Helping the Helpers During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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  • April 22, 2020

The following is information for frontline workers to help identify and manage stress.

Some Changes in Yourself or Your Work Environment May Include:

  • Increased anxiety about your and others health
    • Increased demand for shifts and hours at work
    • Increased workload and expectations
    • Increased expectations for cleanliness and infection control
    • Loneliness from losing contact with friends and family
    • Anger about potentially being exposed to virus due to others’ negligence
    • Worry over the length of time the risk to the novel coronavirus will last
    • Helplessness about being unable to help others (if quarantined or ill)
    • Irritability or restlessness about being unable to work (if quarantined or ill)

Normal Feelings:

  • During this time, it is normal to be stressed
  • During this time, is normal to have many other feelings (i.e., anger, fear, etc).
  • Ignoring the feelings can mean they will come out in other ways, such as:
    • Exploding at someone else
    • Keeping you awake when trying to sleep
  • Instead acknowledge the feelings and practice the strategies below to cope  

Do Self-Care:

  • Do things that help you feel better
  • Examples of self-care are:
    • Exercising (try exercising outside to get vitamin D)
    • Watching your favourite videos, TV shows, or movies
    • Listening to your favourite music
    • Doing something that makes you laugh (particularly deep, belly laughing)
    • Spending time with family (this includes pets)
  • Self-care is different for everyone, so engage in things that work for you
  • Do things that will recharge you if exhausted (e.g., music instead of a 10 km run)
  • Examples of things that are not self-care include consuming alcohol and/or drugs
    • They may help in the short-term but over time, may cause fatigue, distress, etc.

Notice Self-Talk:

  • ‘Self-talk’ are the things we tell ourselves
  • Self-talk can be unconscious, which means that we are not aware of it
  • If self-talk is unhealthy, it can create burnout, emotional issues, problems at home/work
  • Self-talk like “I can’t stop” may cause you to work too much and neglect yourself/others
  • To change unhealthy self-talk, ask “What am I thinking?” then reframe it
  • Reframe it to something healthy, such as “I can stop at home and relax”
  • Other examples of reframing self-talk includes:
    • “No one cares” to “My supervisor may not care but my work friends do”
    • “People are stupid” to “I will make a difference by handling this better”
    • “Everyone needs me” to “I will take breaks and ask for help”

Challenge Guilt:

  • In high pressure situations, it is easy to blame yourself and feel guilty about things
  • Our brain is programmed to notice the negative
  • Stop and remind yourself of the positive – there likely were some good things too
  • If you make a mistake, remind yourself of all the things you’ve done right that day
  • Don’t play the “I shoulda” game because it doesn’t help – focus on doing well now
  • Recognize that you are dealing with new situations, where mistakes can happen
  • Recognize that others may make some mistakes as they deal with new situations too
  • If you’re concerned that you’re making too many mistakes:
    • Briefly review protocols or procedures you’re unsure of
    • Do more self-care to recharge
    • Talk to someone about it
  • Above all, know that your role is very important and don’t forget that by helping others, you’re doing a difficult job that many people cannot do.

Friends & Family:

  • You may be talking with friends and family members much less
  • You may experience stigma by friends or family members:
    • Because they’re concerned you’ve contracted the virus through work
  • You may also be isolated because you are self-quarantining
  • Whatever the situation, you may be seeing friends and family much less
  • It is more important now than ever to stay connected to people in your life
  • Maintain your relationships through text, phone, or live video stream

Talk to a Licensed Professional:

  • You are likely in your job because you are caring and calm during stressful times
  • Over time, it is normal for people who are caring and calm to feel stressed themselves
  • It is a sign of strength and bravery to trust someone and talk about problems  
  • It can be helpful to talk to a licensed professional, such as a Registered Psychologist
  • Getting help may allow you to feel better and create strategies to manage stress
  • The better you feel psychologically, the better you are able to help others

Dr. Erin Buhr

Registered Psychologist