“I just don’t want to do this anymore,” an exhausted grocery worker uttered as he hung his head against his arms before cleaning carts for the next round of angry and anxious customers. It’s a story that numerous frontline workers are telling as they face the onslaught of frustrated customers, family members, and coworkers who are also facing the ever-changing landscape of the “new normal.”
There’s a steep learning curve for frontline workers in all fields as they try to keep up with the changing regulations, angry customers, and extra demands of their jobs. Is it any wonder that anxiety is climbing?
How can we manage anxiety before it manages us?
When I was working as a nurse, I remember times when we faced extreme changes to protocol which required us to quickly adapt and caused a huge amount of anxiety among staff. One important thing I’ll never forget were the sage words of one of my supervisors: “Cut yourself some slack – this is new for all of us and we’re gonna have a little anxiety about it. Take a deep breath, give yourself a moment to digest it all, and then open the door and go to work.” In other words, many of us will face anxiety – don’t beat yourself up over it.
If you are feeling anxious and worried about everything that’s going on right now, give yourself a break! It’s likely that your neighbour, partner, coworker, and even your employer are also feeling anxious. The first tip is to cut yourself some slack and realize that this is part of the “new normal.”
How can we manage anxiety before it manages us?
Being slightly anxious is actually quite normal – being overly anxious and letting it interfere with your sleep, thoughts, and ability to work, play, or enjoy life is what’s harmful. That’s when it manages us. Letting anxiety take control of you is not only exhausting, but it can lead to physical problems such as a reduced immunity to disease. What better reason could you have during a pandemic to take steps to reduce risks?
Here are five ways frontline workers can reduce anxiety:
Physical exercise during COVID-19 is still possible, even if you have limited space and time. With the weather changing (for the better), take the opportunity to get out and grab some natural Vitamin D as it’s been shown to reduce anxiety and boost our immunity. Even taking ten minutes and walking around the building will do wonders for improving your mood. Allow your face to feel the sun, breathe in the air – really breathe it in, put on some excellent music if you can, and enjoy the feel of the air on your skin. Do not think about work, COVID-19, bills, or anything but the feel of the sun, the air, and how wonderful it feels to be outside.
Practice positive messages.
Fill your breakroom, office, car, or wherever you spend your downtime with pictures that bring you hope. I went through my old photos on my phone and laptop and started pulling up pictures that bring me great joy – pictures of the ocean, sun, waves, my family, etc. Find whatever inspires you and fill your space with those memories. If you have a locker at work, put a positive message on the inside of the door along with a picture that makes you smile. It’s hard to be anxious when you are looking at a relaxing scene.
Choose your social media and news wisely.
While social media can be our friend when we are socially isolated, it can also be a source of added stress and increase our anxiety. If you must check the news, limit it to once a day and make sure it is a source that is reliable. Remember, many news articles are written to draw you in with taglines that are often distressing. As for social media, you may have to carefully choose which friends you continue to follow during this time to protect your mental health.
To be helpful to others, you must put on your own oxygen mask first.
Be selfish about self-care.
Set aside time for self-care. While you may want to rush directly in the door to be with family, taking the time after work to de-stress in your car by listening to calming music and practicing deep breathing will not only help with your anxiety, it will help lessen the overall stress levels for your loved ones as well. Ask those close to you to give you a set amount of time so that you can sit and be quiet, grab a shower, a glass of water, a snack, and relax before they ask about your day.
Connect with other people.
We are not meant to be alone. Humans are relational beings and social distancing and self-isolation have made nurturing relationships difficult. When feeling stressed, text a friend – a controlled vent is usually a great way to express what you are feeling and let off some steam. Video conference on your phone if you are able – sometimes just seeing the face of someone you know cares about you can help reduce stress and reduce anxiety. If you have time, play a virtual game, tell a few jokes, or read to a child to activate a different area of your brain. If you are a clerk at a grocery store, chat about something fun with one of your coworkers between customers. Have a funny face contest, and inject humour into the day as much as possible and is appropriate. Remember to connect with those you love as often as possible.
To all the frontline workers: the work you do is important and necessary. But to be helpful to others, you must put on your own oxygen mask first. If your anxiety continues to manage you, please reach out to a helping professional for support.
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