In a press
briefing some months back, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO)
discussed the challenges that the world is facing in terms of mental and
psychological health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
and isolation measures, and the closure of schools and workplaces, are
particularly challenging for us all, as they affect what we love to do, where
we want to be, and who we want to be with,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s
regional director for Europe, in his opening remarks.
absolutely natural for each of us to feel stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness
during this time. At [the] WHO, we consider effects on our mental health and
psychological well-being as being very important consequences of COVID-19,” he
As people all
around the world find themselves working from home or being home-schooled; unable
to travel even down the street to visit friends or family, staying mentally
healthy could become increasingly difficult for many.
what can we as individuals, as well as society at large, do to preserve mental
well-being and cope with stressors such as anxiety and loneliness?
MEDICAL NEWS TODAY in a recent article reached
out to two mental health advocates: Business Neurolinguistic programming
practitioner and mental health trainer Tania Diggory, founder and director of Calmer,
and leadership coach and mental health first aid instructor Kat Hounsell,
founder of everyday
people to share their perspectives on the challenges of mental
health particularly in these times.
They both suggest some best practice
tips for maintaining good mental health that Diggory and Hounsell suggested, as
well as bring into focus the official advice offered by experts from the WHO.
Unique challenges of working from home
Working from home
may seem like the dream set-up for some, as it offers the possibility to tap
into that latent creativity from the comfort of a cozy, familiar environment.
However, it can
also bring a unique set of challenges especially as an enforced measure.
“While being able
to work from home can empower and up-level our working life, if taken to the
extreme, we end up being switched on the whole time,” Diggory said.
“In many cases, the boundaries
between home life and work life can become blurred, and these boundaries are
what enable us to stay healthy and well,” she cautioned.
enforced “work from home” situation, people may end up continuously sharing a
space with other family members, and they may start to feel as though they have
to attend to both domestic tasks and work assignments at the same time.
of home and work life may also lead to working longer hours than usual.
“People may fall into a pattern of overworking, a sense or feeling that they
‘should’ be working long hours, to show colleagues that they are being
productive even though no one can physically see them working,” said Diggory.
people address these challenges and reduce the amount of stress that comes with
working exclusively from a home environment?
that stress levels will likely be higher for many at this time; whatever you’re
feeling is valid considering the current context,” said Hounsell.
That is why,
“when working from home, prioritizing your mindset and well-being at the start
of the day is essential,” Diggory told us.
way to set boundaries so that a person does not become overwhelmed with
competing tasks is to create a physical
space that is for work only,
where the person will not face non-work-related disruptions and interruptions.
“If you live
with family, a partner, or housemates, you could have a chat with them about
what boundaries you need to put in place in order to ensure a healthy and
productive mindset,” she suggested.
She also said that people who
share their homes with others may actually be able to benefit from the
situation by co-opting family or housemates to actively help them stay on
Diggory said, “If you struggle to take breaks throughout the day, you could use
living with others to your advantage; perhaps ask for their help in encouraging
you to take time away from your desk at lunch or for a mid-morning/afternoon
is key, Hounsell agreed. “Be kind and patient with yourself and those around
you,” she advised.
stressed the importance of maintaining other healthful habits — such as eating
regularly and sticking to a healthful diet because these are, in themselves, a
cornerstone of mental health.
“When planning your day, schedule
in eating regular nutritious meals, renew through exercise, make time to
connect with others,” and maintain good sleep hygiene, Hounsell emphasized.
mentioned the importance of maintaining good communication with both housemates
and work colleagues at this time.
“Be open with
your plans with those you live with and your team, have clear boundaries with
your non-negotiables, and be open to flexibility where your schedule may need
to adapt to support someone else,” she added.
also adjustments that employers can make to ensure that their employees do not
hit burnout mode in record time while working from home.
that there are a few questions that employers should ask themselves if they
want to help their employees maintain their well-being and remain productive.
my team members have the right physical set-up, such as equipment to do their
work remotely, platforms for online communication (including video calls), and
a comfortable chair and desk set-up?
they have meaningful connection opportunities, beyond meetings, that focus on
the work? People need time to have fun and engage in supportive chats with
colleagues just as they would in the office.
employees have an appropriate workload considering their change of
circumstances? There are many people who are working alongside home-schooling, supporting
others at risk, and self-isolating.
If the answer to
any of these questions is “no,” employers should aim to address these issues to
support their employees in achieving an adequate work mindset away from the
advised “regular check-ins and signposting to supports available, so that
everyone’s well-being is being nurtured on a daily basis,” as well as “opening
a feedback loop” to address any “communication challenges” that may appear due
to the remote work setting.
possible stumbling block when a person has to work from home for long periods
of time is effectively getting out of that “work mindset” once work is done for
That can be
tricky, especially if the person does not have access to their usual “signals”
that work is over such as their commute from the office, a regular pit stop at
the mall after work, or a quick session at the gym.
further that one way of marking the end of the work day; though this could also
apply to ending a study period, for example is to set up something akin to the
“Try using an alarm to signal the
end of your working day, choosing the hour, or even the minute, that you can
press the ‘off’ button, put down your pen, and leave the home office,” she
start and end of the working day with suggestive activities might also help.
