Essential workers: How to keep yourself and loved ones safe

Don’t bring your work home with you, so the saying goes. It’s a catchy way to remind you to keep your work separate from your private life. It has traditionally been a mental health call to action, but it has taken on a whole new meaning for essential workers during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

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Essential workers risk exposure to COVID-19 every time they report for duty, and they risk bringing the virus home and exposing their family to risk every time they return home when their shift is done. It’s a legitimate concern, and it can add to the stress essential workers feel as they do their part.

That’s why it’s important for essential workers to monitor and take care of both their mental and physical well-being. The tips provide some helpful guidance.

At work

Keep personal items away from work areas.

Personal items, including your cell phone, should be stored in your locker or break room, away from areas where they can come into contact with other people. This reduces the likelihood of these items becoming contaminated. Also, always wash your hands before touching your phone, and disinfect your phone often – at least daily. 

Check in with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings.

Let go of what you can. Understand it’s natural to feel what you are feeling – worry, joy, hope, anxiety and sadness. Pausing for a moment of prayer can help you center yourself and find your strength through faith.

Consider three things that went well today.

Be proud of the service you provided today. Remind yourself that despite obstacles or frustrations, you are doing something important to a lot of people.

Check on your fellow workers before you leave.

Are they OK? Listen, share stories and swap compliments. If someone needs more support, help them find the services they need. Helping each other is how we will all get through this.

Are you OK?

Your leaders and fellow workers are there to listen and support you, as well. Your well-being is important, so don’t hesitate to seek out help, even if you simply need someone to extend an ear.

Wash your hands.

Clean your hands before leaving work with soap and water, washing up to your elbows.

At home

Keep germs out of your home.

Before you enter your home, follow these steps.

  • Have a pair of house shoes by the door to change into, and set up a place to isolate any items that cannot be washed and you do not want to bring indoors.
  • Immediately remove your clothing and place it in a specially designated hamper by the door. Use a garbage bag to line the hamper, and wash the clothes immediately when you get inside using the warmest water temperature recommended on the clothing label.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands and wipe down your phone.
  • Some health care professionals suggest showering immediately upon returning home, as well, to make sure no dangerous germs are still on your body.

Meet your basic needs.

Be sure to eat, drink and sleep regularly.

Take breaks.

Give yourself a rest from thinking about work. Take a walk, listen to music, read a book or talk with a friend.

Limit media exposure to stories that elevate your fear.

Stay informed but know your limits for imagery and worrisome messages that increase your stress. Exceeding limits can harm your overall well-being and reduce your personal and professional effectiveness.

Monitor your health.

Monitor yourself for any symptoms of COVID-19 and take your temperature twice per day. If you have a fever or are not feeling well, please do not go to work. Consider visiting and using Clare, the digital assistant in the lower right corner, to help you navigate your next steps.

While you work to protect the physical health of yourself and those around you, remember to take care of your mental health, too. OSF SilverCloud is an online tool that provides anytime digital access to a therapy program with supportive content for depression, anxiety and stress.

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: COVID-19, General, Mental Health