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Locked down but not bottled up: Managing your mental health during lockdown

According to data from the ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign, more than 4 in 5 adults are worried about the effect that coronavirus is having on their life right now, with more than half saying it has affected their wellbeing and nearly half reporting high levels of anxiety. During this crisis, the onus is on employers to go above and beyond when it comes to the mental health of staff.

The majority of organisations, including our own, already started to shift into remote working prior to the official lockdown. Given that the government has extended the lockdown for another three weeks, it is even more crucial that businesses focus on their approach to mental health. Unchecked self-isolation can have long-lasting trauma, heightening the risk on an individual’s mental health. The research found 46% of respondents feel isolated, while just over one-third (36%) are concerned about the long-term impacts that the long period of working from home can have on their mental health.

Whilst a crisis of this scale is unprecedented, corporate and personal crises can happen all the time in business, whether that is the passing of a loved one, break down of a relationship or more macro level situations like 9/11 and the financial crash which triggered post-event stress and anxiety. In this particular instance, it becomes harder to cope when we are caged and enforced to maintain distance from others.

Humans are social creatures but we are living in times where a hug and a handshake can be infectious. The thought of socially distancing ourselves from loved ones and colleagues for prolonged periods of time is simply not natural. Although self-isolation protects us from spreading the virus, it exacerbates feelings of anxiety and depression.

Here are a few tips, based on my own personal experience as a mental health first aider, to encourage people not to bottle up their emotions during these trying times. Even though it may feel like we’re trapped in our own bubbles, it’s important to ensure that everyone feels as supported and connected as possible.

 

Breaking the silence

Organisations such as Mental health UK& NHSare offering general support for people around the issue of mental health. However, it is up to individual employers and organisations to monitor and look out for the signs within their own teams and provide the right support, guidance and intervene if necessary. During this pandemic, every business must have a designated individual or team that is responsible for thinking about mental health first aid.

Throughout the lockdown there will be highs and lows which can trigger a fear, flight or fight response. It’s the responsibility of employers to understand the nuances between stress, anxiety and someone having a bad day, against someone who is suffering from depression, so appropriate intervention can be taken.

A simple five-step approach to help people in times of crisis known as ALGEE from Mental Health First Aid Englandis incredibly powerful.

  • Approach people; assess and assist
  • Listen non-judgmentally and find out how they are feeling
  • Give support and information that is positive
  • Encourage professional help if needed
  • Encourage outreach to family or friends or other support structures

 

Blocking out time to talk with each other and ensure that everyone is OK should be a key priority for all leaders. These are times of high stress, so it’s really important to believe that you have the support and are not alone in how you feel.

As you cannot simply go over to a colleagues’ desk, it’s so important to use the resources available to compensate for that. A simple video stand-up in the morning with your team is an easy way to get a sense of everyone’s mood and it sets a tone of achievement and a focus for the day. Simple initiatives like leaders keeping open a video channel or social events, such as virtual drinks at the end of the week, create a space where we can chat, share and remain human.

When talking and listening to each other, the gut instinct is to problem solve when there is an issue. However, mental health awareness training teaches you to listen, non-judgmentally, to ensure that the person feels heard. This process is a great deal more therapeutic than trying to offer specific clever solutions.

 

Creating a work culture at home

Social distancing, self-isolating and remote working have disrupted our usual routine. The thought of people calling it the ‘new normal’ can lead a lot of people to despair. In a lot of cases, many employees are working from home for the first time. With no commute into work, stick to your normal morning routine to get into work mode. That means having a shower and getting dressed, rather than spending the day in your pyjamas.

Setting up a designated workspace in your house will mentally prepare you for work and allow you to structure your day. This does not need to be in one place, try moving around as it will help with your posture and help you concentrate. A clear desk equals a clear mind so make sure you stay organised and do not have clutter in your work zone.

At a time when your home has become your primary office, it’s important to create clear boundaries between work and other aspects of life and maintain a healthy work-life balance. With every day bleeding into the next, it’s hard to keep track of what day we are on and this exacerbates the strain on a person’s mental state.

Uncertainty breeds anxiety and stress both mentally, physically and financially. Although we do not know what’s happening with COVID-19, there are certain things in our life which we can control. Traditional working hours have been blurred and so employers should encourage employees to stick to a routine and separate “work” time from “home” time. That means taking lunch breaks, switching off during the weekend to help maintain morale and productivity. Screen times across all devices have skyrocketed, so it is equally important to ensure we take the time to unplug from our devices and disconnect when we can.

Prolonged periods of time in isolation can mean employees lose that sense of being part of a team. It’s important for employers and managers to maintain a culture of open communication so employees don’t feel alone – a case of having their “virtual” door always open if an employee wants to discuss anything. Creating a Culture Club can also be powerful so employees can get involved in social activities remotely, which is really important for anyone who lives alone.

As employers, it’s important to recognise different people’s personal circumstances and understand the challenges in different households. Whether you’re in  shared housing or looking after children, everyone faces contrasting issues and worries. Managers should promote flexibility and regular communication to ensure employees are not feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

 

Connecting your mind & body

My work as a mental health first aider stemmed from training to be an emergency first responder to support being a scuba diving instructor. Through my experience of delivering primary and secondary care, it quickly became clear that mental health was connected to physical recovery. Different coping strategies will work for different people and this will come from individual passions such as painting, baking or sewing. Find something that brings you joy and distracts you from the current situation. Despite spending a lot of our time at home, I spend my government-approved “yard” time to go running. Listening to music can help drown out the niggling inner voice of doubt and fear we all have at times. Some people use mindfulness apps, like Headspace and Calm, which are also great and meditation to train the mind to be more tranquil.

The impact of the lockdown will not vanish once we are allowed to go outside again. Experts have warned it will have an enduring impact for years to come, so it’s important to make sure that these issues do not fester. We know it’s not ideal, having to continue business as usual whilst working from home and being shut off from colleagues. However, in these times of hardship, it is the trials and tribulations that bring people closer together. We will all have our ups and down but socially distancing shouldn’t mean we emotionally distance ourselves from family, friends and colleagues. Every mind matters and every mind is different. All we need to do is be there and listen.

 

Read more from Mental Health First Aid Englandfor mental health resources for remote working.

 

By David Keene, Chief Marketing Officer at Funding Options

Author

  • Chief Marketing Officer and Board Member at Funding Options, ex-Google

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