On Thursday evening, households all over the UK reached out of their windows to clap for the NHS. It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity, and there are plans to do the same for other key workers like supermarket staff.
The truth is that there are several groups of people in our society who are going above and beyond to protect others – often at great personal risk.
Whilst this will make most of us feel safe and cared for, for others it will cause great anxiety. For example, what if the people you love are those key workers putting themselves at risk on a daily basis?
Taking care of someone else involves caring for yourself
For hundreds of thousands of families across the UK, the thing that is having the biggest impact on their mental health right now is trying to cope with their loved ones consistently putting their health on the line. However, in order to care for the key workers we love effectively, we also need to be taking care of ourselves and our own mental health.
You can’t pour from an empty cup! Here are some tips to keep the cup full.
Don’t feel guilty - it’s okay to be stressed
It’s okay to be stressed – the person you love is in danger. Your whole life has been turned upside down. You’re not being selfish.
Accept your feelings so you can deal with them. If you’re scared of unloading on your key worker, then share your feelings with someone close to you who you trust. Making room for your feelings is important for staying on top of your mental health.
Manage your intake of information
This is not only exhausting and takes up brain-space, but the information you share can also sometimes add to the anxiety of your key worker rather than diminishing it.
Instead, trust that your key worker will be getting the right information from their employers. Don’t appoint yourself as the official collector of information on their behalf. Only take in information from reputable sources that are going to give you practical guidance rather than make you worry.
Stay meaningfully connected
Meaningful connections (like having a really good conversation once a week) make us feel stronger, braver and more in touch with those we love. Lip service connection (like checking someone’s Facebook or Twitter feeds) makes us feel worried and anxious because on those platforms, we are rarely getting the full story.
If you are struggling with worrying about your key worker, make sure you carve out a dedicated connection time when you can really spend time together and catch up properly. This is much healthier as opposed to indulging in a drip-feed of information that might just feed your worry.
Do things with your key worker that have nothing to do with the virus
When we are anxious about someone in a dangerous situation, we often feel the need to learn as much as we can about it; believing that if we understand it then we will be able to help protect them.
This isn’t true.
All you are doing is burdening yourself with the knowledge that you might then dwell on obsessively. Staying connected is important, and if your key worker needs to talk about work then let them. But the chances are, just like the rest of us, they want to talk about anything else.
So, try doing a movie hang out, or, you can both watch an episode of something on TV and then discuss it. You can even go for your daily exercise at the same time and just speak about the things you see.
This way, all the time you spend with them won’t be focused on worry. Try and just be with the person you love, enjoy them, and value them for who they are without thinking about their work.
Accept the things you cannot change, and change the things you can
There is a limit to what we can do to protect those we love.
We can wash our hands, we can practise social and physical distancing, we can be aware of others and their needs, but we can’t produce 100,000 ventilators overnight or conjure medical-grade protective gear out of thin air. We are limited, and part of protecting our mental health is accepting that.
It is also embracing the changes we can make.
So, whilst you can’t look over your loved one’s shoulder as they serve customers, look after patients or go to school to teach children, we can encourage and enact behaviours to support them, and it’s important to see the difference. Posting warnings on Facebook or painting rainbows is not going to protect our key workers, but it is supporting them. It is showing people that we care. It is showing our key worker that we care. And it is reminding ourselves that whilst there are things we must accept, there are also things that we can still do to be supportive.
Ultimately, respect the decision of your loved one
It is very likely that the reason your loved one is a key worker is because they are choosing to be. If they are a doctor or a nurse or a teacher, this is a job they have trained for and a position that they have a calling for. It is important that we remind ourselves of this when we are feeling worried. We need to remind ourselves that they have made the choice for themselves and we should trust their instincts and support them in their choice.
The likelihood is they wouldn’t rather do anything else. Your loved one is a hero, and the choice to be a hero must be respected.
For all our families of key workers – we are here for you and your family.
For all of our key workers – thank you for your daily heroism!
To send love to our NHS heroes, visit www.thanksamillionnhs.co.uk to show your support.
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.