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Looking after your mental health as a key worker

Meera Phull, Clinical Collaboration Lead, Bupa Group Clinical
23 April 2020

If you’re a key worker and have to leave home to go out to work at the moment, you and your family may be feeling particularly worried about catching coronavirus. You may be feeling the pressure of extra stress at work or longer hours. So, I spoke to a head teacher, an aircraft dispatch manager, a firefighter and a GP to find out how they’re doing. Here they share how they’re coping and their tips on how to look after your mental health during this time.

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Amy: head teacher

Amy, a head teacher at a primary school, is still working to support children with additional needs and the children of other key workers. She says:

“As I live on my own, I’m finding still going into work provides me with a welcome routine and a sense of normality. The hardest part of working in a school is that children don’t necessarily understand social distancing. It’s a strange and worrying time for them and I still want to be able to give them normal reassurances. So we’ve focused on good hygiene and hand washing, as well as explaining the current situation to them in a clear and simple way.”

Top tips

A lot of things are uncertain, which can be worrying. It could be helpful to focus on some of the things that you have more control over. This might be how to spend your time outside of work, your diet or exercise routine.

Paul: aircraft dispatch manager

Paul is an aircraft dispatch manager and coordinates all the services required for a passenger airline aircraft, from arrival to departure.

“Right now, as a key worker, I have mixed feelings. The extra possibility of catching coronavirus definitely concerns me, as well as the worry of passing it on to my family and young children. But it’s nice to feel like I’m doing an important job and have a purpose.

“Our nursery is closed even though I’m a key worker. So I’m juggling shift work at the airport and having a toddler and baby at home with my wife, who is working from home. Everything feels very stressful at this time, especially as we don’t know how long this will go on for.”

Top tips

If you work in a busy environment, it’s likely that people are talking about the pandemic and coronavirus a lot of the time. This can cause anxiety, especially if the information people have isn’t accurate, so try to have some other topics in mind to chat about. Try and limit the amount of time you spend looking at the news, as this can make you feel anxious. Instead, try and set specific times that you look for updates on the situation and make sure you look at reliable sources. Then change the channel or put your phone away.

Try and make time to switch off when you get in from work. If you can, try and go for a walk to get some fresh air, either by yourself or with someone from your household. If you find you’re short on time, or get home when it’s dark, you could try some yoga or a home workout to unwind. Try to set time aside to do something you enjoy, like reading a book or watching a film.

Alex: senior firefighter

Alex is a senior firefighter and is still going out to work as normal. He says:

“I don’t tend to worry about things I can’t control, but I am making sure I do what I can to protect myself, my colleagues and my partner. I follow guidance at work, practise good hygiene and I try and make sure I get a restful night’s sleep too.

“Having to go out to work provides me my usual routine and work-life balance which is important when everything else is so uncertain. I’m a firefighter because I want to help people, and that is even more significant at the moment.”

Top tips

It’s really important to try and get a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re a key worker. Try and keep to the same routine each day, try not to use your phone before bed, and limit caffeine. It’s also important to eat regular meals if you can and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

Try and stay in regular contact with family and friends, especially if you’re having to stay away from home for work. If you can, plan a phone or video chat to look forward to, or arrange to spend mealtimes together with members of your household.

Alistair: GP

Alistair is a GP and is working in new and different ways to manage the current situation.

“Like other GP surgeries, we’ve quickly adapted to new ways of working, including wider use of telephone, video and online consultations. Where face-to-face appointments are unavoidable, patients are seen in ‘hubs’ which we work at in collaboration with other local GP surgeries.

“We all face the anxiety of getting coronavirus and worry about carrying it home to our own families. Team working and maintaining morale has been more important than ever because each day we face new uncertainties and new challenges.”

Top tips

You may be feeling stressed if you’re trying to find new ways of working at this difficult time. Some of the signs of feeling stressed can include feeling anxious or short-tempered or having trouble sleeping. You may notice you’re having headaches or experience a change in appetite. You might find writing your worries or stressors down or practising mindfulness helpful.

Taking care of yourself – like you do for others

Most importantly, try to be kind to yourself. This is an unprecedented situation which can already be worrying, without the added pressure of going out to work in these times. Please know we are all behind you and thank you for the important work you’re doing.

If you are struggling, talk to family, friends, or colleagues. If this isn’t possible and you don’t know where to turn, here are some places of support that can help you.

Meera Phull
Meera Phull, Clinical Collaboration Lead, Bupa Group Clinical

    • Coronavirus: 8 ways to look after your mental health. Mental Health Europe. www.mhe-sme.org, 13 March 2020
    • Looking after your mental health while working during the Coronavirus outbreak. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, last reviewed 15 April 2020
    • Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. World Health Organization (WHO). www.who.int, 18 March 2020
    • Managing your mental health as a key worker during the coronavirus outbreak. Mental Health UK. www.mentalhealth-uk.org, accessed 16 April 2020Feeling stressed. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, June 2015

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