For the November 2020 issue of Railnews, we paused to reflect on how to recognise and manage stress during this particularly challenging year.

You can read the article below.

Each day brings new challenges and positive moments that affect our mental wellbeing. With the Covid-19 pandemic, this year has been the perfect storm of confusion and uncertainty.

Whether it's mixed, fast-changing messaging about how to protect ourselves and others while doing our jobs safely, caring for our family and juggling family commitments, returning to work or something else: we have a lot on our minds. Many people are also dealing with loss and grief.

We know to look out for family, friends and colleagues, and to be kind as we don't know what others are going through. On the surface, stress and mental illness can seem invisible – until they are not. Without support and understanding, stress can develop into mental illness, or could negatively impact existing mental ill health.

Notice if you are experiencing changes in your own mental wellbeing. This may show up as physical effects, such as tension or stomach problems. You may behave differently, for example drinking more alcohol or eating more junk food. Negative thinking can also indicate stress, and you might become anxious, more easily upset, angry or numb.

Stress is a hazard that can affect the way we work. Colleagues may not notice something is wrong until there is an accident. Sleepless nights or worrying could lead to fatigue. Or daytime worries leave you unable to focus on a safety-critical task.

Stress can even impact us in subtler ways. Safety measures unrelated to Covid-19 may start to feel less important and it might be tempting to ignore them. But safety is the sum of many parts, even the small ones.

Seeking help

Being alert to how we feel physically and emotionally can help to prevent accidents by recognising when it might affect our work, especially in safety-critical and operational roles. It can be difficult to speak up though.

You may be able to get in touch with your occupational health team or employee assistance programme (EAP) if your employer has one, so you can speak to a specialist about practical or emotional issues, including family, debt, substance abuse, relationships, work or health.

Your line manager could offer practical support or directly address any health, safety or wellbeing concerns.

We can't help you with your individual mental health or stress issues, or offer advice, but if there are health and safety concerns you'd prefer to raise in confidence you can speak to us.

For example: if you think your work environment risks creating stress or mental health problems for employees, or where you feel that stress or mental health problems are making your workplace feel less safe, creating hazards such as fatigue or distraction.

We will share your concern with your employer so that they can respond, but we will never identify you. You will also be able to respond to your employer confidentially with feedback and questions.

Our helpline has been receiving many more emotional calls, and our trained analysts are keen to help you constructively. We hope that contacting us gives you some peace of mind, knowing that by speaking up you have one less thing to worry about and you are doing the right thing.

Outside work, your GP can help you if you are finding it difficult to manage or address stress and worries. Independent services such as Samaritans and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) may be helpful.

Our Frontline offers 24/7 support to essential workers.

Speaking to friends and family can take your mind off things – sharing a laugh is great for wellbeing.

Simply going for a walk or exercising can give you a fresh perspective. Many people also find that spending less time on their smartphone helps them to feel better, and it can be a good idea to stop following the news for a while if it is contributing to your stress.

Don't be afraid to take care of yourself, to stay well and stay safe.