So you are an essential worker. Some will see you as “lucky” to be able to work. Others may believe it is better if you “just stay home regardless.” You may go back and forth between feeling grateful, happy, anxious, guilty, angry, and scared. Like many things in life, there are both good and bad things that come with being an essential worker. This post is aimed at honoring how you may feel, while also educating others who may not realize the pressures that our essential workers are experiencing. Please know, I want to honor the work each of you is doing. Please comment below if I missed anything!
The good about being an essential worker
You have a job.
As we are in this time of uncertainty, there is something so very reassuring about having a job and knowing a paycheck is coming. Most of us can remain grateful for our jobs, knowing we may have additional stressors if we weren’t essential workers. Financial continuity may give us the space to breathe and ease of mind to sleep just a little bit more restfully at night.
Having a job also gives us access to some additional co-workers or adult interaction that we may otherwise be craving. Many non-essential workers are realizing how important the social connections at their job really are. We recognize that although our social distancing at work makes the relationships at work somewhat different, we still appreciate having people around while we are working.
You have a somewhat routine.
Going to work keeps us in some form of routine while we are in this state of quarantine. The routine of our job may provide structure and order during a time that is otherwise way out of our control. And for most of us, that feels better. To feel like we have some sort of control over something in our lives gives us a sense of security and safety. Going to work, driving along the same route you are accustomed to, arriving and checking tasks off of your work to-do list may provide a sense of normalcy.
You get out of the house.
For those social butterflies and extroverts, quarantine (by day 28) can feel like torture. Some of us are simply dying to get out of the house and do something that isn’t just staying at home, binge-watching Netflix and eating ice cream. J Having a place that you have to go outside of the house brings about a change in the mundane. A change in the “same ole, same ole” routine of quarantine. It also gives you a reason to shower and look so much nicer than the rest of us in sweats (not really knowing if our pants will still fit later! J)
You are dedicating your time so the rest of us can have our necessities (and conveniences).
Joking aside, I want to be really sure we spend a moment realizing how truly dedicated you are for going to work so the rest of us can have the things we need/want. Each time I have gone out, I have made an intentional effort to truly thank the people who are working so I can get my groceries, my take-out food, and my toiletries. Your dedication is not unseen. If you hear nothing else from this post, please, please hear that. We ALL appreciate everything you do to keep our society running. You really are the heroes in the history books during this time.
Even if some customers don’t show their appreciation, know that their negativity is probably not about you. Maybe that one person was just downright rude. Again, that is probably not about you. So much anxiety, fear, and worry are swirling around. Even just seeing people in masks and gloves in public evokes strong negative emotions. Please know we see your dedication, even if some others do not.
The bad about being an essential worker
You have a job (while others don’t).
I have not met an essential worker who hasn’t had the added guilt of “others” who don’t have a job. Yes, we are thankful we have a job. But we may also have thoughts like: “Well, others probably need this job more than I do.” “I hope people realize how much I need this job, too.” “I feel bad that ______ lost their job and I still have mine.” “Maybe I should tell my boss to let someone else have my job…but I really need the income.” “Maybe I shouldn’t be so selfish.” “______ was so crushed that they lost their job. I better never complain about my job and just be grateful all the time.”
It is so hard right now to manage the conflicting emotions and thoughts we may be experiencing. Here is a quick tip that may be helpful: if you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, take a moment to physically stop and take a breath. From there, say out loud (yes…out loud! Don’t worry if others are around!) one statement that can be a productive truth for your current negative thought. Here are a couple examples:
- If your unhelpful thought is that “others probably need this job more than I do.” After your physical pause and breath, you might say out loud to yourself, “Although others may need a job, I am also as worthy of having a job. I also need a job. It doesn’t make me better than them, but it also doesn’t undermine my needs either.”
- If your unhelpful thought is “I feel bad that my coworker lost their job.” Again, after your pause and breath, you might say out loud to yourself, “I can be sad for my coworker, but also glad for myself. It is sad that they lost their job, and I can be both sad and happy that I have mine and that still makes me a good person.”
You have a somewhat routine (that is totally different than it used to be).
Yes, you have a routine that is somewhat like what it used to be. But in other ways, it is totally different. Your drive to work may include needing to carry an “official letter” giving you permission to be on the road. Your time at work may be continually interrupted by increased sanitation efforts or anxious questions from customers. The overall aura of your job may be totally different. The absence of the usual hustle-and-bustle may feel like an eerie silence. Seeing everyone wearing masks and gloves may bring about so many fears in you that you were not even aware existed. So yes, you have a routine of getting in your car and driving to the office, but things are anything but routine right now.
You get out of the house (and leave your children at home, potentially expose them to the virus).
This may be the hardest part of being an essential worker. True, essential workers are able to get out of the house. However, our essential workers also carry the weight of the risks associated with leaving the house. Primarily, the fear of bringing home the virus to loved ones who are quarantined at home. This fear may fluctuate between simple worries about germs to overwhelming fear that someone near to them may die. This unseen anxiety may also feel especially hard because it is unseen by others who do not experience it. In other words, other people who don’t leave the house may not realize how heavy those fears really are.
While non-essential workers are posting their “kids-are-driving-me-crazy” posts on social media, our essential workers are feeling the empty sadness of leaving kids at home. They are getting misty-eyed after video calls home and having swirling thoughts of “why did I even come to work today?!?” On the other side of that, their kids are also feeling lonely and angry that their parents aren’t able to stay home. All-in-all, the sacrifice of our essential workers and their families cannot be understated.
Although technology has made it extraordinarily more convenient to stay connected to our loved ones at home, other ideas for helping with having kids at home may include:
- A tangible connection item that you both keep with you while you are apart. This is ideally something that is small enough to fit in your pocket and the child’s connection item is big enough to fit in their hand. For example: two Lego creations that you make together, or a stuffed bear and the tiny scarf that goes around the bear, or two matching coins. The point here is not that it needs to be a specific tangible thing. The bigger connection here is that when you see that tangible thing, it reminds you of your child – and your child can have the reminder of you.
- A scheduled text message with positive thoughts for your child. This may be particularly important for our older kids. Two or three times while you are away, you can send a quick text that reminds them you are thinking of them, are missing them, and love them.
You are dedicating your time so the rest of us can have our necessities and conveniences (which may bring about anger, frustration, and resentment).
If I imagine being on the front lines as an essential worker, I can think of many situations that would leave me feeling angry and resentful. I can picture stocking shelves with essential items only to be shouted at when certain items aren’t available. I can imagine cooking food at a restaurant for a take-out order when the customer grumpily takes his food that he perceives isn’t hot enough. I can imagine rudeness and irritability from customers all while I was giving up time from my family, risking my own health so other people can have what they need. And THAT is how I get treated?!?
If you have found yourself feeling angry, frustrated, or resentful of customers, please don’t give up hope. As I mentioned before, we DO need you. We value you. We appreciate you. Perhaps you could write a little reminder of that on your inner wrist – I am valued – that you glance at from time to time when things become challenging. For that matter, whatever mantra you need that day – write that mantra on your arm as you go out. “I can do hard things.” “I can stay safe.” “I am doing what is right.” “My kids mean the most to me.” “Kindness always prevails.”
I hope that as you have read the good and the bad for our essential workers, you may find connection and normalcy in those feelings. If you are a non-essential worker, I hope you will also find additional empathy and creative ways to show that others matter during this time.
How are you finding hope as an essential worker?