Managing your mental health as a key worker during the coronavirus outbreak.

Now more than ever you might be feeling the pressure if you’re a key worker. You may be working longer hours than usual with new social distancing restrictions and you may be the only person in your family still going out to work each day. All this can lead to additional stress and worries for you and your family. We’ve put together some ways to help you manage your mental health during this period.

 

While the majority of workplaces have been asked to work from home, or shut down, key workers have been asked to continue going to work. Many services are also under the additional strain of more demand, which could lead to longer hours and stressful working days. This can all take a toll on our mental health and wellbeing, but it’s more crucial than ever to look after ourselves in these uncertain times.

Understanding Stress

Understanding stress is really important in managing your wellbeing during this time, as you may be under additional pressures than usual. Stress is your body’s reaction to help you deal with pressure or threats. This is sometimes called a ‘fight or flight’ response. Some stress can be useful and keep us motivated to take action and complete tasks, but too much can have a negative effect on our mental health. Your stress hormone levels usually return to normal once the pressure or threat has passed.

There are lots of signs of stress, these can be physical such as:

  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping

Or you may have emotional or behavioural symptoms such as:

  • Feeling anxious or frightened
  • Feeling angry
  • Snapping at people
  • Eating less or more
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol

Speak to the people around you, let them know the signs to look out for that you’re feeling stressed, and let them know how they can help you. Could they take a task off your plate to give you an extra few minutes to do something that will help you relax?

If you don’t know what is causing your stress, it might help to keep a ‘stress diary’ for a few weeks. It may help you to identify things that you may be able to change. Start by writing down when you feel stressed and include what happens just before or after you feel stressed. Identifying what is causing you to feel stressed can help you to have more control over your stress levels.

What can I do to help manage stress?

Plan your time. Having your working hours or tasks written down can often make you feel more in control just by having them somewhere other than in your head. Here are some ideas that could help you do this:

  • Write a to-do list, prioritising the most important tasks
  • Share tasks with others if you can.
  • Plan out diaries with the people you live with so you understand each other’s schedules
  • Don’t put things off
  • Break down complicated or large tasks into smaller tasks

There are things that you can do to help reduce your symptoms of stress. This is also known as self-care. There isn’t a set process for what you should do or where you should start, everyone is different. You may need to try different things until you find what works for you.

Take a look at the Stress Bucket. It’s a helpful tool to help you visualise stressors and things in your life which help you to release some of those tensions you may be feeling back to a normal level.

Spending time with friends and family can also help to reduce stress. Obviously, this is more difficult at the moment. But there are ways to digitally connect through WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook – Or even an old-fashioned phone call! But it can be worth thinking about some more imaginative ways. How about organising a group of friends to all watch the same movie and then meet up digitally to discuss it? If you have a skill, perhaps you could set up a Facebook live session and teach people to knit or draw? Or, if you, or someone you know, doesn’t like using social media, make an agreement to write a letter or email to each other once a week.

Remember to reward yourself for any achievements. Do something nice for yourself every day, you deserve it! It’s important to do some things because you want to, not because you have to. This could include reading a book, watching a film or eating something you enjoy.

Telling someone how you are feeling may help. You may feel comfortable talking to someone you know, or you might prefer to talk to someone who doesn’t know you. You could call an emotional support line, such as Samaritans, or see a counsellor.

Adjust your lifestyle

Exercise can relieve stress as well as helping you to stay healthy. There are lots of ways to exercise, and people enjoy different things. You could try cycling, walking, running, or following online classes. Doing housework or gardening is also a gentle way to exercise.

If you’re dealing with stress you may struggle to sleep well. If you don’t get enough sleep this can cause problems such as poor concentration and low mood. If you struggle with sleep, you can try practising sleep hygiene such as:

  • Having a regular bedtime routine
  • Only use your bed for sleep
  • Exercising regularly but avoiding lots of exercise too close to bedtime
  • Cutting down on caffeine, especially in the evening
  • Cool bedroom temperature
  • Making sure the place you sleep is dark
  • Not using your phone or computer immediately before bedtime
  • Keeping the place you sleep tidy

Eating a healthy balanced diet is good for your mental and physical health. You can get more information on exercising, sleeping and eating a balanced diet from the NHS.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation to help you to be aware of the present moment and pay attention to it. This can help to deal with symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Relaxation can help you to deal with stress and stop you from getting stressed. Some people relax using meditation, aromatherapy or yoga. You can find mindfulness courses online through YouTube and apps such as Headspace and Calm.

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