The challenges for frontline staff working during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are significant. You are not only serving the community but you also trying to stay healthy, while often worrying about the health of family and friends. This article describes 11 practical psychological skills to help front line staff stay mentally resilient during this challenging time.
You are working under challenging circumstances which may be changing rapidly. Those around you are anxious and tense. You may be working with members of the public who are anxious and frightened. And you are naturally worried about your own health and wellbeing and that of your loved ones.
All of these things make doing your job difficult, stressful and exhausting. One of the most important techniques for staying resilient at times of crisis is to treat yourself the way you would treat others; that is, with respect and with kindness.
Being kind to yourself means recognizing that you are only human and can only do your best – stress is normal and no one is perfect. Being respectful to yourself means treating yourself like you treat others you care about – don’t expect too much of yourself or be too critical of yourself.
We’re all are ‘wired’ to stay vigilant to possible threats; this important skill helps us to keep safe and stay alive. But, during crises our ‘risk radar’ may become too sensitive and hard to switch off, which can make things worse.
Practice your routines for turning your radar on and off, including the following after work routine:
Before starting work turn your radar back on by doing the following:
Make turning on and off part of your daily work routine.
Working on the front-line means seeing and hearing things which are confronting. We naturally want to ‘fix’ things for people and ‘make it right’. But we can’t always do that, and we need to make sure that we don’t become overwhelmed with distress. This means keeping boundaries between our personal and professional selves. You can still be kind and gentle with people, but you can stay psychologically safe by:
Remember you are not your role; stay resilient by staying psychologically safe.
When stressed we tend to avoid doing things that we normally do, including things which keep us resilient. We all have activities and hobbies which we enjoy and which give us pleasure. Even if we can’t do those things in exactly the same way due to limited time, energy, or other reasons, it is essential you make time and effort to do things that you find valuable and meaningful and fun.
If possible, try and do these with others; many activities are more fun to do with company. Making a plan to do at least one enjoyable and relaxing thing each day will give you something to look forward to, which is a key strategy for staying mentally healthy during times of crisis.
Give yourself permission to switch off ‘noise’ such as social media, news, and radio. These media often try to bait you with extreme headlines which trigger stress and anxiety. You can also switch off noise by avoiding people who creating stress.
Keep checking in to reliable news sources one or twice a day, but otherwise, turn down the noise. Instead, replace it with things that can help you stay grounded, including doing things you enjoy, listening to music, entertainment and games.
We all have routines in our daily lives. For example, we tend to get up at a certain time, brush our teeth in a certain way, get ready for the day’s activities, eat certain foods, and follow many other routines until we go to sleep at night. Crises naturally create changes in routines, particularly if we can’t do some of our usual activities.
Our emotional health is strongly affected by regular routines; these routines not only help to get us organized, but give us a sense of achievement and accomplishment. Some of our routines involve other people, who also benefit from them. Spend some time thinking about the routines that are important to you and modify these routines in a such a way that you can keep doing them, even during challenging times.
We all need to get good sleep, but this can be hard after a long stressful day. Things that help include:
It is normal to experience many different emotions when working on the front line. These include anger, fear, frustration, guilt, joy, euphoria, sadness, shame, terror, happiness, confusion, exhaustion, helplessness, tearfulness, etc. Sometimes you might feel all of those in the same day.
Not only are you delivering a service, but you are doing so under challenging circumstances. Sometimes to people who may not be grateful, or who may themselves be distressed. You may be worried about your own health and the health of colleagues, friends, and loved ones.
Having strong emotions is not a sign that you aren’t coping or a weak; they are a sign that you are human. Your colleagues will be feeling the same. Given yourself permission to feel like you feel.
By recognizing your emotions, you can decide how you will respond. Some emotions you may want or need to hide, others you might want to share. By naming your emotions you can process them in as helpful a way as possible, recognizing that the situation is unusual, but your reactions are part of being human.
During crises it is normal for front line staff to notice that they have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts. Thoughts like, “How will I cope if I get sick?”, “I can’t deal with this”, are often triggered by stress. This change in our thoughts reflect our worries and uncertainty, and are usually temporary.
But, these negative thoughts can stop you doing things that can help. Remember, our thoughts are not always true or helpful. Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself what a friend would say in the same situation, or ask yourself what evidence do you have that you ‘won’t cope or can’t cope’? Whenever you recognize a negative thought balance it with a realistic thought.
Do not underestimate the impact of your actions on those around you. People will be looking for strength in those around them. Whether you are a junior member of your team or the CEO, be a leader in times of crises. Act in a way that inspires others and gives them confidence. Be respectful, calm, and kind. When appropriate, be vulnerable and show that it is okay to be human. Act in a way that, when you look back at this event, you will be quietly proud of your actions.
Remember the famous saying, ‘this too shall pass’. It may not feel like it, but things will return to normal. In the meantime, it is important to have confidence that things will improve, that people will recover, and things will get back to normal. In addition to maintaining your long-term goals, also think about things that you will look forward to each day and week, which you can and will enjoy and will maintain your hope for the future.
MindSpot is a digital mental health clinic for adults troubled by anxiety, depression, stress and low mood. Our treatment courses are tried, tested and trusted by over 20,000 Australians every year. We offer free assessments and treatment courses which are fully funded by the Commonwealth Government.
Click here for more information for health professionals on how MindSpot works
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