A Mental Health Guide for Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Tips for thriving in a difficult work environment.

By SeventyFour/Shutterstock
By SeventyFour/Shutterstock

To avoid spreading coronavirus, the White House announced guidelines for the next two weeks, including a directive to work from home. However, this obviously isn’t possible for everyone. Many jobs ranging from healthcare professionals to retail and service workers are facing a significant predicament — take time off with paid sick leave (if it’s even available to you), quit your job and apply for worker’s benefits, or keep working. It’s not an easy decision, especially when companies like Amazon and Walmart are offering cash bonuses to attract more employees.

Whatever option you choose, it’s a stressful and unprecedented situation to navigate. The effects of this stress can have an immediate impact on your health and contribute to anxietydepression, and physical symptoms of stress. As you take the steps to protect your physical health from the coronavirus outbreak (here’s some advice from the World Health Organization), there are also things you can do to improve your mental health.

Here are a few ways you can take care of your mind, heart, and spirit as you deal with an extremely difficult working environment.

Get the Right Information and Avoid ‘Thinking Traps’

There’s a lot of news about coronavirus circulating around. Some of this news is helpful and will help keep you safe, and some of it isn’t. For your mental health, you need to know the facts about your safety and the risks of going to work.

For worker’s rights, check the U.S. Department of Labor’s website of resources including workplace preparation, prevention information, and new unemployment insurance flexibilities. You should also ask your employer for updated policies. This is a developing situation and many companies are adapting their sick leave policies on the fly, either due to government mandates or because of employee pressure.

We need to stay like detectives, looking for clues that point to the truth. It can become overwhelming if we start making assumptions and fill in the blanks when there’s not much to support our case. Although we shouldn’t ignore our instincts, there are some “thinking traps” — cognitive distortions that can hijack our brains — which lead us further down the path of anxiety.

Here are some common thinking traps to watch out for:

Fortune-telling

Yes, the news is full of predictions, but that doesn’t mean these forecasts are absolute and inevitable truths. We can’t predict the future and we’ll have less anxiety if we stay in the present moment, doing everything we can, right now, to be safe.

Black-and-white thinking

This is when we start thinking in extremes (e.g. “It’s the end of the world!”). In reality, situations are usually in-between, in the gray zone. We don’t need to think only in terms of all-good or all-bad, there’s plenty of room in the middle.

Mind-reading

Do you think you know what your employer or co-workers are thinking? You might be able to guess some of the time, but most of the time you don’t know for sure. It’s best to ask direct questions of those in the know and stay away from attempts at telepathy.

Increase your self-care

No matter who you are or what your job is, now more than ever, we all need to take care of ourselves. Self-care is an activity that helps your health, wellbeing, and provides stress relief. It’s not really about zoning out to television under an avalanche of chips…but, then again, it could be.

The most effective self-care routines cover six areas: emotional, practical, physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Think of them as buckets of water that need to be filled up every so often. If you’re letting one sit there empty, it can’t help you when you’re really thirsty. The more reserves of water, the more you can handle tough times.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of self-care and activities that can be integrated into your week:

  • Emotional self-care
    Emotional self-care helps you process your feelings. These activities could be talking to a therapist, writing in a journal, or making art. You need the time to reflect on your emotions and give them the space to be expressed.
  • Practical self-care
    Practical self-care includes those chores and errands that we don’t always want to do, but help us to be more organized. Doing laundry, shopping for groceries, and putting together a budget are all things that contribute to a better sense of ease.
  • Physical self-care
    Physical self-care involves taking care of your body, inside and out. Make sure you’re sleeping enough each night, drinking enough water, stretching, and eating healthy. Your body is what gets you through the day and it needs to be treated well.
  • Mental self-care
    Mental self-care is anything that sparks your brain. This could be a crossword puzzle, reading a book, listening to music, or looking at art. Think of it as a workout for your mind.
  • Social self-care
    Social self-care is about nurturing the relationships in your life. Call someone on the phone, send a text, or write a letter or a longer email. The conversation will help both you and your loved one.
  • Spiritual self-care
    Spiritual self-care is about connecting with something bigger than yourself. For some people it’s religious, but it doesn’t have to be. Praying, meditating, and spending time in nature are all examples of spiritual self-care.

This might sound like a lot of self-care but many of these activities only take a couple of minutes. If you’re commuting to work, that can be a good time to do some journaling or call a friend. On your lunch break, do some stretches and read a book. For bigger tasks, break them into smaller parts and see what you can do in just five minutes. The other good news is that self-care doesn’t have to cost extra money. It’s always available to you, and you can retreat from the world, for at least a moment, to a place of calm that not even the coronavirus can touch.

Originally published on Talkspace.

More from Talkspace:

What to Expect From Your First Online Therapy Experience

How To Maintain Independence While in a Relationship

5 Signs of Acute Stress Disorder 

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