“Plan a simple
short ritual you look forward to in order to ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out’ of your
working day,” Hounsell advised.
“It could be anything, like starting the day with a cup of tea and 10
minutes of journaling learning from yesterday, or hopes for today. Then, your
check-out could be a short scheduled call with a colleague, friend, or family
member to share your evening plans,” she suggested.
enjoyable things to do in the evenings can be a nice reward for all your hard
work, and something to look forward to each day,” Diggory noted.
also advised our readers to go easy on themselves, should this strategy not
work perfectly every time.
yourself up if work starts bleeding into the evening, instead, just stop,”
she said. “Stop, take a breath, observe what’s happening with kindness, and
proceed with intention into the next part of your evening.”
shown that loneliness is one of the world’s most significant risk factors for
premature death. If this is such a huge problem (at the best of times), what
happens now that many people’s freedom of movement is severely limited?
In the press
briefing from the World Health Organization that we highlighted above, Dr.
Aiysha Malik, the WHO’s technical officer within the Department of Mental
Health and Substance Abuse noted that some of the people most at risk of
experiencing an increased sense of loneliness and anxiety are older
individuals, as well as those already living with mental health issues.
To cope with loneliness while in relative)
physical isolation, Dr. Malik said that there are some “basic strategies that
[the WHO are]
advocating across the population.
Strategies such as
- Taking part in some form
of physical activity,
- Keeping to routines
or creating new ones,
- Engaging in activities
that give a sense of achievement
- Maintaining social connections.
staying connected may be more difficult now than ever before, Dr. Malik points
out that now is the time to explore the full potential of digital technologies
in helping us stay in touch with our loved ones.
dissecting the WHO’s position, Diggory agreed with this perspective. “As much
as an overuse of digital technology can be detrimental to our well-being, we
are truly fortunate to be living in the digital age, where it’s never been so
easy to stay connected with the people who matter to us most.”
“Where possible,” she said, “video calls are essential; they help to give that
illusion of proximity and feel like the person or people you’re talking to are
throughout the virtual press briefing, Dr. Malik repeatedly emphasized the
importance of sticking to old routines and creating new ones. This, she
explained, can help give structure to our daily lives at a time when our normal
activities are disrupted.
“Routine is very important for well-being, so if you’re
living by yourself, write a list of the people and activities that lift your
spirits; be sure to prioritize time for connecting with others and doing things
you enjoy every day. “
For those who
live on their own and are finding that enforced isolation has hit them hard,
Diggory also suggested “considering the things you enjoy doing; yet haven’t had
time to dedicate to them.”
books do you like to read?
self-care routine can you put in place to support your mind and body?
nutritious foods can you cook to boost your immune system?”
People should ask
themselves these questions and try to take this unexpected time to themselves
to focus on aspects of their lives that they may not have paid very much
attention to before.
officials also talked about how people may start experiencing increased levels
of anxiety during this uncertain time.
said that “our anxieties and fears should be acknowledged, and not ignored, but
better understood and addressed by individuals, communities, and governments.”
making all of us nervous, is how we manage and react to stressful situations
unfolding so rapidly in our lives and communities,” he continued.
shared a few personal strategies for coping with stress and anxiety:
“Personally, I am trying to stick
to what has worked for me in the past when I want to be calm, for example,
learning and practicing simple relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises,
muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation, which can all be very helpful
in alleviating mental distress.”
When MNT spoke with Diggory, she also suggested that practices such as mindfulness and
meditation can help relieve anxious thoughts.
“One of the key
factors of experiencing anxiety is a sense of feeling out of control,” she
explained. However, “the practices of mindfulness and meditations have been
scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and when practiced
regularly, can help you feel more in control of your own state.”
“We’re not always
able to control external circumstances; however, we can learn to cultivate healthful
habits where we feel in control of our personal well-being, and exercises such
as meditative breathing are an example of this.”
on to explain that since the start of the pandemic, there has been an increase
in online wellness classes, which people can easily join from the comfort of
their own homes.
stressed the fact that online classes and other resources are bringing fun and
relaxing activities straight into people’s homes.
been so amazing to witness is the booming wealth of online resources to support
people. You can go on virtual art gallery tours, watch videos of theater and
dance online, have video dinner dates with friends (this one comes tried and
tested from me), online pub quizzes, live-streamed yoga and workouts, and even The
Open University has released a multitude of free courses for keeping learning, such
an opportunity to get creative,” she said.
“And,” she added, “what’s really
great is that we can also reconnect with those hobbies and relaxation
techniques that don’t require a screen — reading, taking a bath, gardening,
listening to music, playing music, journaling, writing, arts and crafts,
cooking new recipes, stroking your pet, daydreaming as there is so much to
savor and enjoy.”
In turn, the
WHO regional director for Europe also spoke of the importance of engaging in
earnest communication at this time.
“I myself I
also try and acknowledge upsetting thoughts when they occur, and discuss them
with people around me. They are likely to have them, too, and we may be better
able to find solutions collectively,” he said.
a similar point when she spoke to MNT. She emphasized that we should all try to check in
with each other and practice our sense of empathy.
“Looking out for one another and checking in regularly to spot signs of stress or mental health issues evolving” could have a lasting impact, she suggested.
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