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Essential Self-Care for Essential Workers on the Frontlines of COVID-19

If you’re a frontline worker, we thank you for your work and applaud your courage. You’re keeping society running in the face of some extreme stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic! The good news is, you’re not in it alone, and there are things you can do to protect your mental health.

If you — or someone you know — feels overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, hopelessness, fear or exhaustion, or may be considering suicide, call 911.

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (text MHFA to 741741).

Mental Health First Aid teaches that trauma affects people differently, and a mass traumatic event, such as a pandemic, can have lasting effects. Trauma can be direct (your own experience) or vicarious (something you’ve witnessed others experience). COVID-19 checks all those boxes.

Essential workers on the frontlines comprise almost half of the workforce — including fields such as grocery and general merchandise stores, food production and food processing, janitorial and maintenance, agriculture, trucking, health care and protective services (police and EMT).

These are the people who aren’t locked down at home: They’re going to work, dealing with the public and experiencing burnout, exhaustion and fear. The reality of that lived experience is underscored by research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found 56% of American adults (and 64% of frontline health care workers and their families) reported that worry or stress related to the pandemic has affected them in at least one of these ways: sleep problems, poor appetite or overeating, frequent headaches or stomachaches, difficulty controlling their temper, increased alcohol or drug use, and worsening chronic health conditions.

However, there are ways to protect yourself from the mental and emotional impact of COVID-19 trauma. Here are a few tips from the MHFA Curriculum and National Council for Behavioral Health member Jefferson Center for Mental Health (Wheat Ridge, Colorado).

  1. Give yourself credit.
    You’re going to work, probably with an increased workload. You may be interacting with the public. Your household income may have shrunk. No matter how stressed you are, your emotions are valid and natural. Acknowledging this is an important component of maintaining your mental wellness.
  1. Go back to basics: eat, sleep, move.
    Take care of your body, but be realistic. If you can’t fit in eight hours of sleep in a row, try power naps (15-20 minutes) to recharge. Try to eat as healthfully as you can. Try to move, because movement helps mitigate the effects of stress hormones.
  2. Tackle stressors one at a time.
    What can you do — directly or indirectly — to deal with your stressors? Can you reduce the amount of news you consume? Can you sleep more? Can you give yourself permission to simply do the best you can?
  3. Ask for help.
    If you are experiencing overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your employer may have resources, such as an employee assistance program (EAP), to help you cope with the current situation, so talk to your supervisor about what’s available.
  4. Be kind to yourself.
    What makes you feel good? Do you like to read, to exercise, to journal? Find your “things” and make a few minutes for them. Focus on what you need to get through today rather than exploring the “what-if” rabbit hole. And remind yourself: Your work matters. You are helping people every day!
  5. Foster relationships.
    Hanging out with friends isn’t part of the physical distancing environment, but phone calls, texts, emails and teleconferencing apps are, so reach out as you can. Or go old-school and write a letter or send a card. Taking time to stay connected with your support network helps you and them.

 

If you’re not a frontline essential worker, you probably know one. Learn some ways you can #BeTheDifference for them in these posts:

  1. How to Manage Your Mental Health When Feeling Stressed During COVID-19
  2. How to Support a Loved One Going Through a Tough Time During COVID-19
  3. How to Care for Yourself While Practicing Physical Distancing
  4. How Do I Know Someone is Experiencing Anxiety or Depression?
  5. How to Help Someone with Anxiety or Depression During COVID-19

 

*Information provided by: MHFA Curriculum, Jefferson Center for Mental Health, Shape magazine