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To Those Who Can’t Work from Home: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Essential workers have dealt with heavy burdens during COVID-19, but they don’t have to struggle alone

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If you are an essential frontline worker, this past year was certainly more stressful than most.  Anxiety, stress, fear of illness, and lack of childcare have made this a particularly exhausting year. When stay-at-home orders were issued and many of us had the privilege of working from home, essential workers did not. While hospital workers were being cheered on and given free meals and coffee, you may have been one of the unrecognized heroes delivering or preparing that food, unnoticed and uncelebrated.  But you are essential too. 

The pandemic sucks.  But it sucks MORE for essential workers.

Stress on the job is nothing new, and when COVID-19 began to spread like wildfire, it brought with it additional worry, anxiety, and fear. For some, the anxiety around job security came up immediately as many restaurants completely or partially closed, laying off employees. And those who remained employed were forced to confront concerns around hazardous working conditions, virus exposure, lack of paid sick leave, or the stress of dealing with customers refusing to wear masks. Many of you watched your coworkers get sick – some of you watched them pass away. So if you are feeling traumatized, angry, stressed or depressed, you certainly are not alone. Organizations such as Therapy Aid Coalition can provide services to support your mental well-being. But if talking this through with a professional is not for you, there are things you can do on your own to reduce your level of stress.

Stress-reduction tips for those on the job

  • Talk with a coworker. You may feel like nobody in your family or personal life really “gets it,” but it’s highly likely that your coworkers do. According to a study from the USC Marshall School of Business, “When you’re facing a threatening situation, interacting with someone who is feeling similarly to you decreases the stress you feel.”  So consider sharing your experiences, fears, and frustrations with your coworkers. 
  • Change up your work environment.  If you work indoors, use your work breaks to get outside, when possible.  Consider taking a walk or sitting on a nearby park bench.  If you work on your feet outside (delivering food or packages) consider taking your break at a local coffee shop. Allowing yourself to change environments for your breaks is one way to create a boundary between “work mode” and “rest.”
  • Give yourself a break from reality.  It’s increasingly harder to unplug from the pandemic, but don’t be afraid to give yourself permission to completely tune it out – even if just for half an hour. Turn your phone off, let yourself get immersed in a good book or a fantastic television series, or take an indulgent bubble bath. Give your brain a break from pandemic talk and let it focus on something else.

Why it feels hard to ask for help – and why you should.

When self-care and talking with those who are in the same boat just isn’t enough, you may want to consider an extra boost of support from a therapist.  But many factors can make it hard to reach out. You may have been furloughed, had a pay cut, or have reduced hours, and feel stressed about finances. You may not have health insurance or know where to find support; or you might simply worry about who will find out, and how it will be perceived. 

I created Therapy Aid Coalition for these reasons.  Free and low-cost therapy is available to all kinds of essential workers in the U.S. – no insurance needed.  We have therapists in all 50 states, and it’s completely confidential. 

Long-term stress can put you at risk for physical health issues, including problems with your heart health and increased blood pressure, so it’s important to find ways to decompress and reduce your stress. A year into the pandemic, we are all feeling the effects. A therapist can help share stress-reduction techniques and be a supportive outlet for you. So don’t be afraid to reach out if you need someone to talk to. Otherwise, I encourage you to find small ways to reduce your stress on a daily basis. You deserve it.

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