04 May Mental Health Tips for Frontline Workers
Whether you’re working in the medical field or retail location, are a truck driver or postal delivery worker or are filling any other essential positions during this pandemic, your mental health should be one of your top priorities.
To help you during this difficult time, we have compiled a list of essential tips and resources, that can help you as we move through COVID-19 and beyond.
First off, thank you for all that you are doing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Depending on your line of work you may have never expected you would be in this position, or perhaps you knew you were going to have to deal with difficult situations, but not to this extent.
Before you continue reading, take a moment to honour your service. No matter your role, you are taking care of people (and in some cases, animals) when they need it most. Reminding yourself of your value when you’re experiencing obstacles or frustrations can help when everything seems overwhelming.
Fear of Bringing COVID-19 Home to Family Members
It is understandable that many essential workers are nervous about bringing COVID-19 home to their family members. Along with using personal protective equipment (PPE) while you are in high-risk situations, here are some other ways you can keep germs out of your home and reduce your anxiety:
- When possible, carry sanitizer or disinfectant wipes with you and wipe your hands, purse or bag straps, or anything else you might be carrying with you before entering your home. If you are using a personal vehicle for transportation, also wipe down the handles, steering wheel/handle bars, and any other surfaces in the vehicle that you may have touched, to reduce transmission for the next time you use the vehicle
- Have a separate pair of shoes that you can change into before going into your home
- Isolate shoes and items that cannot be washed and leave them outdoors or in the back of your car
- Remove your clothing immediately and place in a garbage bag-lined hamper. Wash clothes as soon as you can at the warmest water temperature possible.
- Have a shower to remove any possible germs that are still on your body, as well as thoroughly clean your hands and wipe down your phone.
Often when everything seems hectic, as it does now, it’s easy to feel guilty and slip into thoughts like:
- “It would be selfish to take a rest.”
- “Others are working around the clock, why shouldn’t I?”
- “The needs of everyone else, are more important than the needs of helpers.”
- “I’ll only be making a difference if I work all the time.”
Not only are these statements self-defeating, but they also can prohibit you from engaging in self-care activities and taking the breaks you need to be your best self on the job. When you find yourself falling into this patterns of thinking, take time to acknowledge that these thoughts are unhealthy and counteract them with thoughts such as:
- “By caring for myself, I can best take care of others.”
- “In order to be effective at my job, I need to also prioritize self-care.”
- “By working with my team when I can, instead of doing everything by myself, we can better help people stay healthy.”
- “Would I ever expect someone else to do what I am doing?”
By realigning your thoughts and ways of thinking, you can reduce feelings of guilt that may overwhelm you and may make it difficult for you to be your best self. It is also important to remember that while your role and your job are helping to keep so many people safe and healthy right now, your safety and wellbeing also matters just as much. If you don’t take the time to attend to your own physical and emotional needs, you won’t be at your optimum to help others be well.
Take a Break
On the topic of breaks, it is essential that you are building these into your day. Not only are breaks legally mandated, but they can help to reduce burnout. Some of the benefits of breaks that have been scientifically documented include:
- Increasing positive decision-making capacity
- Improving creativity and helping you come up with solutions to problems or challenges
- Allowing you to stay focused
- Helping you retain information
During your breaks, try to step away from your main workspace and do something you find comforting or relaxing, such as taking a walk, listening to music (check out our Happiness Playlist here), reading a book or talking with a friend or a family member. Don’t forget that on your breaks it is important to take care of your physical health and mental health. So try to balance choosing activities during your breaks that take care of both. Try going for a walk and practicing mindfulness at the same time. Or take a nutrition break for a healthy snack and vision yourself in your favourite place while you are eating.
Continue Social Interaction
Although you have to maintain your physical distance, this does not mean that you have to socially distance yourself. However, it is easy to start to feel lonely especially if you live by yourself or have to stay away from your home to protect your loved ones. Make sure that you take the time to connect with the people you care about either virtually or over the phone. You might also want to reach out to people in your life that you know may also be struggling with social isolation. Give them a phone call and remind them that they are not alone either and don’t have to go through these times alone.
During this time, we are also offering a Supportive Telephone Counselling Line from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so please feel free to reach out. We are happy to connect with you. Social interaction is essential for your mental health.
Find a ‘Buddy’
Create social networks at work as well by implementing a buddy system. Partner up with someone that you work with and support each other through this difficult time. You can do this by:
- Talk about things in your life unrelated to your job—interests, hobbies and your family are good talking points to start from. You might also find out that you have things in common.
- Set up check-ins—pick specific times to check in with each other, such as once a shift or twice a shift, to share difficult situations, honour each other’s accomplishments (even if they’re small), ensure that they are taking proper breaks and eating properly.
- Keep an eye on each other—Take time to let your buddy know if they are appearing extremely stressed or look like they need a break. Offer solutions that you think will help them.
- Find a way to celebrate when this has passed—having something positive to look forward to can help you with your state of mind. Make a plan to go for a coffee, out for dinner, go shopping together, etc. when this is over.
There is the common misconception that self-care is expensive and requires fancy products, but this is not the case. Self-care can involve practicing mindfulness (add link to mindfulness article here), drinking water, having a daily shower and getting dressed, getting active, having a nap, etc. For more information on self-care and resilience during COVID-19, check out this guide from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Have Personal Items Nearby
Bring a personal memento with you to work to remind you of positive times when you’re feeling overwhelmed, like a photo of your family or your favourite place. Take some time to look at your memento during your break or before your shift.
Reduce Media Exposure
Although it’s important to stay up-to-date on current advancements and essential information, try to limit your media intake as much as possible. Set aside a specific amount of time during the day, such as an hour in the morning or the afternoon, to get information from reliable sources and then turn it off. Good places to get information from include:
- Public Health Ontario
- Government of Canada
- Government of Ontario
- The World Health Organization (WHO)
Access Mental Health Supports
Along with the Supportive Telephone Counselling Line listed above, the Ontario Government has also announced additional funding to online and virtual supports such as our BounceBack Program. This program is offered free of charge and helps people build skills to manage mild to moderate anxiety, stress and other mental health challenges. Read this article to learn more about the BounceBack Program.
This is a difficult time for everyone, but especially for essential workers. By making your mental health a priority and following the tips above, you will be able to more easily sustain yourself during the pandemic and reduce the chance of burnout and fatigue.