How increased stress is affecting essential workers

Essential workers have reported an increase in mental illness since the start of the pandemic.

Aiyonna White
9 min readJul 15, 2021


When Katrina Storton started working at a Target in Goleta, CA, her store had less community than she was used to. Workers at the store weren’t allowed to eat lunch together and she only knew the people on her team.

“We were already kind of just treated like numbers,” said Storton. “But once quarantine started and corporate told us we had to start complying to certain health codes and things of that nature, it became very clear that it was the customers who were more important than the employees.”

Katrina Storton (Photo courtesy of UC Santa Barbara)

Just a few months after she started, Storton was forced to open the store by herself. No one else came in for their shift except her manager, who she said spent the morning on the other side of the store calling other workers to see if they planned on coming in.

She was working self-checkout alone when a man demanded she scan his items for him.

“He was asking this of me while I was helping an elderly person at the register,” Storton said. “He was actually putting his fingers between me and the screen and snapping at me and telling me, ‘you have to go scan these for me.’”

Storton decided it would be easier to help the man. That’s when he demanded her employee discount.

“This man just would not give up,” she said. “He was telling me that, ‘this is America, you need to be nice to me. Shouldn’t you be nicer to me? I thought this was the land of the great’ and all this. And I just said, sir, the payment screen is right there. You can pay or you can leave. And that’s when he got really close to my face and yelled at me and told me that I had to give him a discount.”

This wouldn’t be the last time Storton dealt with an aggressive customer alone. The pandemic only made things worse for her and others across the nation. According to a study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, customers are the second most cited reason for an increase in stress for essential workers. The first reason is an increased workload. The study describes customers as “abusive.”



Aiyonna White

Freelance editor, producer, and writer writing about popular culture, race and gender.