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Coronavirus - How Can We Protect Our Mental Health?

Coronavirus has left all of us feeling concerned about our health and the health of loved ones. The constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless.

While much of the focus on the news is practical steps to reduce the spread of the infection, such as washing hands and minimise contact, less has been said about what action you can take to look after your mental health. Several mental health campaigning organisations have now published advice about what you can do to protect your mental health over the coming weeks if you’re starting to feel stressed out by the non-stop news and speculation. These are outlined below.


Being worried is normal.
It is absolutely normal that some of us are worried, or even anxious about catching the virus, or passing it on to loved ones. Caution is sensible, but long-term stress and worry can be bad for our mental health, this is especially true for those who already have a mental health condition such as anxiety.

Taking practical steps to protect your mental health can be empowering, and can help to minimise stress. There are some very simple things we can all consider to make sure these feelings don’t take over.

Turn off news notifications on your phone
Keeping well informed is important, but constant news notifications pinging on your phone can amplify feelings of worry, and it can start to feel overwhelming.

Go into the settings of news apps on your phone and turn off the notifications, this way you can still access the information - but at a time when you are ready. It also helps to set times when you check the news - say 9am and 6pm. This way you know you are up-to-date, but minimise the time you spend reading about it.

Choose your online friends carefully
We all know someone - posting scare stories online, and often stories that are not from trusted sources so may be exaggerated or even untrue. If you feel uncomfortable with the content someone is posting, most social networking sites allow you to ‘mute’ people who you follow! This will allow you to browse through your social networks online without ramping up the stress. Usdaw has produced guidance on the impact of social media on mental health which contains a number of strategies. The guidance is available here.

Discuss your fears with someone you trust
This is important. It is understandable to feel worried given the current situation. Don’t bottle up your fears, but do think about who might be the best person to talk to.

The charity Re-think Mental Health gives this advice:

If you are feeling anxious or worried about the coronavirus then it can be good to get someone else’s point of view. Think about who you speak to - speaking to someone else who is struggling might not be best. Find somewhere quiet where you can sit down and chat openly and honestly about your feelings and your concerns. It is easy to get overwhelmed in our own pattern of negative thoughts, so talking these through can help break those cycles.

If you prefer, you can contact an emotional support service such as the Samaritans or if you are worried about your physical health you can call NHS 111.

Coping with additional work pressures
The majority of Usdaw members work in the retail industry or allied trades. Whether you are in a shop, warehouse, or driving as part of the distribution network, you may be carrying out essential work and, if you are well, you will still need to be in work at this time.

To protect staff and minimise health anxiety for all Usdaw members who are expected to remain in the workplace, Usdaw is calling on all employers to take the following precautions:
  • Handwashing facilities are accessible, and staff can use them whenever they feel it is necessary.
  • Workplaces are kept clean.
  • Measures are taken to encourage customers to practice ‘social distancing’ when shopping.
  • Hand sanitiser is available wherever possible to those who need it.
  • Staff are properly paid and not penalised if they need to take time off.

For those working in home delivery, employers have been updating their procedures to reduce the risk of infection – these measures should include leaving goods at the doorstep and not requiring customer signatures.

Usdaw has also put out statements urging the public to support retail and distribution workers.

Abuse will not be tolerated
Whilst the majority of the public have shown an incredible amount of support for the critical role that shop workers and delivery drivers are doing during this crisis, low stock and limiting purchases can sadly be a flashpoint for abuse against workers.

Your employer has a duty to keep you safe at work. Violence and abuse should never be tolerated and you should report any incident using your company procedures.

If you feel unsafe at work for any reason, you should speak to your manager and raise it with your Union rep.

Worried about money
With an increased likelihood that people will need to take sick leave, or self-isolate, plus the added stress of childcare due to closed schools and nurseries; many people are worried about money.

Anyone who needs to self-isolate who qualifies for statutory sick pay will receive sick pay from day one of their absence, some companies may also pay contractual pay. If you need to self-isolate you should contact your manager as soon as possible so they can make arrangements for sick pay for you.

If you are struggling to get into work because of child caring responsibilities you are entitled to leave, but it may not be paid. Your manager should work with you to try to find a solution - such as changing your hours or days of work. Many Usdaw members have now been classified as key workers meaning that they should be able to access school provisions.

If your workplace is temporarily closing, you will be worried about the impact of this on your income and job security. The Union can give you advice and support in this situation.

If you have any issues with absence and pay, and you feel you are not being treated fairly by your employer, contact your Usdaw rep for further advice and support.

Staying at Home
If you aren’t in work, either because your workplace is closed or you need to self-isolate, there are some helpful tips about how to cope on the BBC website.

A small minority of people can be badly affected by coronavirus, particularly older people and those with certain medical conditions. It can sometimes help to remind yourself that by staying at home, you are protecting the lives of others, as well as making sure the NHS does not get overwhelmed.

Keep your support networks going
Luckily we live in an age where it is relatively easy to stay in touch with people. Regular emails, texts and phone calls are a good idea - and if you haven’t used video messaging before - now is probably a good time to start.

Most of us already have the capacity to talk to people live using video messaging, but we often don’t need to use it. If you are self-isolating or even social-distancing video messaging can be a much needed lifeline to our friends and family.

It’s very easy to get going - if you are struggling to get connected, you probably know someone who can help. But if you don’t, there are lots of YouTube tutorials suitable for beginners. There are some ideas here.

Try to make time for yourself
Usdaw members will be some of the busiest workers in the country at the moment. It’s always difficult to make time for yourself but now it’s likely to be more difficult than ever. However all of the evidence suggests that if you can put aside even half an hour a day to do something you enjoy this can help protect your mental health.

Finally, at the end of the day, don’t forget to wind down ready for bed. Spend at least an hour winding down from your day with the television or the internet turned off. Don’t be tempted to check the internet - it will still be there in the morning!

Seek professional help if you need to:
If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Call your GP for advice, most surgeries are still accepting telephone consultations and face to face appointments where necessary.

The Samaritans
24-hour confidential, emotional support for anyone who is feeling troubled.
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 116 123 (24 hours)

Providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigning to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (9am - 6pm Monday to Friday) Text: 86463

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