Mental health diary: the life of a supermarket worker during the pandemic

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This Mental Health Awareness Week, Stylist is sharing mental health diaries from key workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. Here, supermarket worker Heidi shares a glimpse into a day in her life.

My name is Heidi and I’m a 31-year-old Assistant Team Manager at Waitrose Twyford. My husband Matt is a firefighter and my mum works part-time in the shop with me. I’ve been working shifts in the shop and trying my best to keep my customers safe while meeting their needs at the store. In these difficult times, I find it hard to switch off when I’m not at work, so I’ve taken up some different projects like gardening, which I’m finding really therapeutic.

5.40am: I wake up at 5.40am as I’m on the early shift. I’ll typically get up, have a shower and get dressed and then I’m straight off to work. I won’t eat breakfast before I go – I’m not really an early bird so I’ll just have something on my break at work.

In the mornings my mind switches on as I get ready. There’s a lot to think about at the moment, and quite a responsibility to keep my Partners (we are called Partners as we all have a share in our business) and our customers safe. I definitely feel slightly apprehensive about going to work, but we have introduced some really important things to keep us safe. 

We have the option to wear gloves and masks or visors, but personally I’ve chosen not to. I make sure I wash my hands properly and keep a safe distance from everyone. I also remind myself daily that there are people out there who have it way harder than me. I’m grateful for the support of the Partnership through these times, and thankful for my health and for those working to keep us safe. I used to work in the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital and I’m still in contact with some of the team members there. I can only imagine what they must be going through at this time.

7am: I arrive at work. The first thing I do is have a huddle with the team – at a safe distance, of course! This is so I can check in with my team, talk about priorities for the day and make sure they are all OK. It’s really important for me to take time to speak to them, especially right now – our working and home lives have changed quite a lot so I want to support them as best I can. I’m lucky that I get to see lots of people in my job. I’m such a social person and for me, this really helps with my mental health and keeping things as normal as possible. 

Heidi is stocking plants from a local garden centre in her store.

My day is always different and we’ve had to adjust our way of working to make sure we adhere to social distancing guidelines and this new situation we find ourselves in. It has been a really busy time for all of us working in supermarkets. We’re not only doing our usual job of keeping shelves full, looking after our Partners and customers, and keeping the shop running, but we’re also doing lots in our community to try and support those who really need our help.

We have a local community group come in to shop for the isolating and vulnerable people in the village, so I help pull together donations for them. We’ve also done lots of things like a raffle to raise funds for the NHS, and pulled together care packages for those in care homes and NHS workers. It’s all part of my job to help arrange these, so I spend the morning doing that. 

12.30pm: Lunch is so important for me – I need to make sure I eat lots to keep me going throughout my day, and also take a break. Our Partner dining room has been rearranged so we can eat our lunch at a safe distance from one another, and we also have an area with chairs where we can sit and relax, read, or watch the television. I’ll often chat with my colleagues, and if I have time maybe go for a little walk if it’s nice weather. Lunch is provided free of charge, which is also a nice way the business is thanking us for coming into work.

My afternoon tasks include putting out the stock from our delivery – tinned vegetables, pasta and flour are still proving really popular! Then I might spend some time making sure we have lots of lovely flowers and plants for customers, to pick up with their weekly shop. We’re working with a local garden centre to stock some of their plants while they’re closed, so I’ll keep them watered and looking healthy. 

My mum works part-time in the shop with me, so a couple of days a week she’s here in the afternoon, which is so lovely and a way to get to see and speak to her. She works in a school too, and I do worry about her being a double key worker. I am reassured here, as she’s on a till which means she has a perspex screen and wears gloves, so it is a safe environment for her to be in.

3.15pm: Obviously the last few weeks have been really busy for me so I’m quite tired when I finish work. When I’ve taken a step back on my days off, or get messages or a thank you from customers, it’s made me realise just how important our job has become. 

"I’ve recently taken an interest in gardening, and find that it is actually really therapeutic."

My husband is a fireman, so he’s a key worker doing shift work too. It’s lovely when we both get a day off or evening together and it’s more important than ever for us to have some downtime and relax. So we’ve been spending the sunny evenings in our garden, cooking on the barbecue, making sure we eat healthily and also going for a run or doing exercise on our days off. We’ve also been video calling our family, which keeps us smiling, especially with our grandparents.

I’d happily say that in the current situation I find it hard to switch off. My mind is often whirring with what’s gone on that day and what I need to do for tomorrow, as well as my home life. I really do care about what I do and my team, so it’s difficult to remove yourself from that. I try to keep my mind occupied by having ongoing projects – for example, I’ve recently taken an interest in gardening, which I never have before, and find that it is actually really therapeutic. I also try to make a conscious effort not to check work emails in the evening to allow me to enjoy time with my husband. 

8pm: By the end of the day, I’ll cook some dinner, which is nice when we’re both at home as it’s sometimes harder to get the energy to cook just for myself. Luckily, working at Waitrose, I can grab something when I’m leaving work.

The thought I have the most is actually how kind people are being. I can’t tell you how grateful all our customers are, and just how much it means to receive a thank you from them. We’ve had so many letters and chocolates, and customers sharing their stories with us, which really makes the hard days worth it. We had a seven-year-old boy write us a letter the other week, thanking us and asking us how we are doing. It meant so much that he worried about us and how we are feeling. Yes, it has been a challenging few weeks, but this job really is so incredibly rewarding right now, so it makes me feel really proud to be a Partner at Waitrose. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines here

Illustration: May van Millingen

Other images: Unsplash

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