How to navigate prolonged exposure to uncertainties.
Maintaining psychological wellbeing during this prolonged exposure to COVID-19 can be challenging. If you or your employees experience several of the below mentioned warning signs over a longer period of time, you might want to seek assistance:
· Loss of work motivation. A typical sign is when tasks that used to make you feel enthusiastic, no longer evokes a similar response.
· Feeling overwhelmed with tasks to finish. Difficulties in an ability to stop or control worrying thoughts, leading to feelings of helplessness.
· Becoming short tempered. This anger response is frequently directed towards innocent bystanders, e.g. taxi drivers, shop assistants, children, partner or colleagues. Alternatively, you are increasingly more sensitive and easily led to tears.
· Changes in cognitive function, such as a loss of sharpness and focus leading to reduced work productivity and difficulties in making sound and logical decisions.
· Behavioural changes such as a loss of appetite, overeating, increased intake of alcohol or other substances, insomnia or difficulties to relax or finding enjoyment in activities you used to engage in. Some people start to avoid social situations, e.g. lunch with colleagues, meeting friends, etc.
· Physical changes, such as reduced immune function leading to frequent illness, head/muscle/back ache, teeth grinding, an upset stomach or stomach pain.
Photograph by: Nelly Antoniaudo via Unsplash
Personal coping strategies
Working from home during a prolonged period of time naturally comes with its own set of challenges. A large proportion of staff are currently suffering from feelings of loneliness and a sense of being isolated. Reaching out to friends, colleagues, family members, or even strangers via any means available to you, can assist in regaining a sense of connection. Exercising control in an otherwise uncertain world can bring about a feeling of calm. You can bring back a sense of belonging through messaging, creating WhatsApp groups, writing emails to old friends or using Face Time/Skype.
Having a dedicated work space, preferably where you are able to close the door and be distanced from your bedroom can be beneficial in keeping work and relaxation areas separate. Try to keep to a regular routine incorporating frequent breaks and opportunities to go outside for a walk. If you are juggling the management of home schooling children as well as working, create clear boundaries where you let people know when you are available or busy. These boundaries are important to communicate to work colleagues and managers as well. It is also vital to reduce and challenge any negative self-talk of not being good enough. Remind yourself that you are currently experiencing a challenging time and you are doing the best you can under these difficult circumstances.
Physical health can have a substantial impact on your psychological wellbeing. Make sure you are prioritising healthy nutrition, hydration, sleep, relaxation and keeping physically active. Try to incorporate all these elements into your daily routine, even if it’s only for a brief period of time, e.g. a five min meditation, writing in a journal, reading a book or listening to a short piece of music. If the activities you used to engage in are currently impossible to get involved in, imagine alternative ways of adapting these or explore a completely new activity.
Supporting your employees
Employers can support their staff through a wide range of activities. Building in more flexibility in working practises enables employees to balance the caring for elderly or children with work. Adapting working hours or even allowing temporary job sharing can assist in balancing conflicting demands and avoiding busy commuting times.
Companies can also offer specialist online learning around wellness (mental health) to their staff. In order to make working at home easier and healthier, companies can assist with resources and training. Upskilling employees through online training programmes can prove encouraging to their individual professional development.
Employers can provide access to external employee assistance programmes (EAP’s) in person or online. It is also important to keep an open line of communication with regular catch ups between staff members and to introduce online social events to keep the human connection going. Encourage teams to collaborate and connect using online tools to update each other on their progress. Keep boundaries clear to avoid staff working too long hours, so they do not feel like they have to be accessible at all times. Another way companies can assist is to change the annual leave calendar to let some days be taken over to the following year.
If you are struggling during this challenging time, please don't hesitate to contact a health professional. You can find details in the resource section of this website.