Coronavirus has seemingly come out of nowhere and caught most of us completely off guard. Within a matter of weeks, we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty where we struggle to buy basic our weekly grocery shop, many people are working from home and we’re concerned for the health & safety of those we care about. One of the less-discussed aspects to all of this is the impact on people’s mental health, both for people who have previously had good mental health but especially for those living with conditions such as anxiety or OCD.
So what can we do to protect and support our mental health in these difficult times?
Much of mental health is fueled by the fear of the unknown and the fear of not being in control, what’s happening at the moment feeds right into both those fears so we need to focus on taking what control we can and creating a healthy acceptance of what we can’t control.
Don’t stop talking
The age-old advice when it comes to dealing with mental health issues is to talk to others, this has never been truer than it is right now. Whether you’re self-isolating or your organisation has joined one of the many to adopt a work from home approach to the business day, the knock-on effect is that we may see and hear less from those around us. This interaction is key to positive mental health because it allows us to share challenges, concerns, work through solutions and even vent off about what’s on our minds.
Living a more solitary life can make this more difficult and often lead to isolation and loneliness, 2 of the biggest risk factors when it comes to mental health. So what’s the answer?
We need to adapt to our new circumstances.
If you’re a supervisor or manager, check in with your reports more often, let them know that you’re there and that you care for their well being. It’s unlikely that you only discuss work all day when you’re in the office so don’t do it now. Chat about general things ? life, family, sports (not that there’s much on at the moment!), whatever you talk about normally. And if you’re an employee, don’t hide away and isolate yourself. Get on the phone, or even better, video calling such as Skype or Zoom and keep in touch with people. The same goes for speaking to family and friends in your downtime.
I promise your workforce will be much more effective in the long run if they’re able to communicate openly than if you expect them to sit in front of the screen for 8 hours grafting away (spoiler alert: Nobody does that!). That brings me to my next point.
Block off your time
Like I say, you’re never doing to sit in front of your monitor at 9 am and work through until 5 pm with a 30-minute lunch break. It’s just not realistic and it’s mind-numbingly boring. We’re not designed to focus our attention for that long and it just doesn’t work. Personally, I work in 1 or 2-hour blocks, putting in solid, focused, distraction-free work and then give myself an hour off. I find that when working like this I can get more achieved in those 2 hours than I would in 6 hours of distracted, unfocused work.
Even better, block off your time further than that. Just as an example:
- 30 minutes dealing with emails and enquiries
- 1 hour creating that report/presentation/spreadsheet etc etc
- 30 minutes admin or boring but essential stuff
- 30 minutes communicating with people ? clients, colleagues etc
- 1-hour break ? Downtime is as important as work time. Give yourself sufficient rest and so something different.
- Repeat as necessary
This may not work for everyone so mix it up, tweak it to suit you and your work. I promise you that if you do this right, you’ll be much more productive than just sitting in front of your computer, reacting to whatever is thrown at you in a stressed panic.
Whether you already exercise or not, now is a brilliant time to get started. And not just because it’s good for our physical health, we all know that already. But it can be brilliant for your physical health, in fact, some studies show that regular exercise can be as effective at improving your mood and emotional well-being as anti-depressants. Exercise releases chemicals that boost your mood like Endorphins, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Dopamine which are all closely associated with reducing stress, increasing happiness and feeling good.
With the way things are heading, soon it may not be possible to head outside for a jog or a long walk, and that isn’t always possible for some people anyway so find something that works for you and your circumstances. Simply aim for 10-15 minutes of exercise that gets you breathing heavy and your heart rate raised.
The NHS has various plans and guides including these 10-minute workouts but find one that works for you.
Let’s face it if you’re not used to exercising it can feel like a chore but once you get started, you quickly notice the huge benefits it has on your physical and mental health.
Limit social media & news exposure
The news and social media are completely separate entities but many of us often combine them and even get our news from social media. The problem with this is much of it is unverified, sensationalist or opinion presented as fact. Even the actual news which is (hopefully!) verified, balanced and factual can be triggering for many of us because let’s face it, things are a bit grim out there now.
Being faced with constant negative news and the toxic environment found in a lot of social media can be triggering for a lot of us, especially if we experience mental health issues. It can feel like a positive move to keep in the loop and informed with what’s going on but when presented with so much negative content and the positive drowned out by the noise it’s inevitable that it’s going to have an impact. The problem is with this is it’s often designed to prey on peoples fears where people are prone to creating their own version of what’s real and the steps they need to take to protect themselves and others.
Because of this, it would be wise to limit your exposure to these things. I’m not saying block them out completely but be strict with yourself on how much you’re looking at this stuff, maybe even limit it to certain times of the day and only get your news and advice from verified resources like the NHS and the WHO.
Focus on the facts, evidence and act solely on these.
Manage your stress
OK, these are stressful times. As a new business owner whose work relies on working face to face and with groups I understand this along with many others. We can’t control the circumstances around us but we can control how we react to them. We are responsible (or response-able) for our own actions. IN other words, we are able to choose our response to these stressors. We all have a limit for what we can tolerate when it comes to stress, that limit varies from person to person but it’s there. I like to think of it as a sink with a plug in. As life happens to us (as it always will) the sink gradually fills up. If we fail to notice and act then the sink will eventually fill up and overflow. But if we find ways to let the water out then we stay below that limit and can keep going.
So what can we do to lower that stress level?
- Realize and acknowledge when stress is becoming a problem
- Build coping strategies and act on decreasing stress
- Identify what you do have control over and what you can do about it ? then do it!
- Make time for yourself to relax. Give yourself some you time
- Set small, achievable goals, list them and one-by-one tick them off
- Speak to friends, family members and colleagues. Share your concerns
- Praise acknowledge your achievements and praise yourself. Also praise others!
There’s no denying that these are challenging times but if we work together, we can make it much easier on ourselves and each other and look after our mental health, because not only is the battle with COVID one that can be won but so is the battle with our mental health.
If you would like to learn more about how I work with organisations to create, implement and maintain workplace wellbeing drop me an email at Pete@PeteWhiteConsulting.co.uk