Americans are anxious about the possibility of getting coronavirus. They are even more anxious about the possibility of loved ones getting it.
As frontline workers tasked with containing the coronavirus pandemic, treating people who have been infected, or providing essential services to the public, federal employees are experiencing even more stress than most people. There are fears, for example, of personal protective equipment (PPE) being in short supply and concerns about taking the virus home. Federal employees are also struggling to cope with the deaths of colleagues who contracted the virus in the line of duty.
AFGE leaders and activists have taken steps to protect federal workers from the virus, including reporting and filing OSHA complaints on a lack of PPE and safety measures. More facilities have reported receiving the needed PPE as a result of our work. And our members successfully lobbied Congress to provide emergency paid sick leave to federal workers. Our union continues to fight at every level for additional safety measures and accommodations for our members affected by COVID-19.
Still, as the number of people infected climbs, it is natural to feel anxious because so much is still unknown.
While we can’t control how the outbreak will play out, there are a few things we can do to help lessen the anxiety now. For in-depth information about how to reduce COVID-19 related stress, visit mental health pages of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , World Health Organization , National Alliance of Mental Illness , and American Psychiatric Association .
1. Develop a strategy
It is quite normal to feel anxious in the current situation. The key is to try to stay calm and develop a strategy for managing stress that works for you.
2. Keep daily routines
Maintaining daily schedules can help lessen anxiety. If you work from home, set aside a spot as your work area. Use tips from ergonomic experts to minimize strain on your body. Think about what you can accomplish and check things off your 'To Do' list.
3. Meet basic needs
Eating healthy food and getting enough sleep help optimize your ability to take care of yourself and others.
4. Limit media exposure
Obtain current information about the outbreak from trusted sources, such as the CDC at www.cdc.gov and WHO at www.who.int. Too much time on social media or news websites can lead to more anxiety.
5. Take breaks
Rest and relaxing activities can provide a helpful distraction. Mindfulness – like meditation and breathing exercises – can also reduce your stress.
6. Stay physically active
Research suggests that when we exercise, our brain releases chemicals that help us better manage stress and anxiety. So walk, stretch, dance, do yoga, or do whatever that gets you moving.
7. Stay connected with loved ones
Giving and receiving support from family, friends, and colleagues can reduce feelings of isolation. Even if you’re in self-quarantine, keep up social interaction with phone calls, text messages, or FaceTime.
8. Do meaningful things
Do things that you enjoy, like read a book, learn a new skill, create art, rearrange your living space, garden, cook something new.
9. Find a mental health community
Being in contact with people who can relate to your experiences can be helpful. Explore online support groups at NAMI (www.nami.org), for example. If the anxiety is really getting in your way, consider talking with a professional. Most agencies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefit. Check with your HR office.
10. Make sure you have enough medications
If you have an underlying health condition, make sure to have access to any medications that you are currently using.
For more information about AFGE’s response to COVID-19, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.