Everyone deserves to refuel before they can give
Mental Health Clinician, Shout
As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.
Here, Christine, a Mental Health Clinician at Shout, shares tips on how to support any frontline workers in your life to take care of their own mental wellbeing.
When we get busy our first instinct is to cut out breaks and downtime. We think we’ll be more productive if we push through. This might work in short bursts but over time it depletes people. Express to the frontline worker in your life that taking time for themselves is not selfish. In fact, it will allow them to give more over time. Help them come up with a plan to take mini breaks like listening to a song for 5 minutes in the car before going into work, a quick walk around the block, or having a laugh with colleagues. Encourage them to consider a longer break like a holiday if they’re feeling worn down. If they resist, ask them to challenge the guilt that comes up. Everyone deserves to refuel before they can give.
During times of crisis, those on the frontlines can feel guilty if they experience joy or fun. We are prone to think we’re doing an injustice to the people we serve if we are happy during this time. In reality, there is space for every emotion right now. There’s room for solidarity and sadness but there’s also room for laughter and fun. Be proactive and plan something joyous for the frontline worker in your life. Plan a silly pub quiz, get them tickets to a virtual comedy show, prepare a picnic in the living room, or turn on some music and dance when they get home. There’s laughter allowed in even the most dire situations.
As carers, we are quick to convince ourselves that we can set our own boundaries and that we know how much we can handle. In reality, we haven’t faced anything like this before and our limits are being tested. Help the frontline worker in your life set boundaries and stick to them. Ask them to take note for a day which habits drain them. Help them come up with boundaries to combat the things that suck their energy. Boundaries might include not checking messages from work or family between certain hours. Turning off their phone during certain times. Telling their family that they need quiet alone time during certain hours. Ask them to write down their boundaries and hold them accountable.
Frontline workers are showing incredible dedication to protect us all. The compassion of those working on the frontline may, at times, lead to them putting pressure on themselves to do the impossible, to surpass the limits no matter what they’re faced with. Remind the frontline worker in your life that every single role has limits. Help them see that they can only support others within the parameters of their roles and current situations. Point out that just because they can’t fix everything they’re faced with doesn’t mean they aren’t succeeding. Success is doing the best they can with the intervention they have. That is a wonderful thing worth celebrating, not beating themselves up over. There’s relief in acknowledging, no matter what our role, we are a small piece of a bigger puzzle and that is okay.
There can be a tendency to think that by asking for help, we are somehow worse at our role. When someone has become accustomed to lifting others up and then admits they need support, this can lead to them feeling like an imposter. Remind the frontline worker in your life that they can be a helper and get help. Support from others can refuel them so that they can keep giving. Ask them what help looks like for them. Remember it might look different than what you’d want in their shoes. They might need practical support (like help with chores), a space to vent, someone to bounce ideas off of, or a fun distraction.
Educate them that services like Our Frontline are there for them. They can call 116 123 or text FRONTLINE, BLUELIGHT or KEYWORKER to 85258 for free, 24/7 for support to deal with anxiety, stress, fear, isolation, or other difficult emotions. Our Frontline also has lots of online mental health and bereavement resources to support frontline workers here at ourfrontline.org.
Read more stories from workers on the frontline during the pandemic.