our mental health to have a healthy outlet. That’s why I believe that fitness is a major ally for me, and for every healthcare provider, to stay sane. In addition, follow the CDC guidelines and listen to recommendations by healthcare providers. We all have to do our part. It’s the only way we can make it through this together.

SFM: Anything else you'd like to add for our readers?

DS: Tell your loved ones how much you love them. Life is so precious and we need to cherish every moment. And to my fellow healthcare workers: If you’re having difficulty effectively coping post-shift or think you might have PTSD, this doesn’t mean you’re an "unfit provider." You are not alone.

Grace Bardeloza, Nurse Practitioner    Age: 35    Location: Dallas, Texas

STRONG Fitness Magazine: How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

Grace Bardeloza: COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact in both my jobs. I work at the Weightloss Specialists of North Texas (, which is an outpatient clinic specializing in obesity medicine. All providers used tele-health online video conferences or phone consultations to communicate and manage treatment with patients. I also work in an inpatient surgical hospital specializing in cardiovascular care. All non-essential surgeries, as well as diagnostic and interventional procedures, were rescheduled for a later date. It came to a point where no visitors were allowed to prevent viral transmission and patients who did have emergency surgery had to see visitors outside of the hospital through a glass window. Imagine having open-heart surgery and not being able to touch your spouse or children. It was heartbreaking, but necessary.

SFM: Can you recall a situation that made COVID-19 feel close to home?

GB: People go to grocery stores with masks and gloves to protect themselves and others because no one knows if they have the virus or if the people beside them are infected.  When I entered a patient's room, I knew that the patient had COVID-19. I put myself at risk for contracting the disease that I could potentially transmit to loved ones after leaving the hospital and coming home. That’s when it really hit me, knowing that my job as a nurse could hinder my health and the health of the people I love. In the end, it’s my duty as a nurse to take care of the sick. The patient never asked to become infected with the virus. No one does.

SFM: Has anything you've been looking forward to been cancelled due to the coronavirus?

GB:  I am getting married in August to my best friend and love of my life. Originally, we were going to Machu Picchu for our honeymoon, but due to the coronavirus, we thought it might be best not to travel this year.

SFM: How have you been staying positive during this time?

GB: I’ve always been a woman of prayer and I’m a firm believer that God is greater than my problems.  Praying definitely helped me stay positive and maintain my peace along with meditation. Fortunately, I have a strong support system. My fiancé and family were in constant communication with me and always listened when I needed to vent.  Personally, training has always helped me stay positive, even before the virus. Exercise is a great stress reliever in addition to the physical and mental benefits associated with it.

SFM: Has your job impacted your home life more than usual during this time?

GB: Working as a nurse has only changed the way I enter my home. You can’t just enter a house after caring for patients infected with COVID-19. Once I come home, shoes are left in the garage, the garage leads into my laundry room, then scrubs are immediately placed into the washer, and when I exit my laundry room I go directly to the bathroom to shower.  Other than being cognisant on how I enter my house, home life is the same. I try to enjoy each moment with the people and animals that I love and I make an effort to not allow fear to control me.” 

SFM: How have you been staying active during this unprecedented time?

GB: Nothing can compare to the endorphins that are released when getting a great workout in and fueling your body with healthy food that you enjoy. When the gyms closed, I had to find an alternate way to stay active. I utilized dumbbells and resistance bands to incorporate strength training and I have three dogs that I walk and run with to get in cardiovascular exercise.

Breanna Murley, RN    Age: 29    Location: Toronto, Canada

SFM How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

BM: COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on the way I provide care at an acute care hospital. I start my 12-hour shifts in a lineup of healthcare workers, we are asked a series of screening questions, and if we pass the screening we are provided with a surgical mask. I walk up to the staff room where I change into my nursing shoes; I don’t dare bring these shoes into my home. Despite the service associates disinfecting the patients and the nursing areas, I arrive early to my shifts so I can sanitize the computer I chart on, the medication machines, the door handles, and my equipment.

I wear one surgical mask for my 12-hour shift. If I need to eat or drink, I place this mask into a tupperware container to save it for reuse. No food or fluids are allowed in the nursing stations; I set a reminder on my phone to drink water. With every patient interaction, we don a face shield over our mask (we are provided with one shield per shift). After each interaction, I remove the shield, disinfect it, and place it in a paper bag with my name on it until the next use.

At the end of my shift I change out of my scrubs and place them in a clear garbage bag. I now wear a scrub cap and a headband over top of it with buttons on the side. I attach my surgical mask to these buttons on the back, and this prevents my ears from getting sore. All of these items are tied into the clear garbage bag. When I arrive at home, I immediately place my dirty uniform into the wash by itself and discard the garbage bag in my garage. From there I take a long, hot shower, and only after that I feel I am ready to kiss my husband and hug my dog.  Wake up, repeat.

SMF:  Can you recall a situation that made COVID-19 feel close to home?

BM: I was exposed to a patient with coronavirus without wearing the proper PPE and was required to self-isolate for 14 days. Looking online and trying to find a thermometer to track my symptoms for occupational health and being unable to find a thermometer really made the global pandemic feel close to home. Thankfully, I remained asymptomatic and was able to return to work.

SMF: Has anything you've been looking forward to been cancelled due to the coronavirus?

BM: The past two years I have been working full-time at the hospital while completing my BScN degree. I graduated this April and my husband had planned a graduation trip with some of our friends. We were going to fly into Spain and Portugal and explore the coast. My graduation ceremony and my graduation trip have both been cancelled.

SMF: How have you been staying positive during this time?

BM: I have been using FaceTime a lot. My Oma shocked me and figured out how to use her iPhone so I speak with her daily. Wearing the PPE has taken a toll on my skin. My skin breaks out in areas underneath the mask, my lips are constantly chapped, behind my ears are sore and reddened, my hair is dry from over washing, and my hands are dry and eczema is raging. To ease this, I have been doing spa nights at home much more frequently. I have had spa kits dropped off for me by family and friends. The hair masks, Vaseline, and hydrating facials have been a superficial but normal part of my night that I look forward to.

SMF: Has your job impacted your home life more than usual during this time?

BM: Not being able to physically connect with my family and friends has been tough. I feel like nurses often see life at its most vulnerable, at its sickest, and at its scariest. Being able to see the happiness, health, and humor in my friends and family balances and resets my view on life. I rely on my husband and furbaby for the resetting hugs now more than ever.

SMF: How have you been staying active during this unprecedented time?

BM: My 110-lb puppy is loving all the walks I take him on. We try to do a family walk with the three of us a couple times a week and I go out with him every day I’m off. I also signed up for the Tone It UpⓇ Summer Tone Up program and have been completing their daily workouts. They have an Instagram community for accountability so even though I’ve been working out alone, I feel virtually connected at the same time. I also forced a couple nurses to jump on the bandwagon, so we have been doing it together and motivating each other to complete these after each shift. It's tough because we shower when we get home and then again after our workouts. My hair has never felt so clean and dry at the same time.

SMF:  What advice do you have for our readers in regard to staying healthy during the unknown?

BM: As my Oma always tells me, "This too shall pass."  If anything, I hope this pandemic has taught us that we need to look out for each other and we are capable of coming together as a community.

On behalf of the entire STRONG team, we’d like to thank all frontline and healthcare workers in our community for their service. You inspire us daily.

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Mikaila Kukurudza
Mikaila is a Toronto-based writer, photographer, and fitness enthusiast. Follow her at @mikailakukurudza