A year ago, I remember standing in a crowd of Raptors fans waiting hours for the champion team, the Lawrence O’Brien trophy, and of course, Drake to stroll by in the parade. Now, several months later our world has changed drastically. Many of us speculate that our “new normal” will last two years, others claim that we need a vaccine first, and others are optimistic that Fall 2020 will resume as usual. Whatever the outcome is, our mental wellness is as crucial as our physical wellness and avoidance of the deadly and unpredictable disease. Over the past few months, mental wellness has been the forefront of our conversations. But, as a front line worker, it is customary for us to facilitate a conversation that we struggle to have within ourselves. According to Jones of CTV News (2020), front-line workers are at a greater risk of mental health struggles.
Due to the greater risks in contracting the disease, front line workers are experiencing greater levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and worry. In addition to fears about contracting the virus, front line workers must worry about passing on the virus to their families. With these many stressors, front line workers are at significant risk of developing mental health issues once the pandemic has passed. Indeed, high stress levels were experienced by 68% of front line workers during the SARS epidemic, two years after which front line workers expressed greater levels of anxiety, depression, professional burnout, and traumatic stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.).
What can front line workers do??
To manage their elevated stress and anxiety levels, hopefully preventing or reducing the incidence of mental health issues post-pandemic, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.) reviews three helpful strategies:
Time to Slow Down
COVID-19 is a prolonged threat that can cause chronic activation of the fight, flight, or freeze system. This hyper arousal comes with tense muscles and an increased heart rate that is designed to increase our chances of survival in the short-term. In the long-term, however, prolonged activation leads to fatigue, restlessness, and trouble focusing. Hence, the importance of slowing down this threat response when confronted with chronic stress. Based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), front line workers can practice slowing down by learning to notice and name their thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.
I think part of my self care has been not watching the news. I prefer not to be bombarded by this illnesses. Think it’s causing a lot of stress for many.Andrew, Wellness Therapist
Embracing Healthy Habits
When we are worried, anxious, on high alert, and experience trauma as a result of the pandemic, our bodies natural response is to remain in high alert. In this aroused state, we are in high alert waiting for the worst case scenario to occur. After watching the news from December 2019 to January 2020, I felt constantly inundated with bad news within our country and the world. I began to expect that life will continue to become difficult, and noticed that I started to change my behavior into survival mode. Then, when the pandemic happened throughout our world, I found it very difficult to maintain my same routine. However, our bodies are build for survival. So our responses, are normal reactions to abnormal experiences.
Sleep, regular eating, and exercise is known to significantly affect mental health.
Unfortunately, they are some of the first factors to get disrupted by stress. It’s important for front line workers to maintain healthy sleeping, eating, and exercise habits as much as possible
during times of high stress (Sali). But be kind to yourself. If you are not able to sleep, understand that this is part of the journey. Adjust your sleeping habits to meet your needs. Eat as healthy as you can, but show kindness to yourself for the days when you just need your comfort food. Cake anyone? Chips? Popcorn, anyone. And, start exercise with something small. I signed up for a free trial of Fitbit, and with the money I saved from gym fees I opened my own makeshift gym in my basement. Every morning, I try to complete one 30 minute workout per day. This workout has done wonders in making my day, excellent. As an amazing person I met said to me recently, “just take one day at a time”. Some days, I am amazing at embracing healthy habits and other days, I am amazing at forgiving myself for not embracing the habits.
While flattening the curve is only possible by distancing, distancing can have a
deleterious effect on mental health. Front line workers are encouraged to get creative in their
efforts to stay connected during the pandemic, with the awareness that connection will protect
mental health and build resilience. In fact, after an outbreak, strong social support predicts
positive mental health outcomes. Part of staying connected also includes being mindful of a
sense of togetherness; that all over the world front line workers are facing this crisis together.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (2020) adds to this list by highlighting a few
more helpful tips.. These include taking basic safety precautions to mitigate the risk of bringing
the virus home, and re-framing guilty thoughts to more proactive thoughts about what is being
accomplished. Front line workers are advised to take their breaks and try to find a source of
comfort in activities that nourish both physical and mental health. Minimizing media exposure
and having personal photos nearby can both help front line workers feel less overwhelmed and
bombarded by negative news. Of course, front line workers are invited to reach out for mental
health support as well (Sali).
While flattening the curve is only possible by distancing, distancing can have a deleterious effect on mental healthSali
Prior to the pandemic, staying at home, sipping on wine and watching series was a normal part of my de-stress routine. Post-pandemic, I am over watching TV for longer than an hour. I miss talking to people & my community, going to my favourite coffee store “Second Cup”, swinging by McDonalds’ where the brilliant morning staff wrote my name on my cup (ya, I know, they know me), talking with students at the College and listening to their stories, travelling to my family’s home and abroad, seeing my nephews, sister and parents, shopping, and so much more. What do you miss? Staying connected means: being mindful of how body, mind, and spirit feel, being aware of the stress within your body, and being mindful of releasing tension through your breath. Staying connected means: creating opportunities to connect with others through virtual calls, social media, and other means. Staying connected means: allowing yourself to connect with the land, the air and the water. Try physically distancing walking on beaches, hiking, gardening, deep breathing, and more. Regardless of your journey, we are honoured to support you in writing articles, providing counselling, and promoting mental wellness.
Since Covid-19, my family has met together every week as a group on ZOOM. It has been the highlight of my week, and a blessing to my days. I draw the strength from these meetings to share the same dedication to my community. In those meetings, I am touched by the love in my circle. I have hope that despite how difficult today may seem, there is always hope for a better a tomorrow.
- Bartuska, A., & Marques, L. (n.d.). When the Wave Comes: Evidence-Based Strategies to Help Frontline Health Care Workers Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic.Retrieved May 20, 2020, from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blogposts/consumer/when-wave-comes-evidence-based-strategies-help
- CMHA York South Simcoe. (2020, May 4). Mental Health Tips for Frontline Workers. Retrieved May 20, 2020, from https://cmha-yr.on.ca/learn/covid-19/frontlineworkers/
- Jones, A. M. (2020, April 12). Front-line workers, residents of care homes at bigger risk of mental health struggles: advocates. Retrieved May 20, 2020, fromhttps://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/front-line-workers-residents-of-care-homesat-bigger-risk-of-mental-health-struggles-advocates-1.4893007
Written by: Sali, with contributions from Andrew & Nicole