4 Ways To Protect The Mental Health of Lone Workers During A Crisis

4 Ways To Protect The Mental Health of Lone Workers During A Crisis

Illustration of mental health

In the face of uncertainty and adversity, many of us have had to make significant changes to our everyday lives – take COVID-19 as an extreme example that has plunged the UK and the world into crisis-mode.

During times of crisis, managing your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. Navigating out of a crisis and back to normal is often a marathon, not a sprint; with that in mind, it’s important that we show ourselves compassion in an effort to protect our mental wellbeing. Here are four things you can do as a lone worker to preserve your mental health.

1. Set Personal Boundaries

In a national or global crisis, it can be difficult to stay away from negative news and information with social media feeds clogged with updates and 24 hour news channels. Traditional media outlets such as newspapers and scheduled news broadcasts are also typically filled with stories about the crisis.

It’s important to set healthy boundaries for ourselves to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the level of information that’s available. For example, you could:

  • Limit your consumption – what starts off as getting the latest updates can soon descend into a rabbit hole of unnecessary information. Practice putting limits on how much news you consume which could mean only looking at updates in the morning, or setting a timer (for around 10-15 minutes) to allow yourself to get caught up.

TOP TIP: It’s important to only use trusted sources of information so that you’re getting facts, not rumours.

  • Turn off notifications – the ‘always on’ culture serves to have a detrimental effect on our mental health with people feeling compelled to reply to messages regardless of when they are received. Switching off from work, having breaks and getting adequate rest will leave you feeling more refreshed to deal with the crisis the following day.

TOP TIP: Don’t just limit the cull of notifications to work-related messages. Turning off notifications from news-related apps and subscriptions can help to ease the anxiety you might face from constant updates and needing to know the latest information.

  • Look for sources of joy – although the crisis might be at the forefront of news bulletins, there are still plenty of feel-good stories that are uplifting and inspiring. You can also create your own source of joy by spreading kindness while you’re working.
  • Understand what is in your control – there are things you will be able to do in a crisis, and there will be other things out of your control.

When we think about the coronavirus, as a lone worker you can maintain social distancing with other people, consistently wash your hands and follow government guidelines to remain safe.

Separating these things can help to provide some perspective and relieve anxiety and stress linked to uncertainties.

2. Process and Express Emotions

It can be difficult to process our feelings and emotions during a crisis that feels like it’s moving at one hundred miles an hour. Increased stress and anxiety levels can cause us to have a shorter temper than normal, leaving us feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

If you’re comfortable speaking about your feelings, you might want to talk to a family member or a colleague. Alternatively, there might be a mental health first aider or mental health ambassadors within your business for you to utilise. Organisations such as Samaritans and Mind are also set up to lend a friendly ear and helpful support if you don’t want to talk to someone you know.

If you’re not ready to talk, there is a host of other resources that you can access including mental health apps such as Happify, which provides science-based activities and games to help reduce stress, and SAM which helps to manage anxiety through exercises and private reflection.

Finally, if writing your feelings down is something you find therapeutic, you might consider to start practicing journaling. It provides you with the opportunity to explore your feelings, process them and move forward. If you’re new to the practice, you might try setting a timer (around 2-5 minutes should be enough time) to write. There are more helpful tips here, or you can use the Daylio app.

Woman writing a journal entry to process emotions and improve mental health

3. Take Care Of Yourself

Self-care is any activity that we intentionally do to take care of our own mental, emotional and physical health. Sometimes, this is something short term, like having a relaxing bubble bath; other times, it’s more long term, like learning how to budget and take care of finances. Self-care will look different for everyone: you need to do what works for you in order to feel the benefit.

During a crisis, it can be easy to justify not taking a break and working longer hours because you’re needed on the front line – it’s even easier as a lone worker who doesn’t have any direct supervision. However, it’s important to get sufficient rest and respite between shifts to avoid fatigue and refresh your mind and body. Employers should ensure that their staff are having enough breaks to make sure their health and safety isn’t at risk.

Male nurse taking a break after a long shift

Fuelling your body with sufficient and healthy food will help you to feel energised and have a positive impact on your mental health. That isn’t to say that you need to avoid sweet treats and takeaways – these can be acts of short term self-care.

There is plenty of research that links a healthy lifestyle with a healthy mind. Exercise and physical activity releases endorphins that make you feel better and give you more energy. It can also help with getting better sleep by making you feel more tired at the end of the day. Being physically active gives your brain something to focus on that isn’t stress and anxiety about the crisis. If you’re unable to access a gym due to the crisis, employers could facilitate virtual workouts (at different times to cover the range of shifts) with their staff and monitor participation.

Staying in contact with family and friends is a great reminder of the positive things in your life; speaking to them can be a form of escapism from the crisis. However, for social support, you might turn to your lone working colleagues. They are likely to understand the way you’re feeling because they may be having similar feelings and experiences to you.

Try to avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical wellbeing, especially if you are using them to excess.

4. Protect Yourself & Be Supportive Of Others

Happiness is always found when helping others – it’s a fundamental part of humanity. No matter what the motivation, helping someone and spreading kindness will make you feel better.

In times of crisis, such as a city or nation recovering from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the stories of those who help others are inspiring. Feeling good after helping someone else isn’t limited to grand gestures of risking life and limb. It could be as simple as calling round to a vulnerable neighbour, or picking up shopping essentials for someone less able. Lone workers helping people on a daily basis on the front line of a crisis might feel unappreciated which is why initiatives such as ‘Clap For Carers’ during the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated the support of the nation for our key workers.

Protecting Mental Health During A Crisis

When things feel uncertain or when we don’t generally feel safe, it’s normal to feel stressed. A crisis forces unprecedented and unforeseen circumstances on people which creates new pressures on our mental health. It’s important that you are aware of how you’re feeling; how you can process your emotions and where to go if you need help.