Frontline Workers and Self-Care

Kate EmeryPsychotherapyLeave a Comment

I’ve written an accompanying blog on toxic productivity and how we can reframe productivity with self-compassion.

In this blog I discuss the three drives or systems that help us emotionally regulated. In essence, this crisis may cause us to remain in our threat and drive system – we either protect or try to achieve. Currently our society may have a focus on productivity, while perhaps forgetting how important  and productive it is to self-sooth, take care, and relax.

For those who are in places of power or knowledge, the expectation of being productive can be an excessively heavy weight. I think of the scientists who are working hard to help save lives. Being productive for these individuals must be an immense and terrifying responsibility. I think of the doctors and healthcare professionals who are spending each day fighting to keep the world alive and combat this illness head on. Being productive must be an exhausting and chilling responsibility they face each day. I think of the frontline workers who are keeping everyone equipped with the essentials of life. Being productive must be a grueling task, and a responsibility none ever expected would be thrust upon them.

Productivity is celebrated – but the terrifying and exhausting productivity many workers now face can also be a burden. These workers are forced into the Drive System – and they face the threat every day. The anxiety and depression these frontline workers may experience is an example of how toxic productivity is harmful.

I worry that if we do not reframe productivity to include relaxation, self-care, and slowing down, our frontline workers are going to burn out.

Burn out occurs due to excessive stress on an individual. Stress is a sign that there is too much responsibility or too many demands on an individual. When an individual is stressed and  still able to feel in control,  they can self-sooth to achieve a semblance of balance again. However, when someone reaches burnt out,  the individual is overwhelmed by the stress and accessing the Soothe System is increasingly difficult.

Symptoms of burn out include:

  • Feeling drained
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Lowered Immunity
  • Difficulties with appetite and sleep
  • Feeling like a failure
  • Loss of motivation
  • Apathy
  • Feeling helpless or defeated
  • Cynicism and negative thinking
  • Feeling isolated from others and the world
  • Lack of satisfaction
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Procrastination
  • Withdrawing from work and responsibilities
  • Taking out frustrations on others

This is a scary list when we think of our frontline workers. Burn out not only decreases their motivation to keep working– it also increases their risk of getting sick.

Let us try to  instead reframe productivity to include relaxation, self-care, and self-compassion. Let us focus on how we can reduce stress, acknowledge anxiety, and come together.

If you are a frontline worker remember to:

  • Set boundaries.
    • You may be asked to work overtime. You may need to work hard and beyond what normally is expected of you. It is still okay to say “no”.
    • If you burn out or get sick – overtime won’t matter – you won’t be able to do the work. It is okay to prioritize yourself! We need you – so please take care of yourself first!
  • Set times away from work and away from the news.
    • Pick a time to put your phone away completely – to leave emails to the next day – to rest.
    • Disconnect from the crisis if possible. Focus on yourself and your own needs.
  • Set aside time to relax.
    • Do those things that relax you – take a bath, go for a walk, hide from everyone, connect with family, or dance in the snow. Whatever works for you works. There is no right way to relax.
    • Do what makes you feel best – without shame, without judgement.
  • Prioritize your healthcare!
    • Get sleep as best you can. Sleep is hard right now – but try and remember to rest. Do not work yourself so hard that sleep feels impossible.
    • Eat as best you can. What you put in your body matters. Eat in ways that help you sooth and feel safe.
  • Reach out for help.
    • Reach out to your family, friends, and supports.
    • Reach out to a counsellor or mental health professional. Many places are offering probono services to frontline workers – including Serenity Now Wellness.

Remember you are not alone. We see the effort you are putting in. We could not survive this crisis without you. We appreciate you. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself. We need you to!

References

Applying the 3 Circles Model of Emotion to Help Clients Heal Shame [Infographic]. (2020). Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://www.nicabm.com/3circles/

Burnout Prevention and Treatment. (2020). Retrieved April 12, 202AD, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm

 

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