Now more than ever before it is so important that we have an awareness of mental health, mental illness and how best to enhance our wellbeing. The effects of the pandemic will have impacted every single one of us in some way. And the reasons will be varied from fear of catching the virus; the effects of isolation; juggling home and work and the change in family dynamics; worries about will my business survive this? The list is endless. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions prior to Covid-19 will not only be finding it harder to cope but also will have a bigger challenge in receiving support due to restrictions of lockdown. There is also the shaking of the foundations of those who have previously been well or recovering.
A Business Perspective
Mental health awareness is important now more than ever before to recognise the signs early; enabling us to acknowledge we need help, and then seek the treatment that is needed as early intervention will lead to a quicker recovery. It’s important to be able to think about things from another person’s perspective.
The impact on many business owners is enormous. Owning your own business can be pressurised enough, but when you throw in endless cash forecasting to try to predict if you will survive, having to complete additional forms and applications for grants, ensuring you furlough staff correctly, and then you have to pick up the additional workload of furloughed staff, that is before your exhausted mind has even begun to think about how emotional you will feel if you have to make redundancies.
Now, there is the additional pressure of health and safety requirements in returning to the workplace and the following of procedures to keep everyone safe. The responsibilities of a business owner have been hugely amplified.
An Employees Perspective
Employees have been hit hard. People who have been made redundant may be feeling rejected and their self-esteem may have taken a beating, even though they haven’t done anything wrong or deserved to lose their job. Furloughed staff may be feeling guilty that they are not at work and colleagues are doing their work plus might be experiencing feelings of guilt and the anxiety of will they have a job.
Workers who have worked through lock down could be feeling exhausted and potentially there could be feelings of resentment towards those who have been furloughed. Job security is a worry for many, and having job security and knowing that you will be able to provide is a fundamental element to meet our basic needs.
People seem to mainly be split into two camps; those who are not following guidelines on social distancing, and those who have a very real fear of contracting Covid-19 and this will impact on their socialisation decisions and behaviours. It is normal to feel anxiety around socialising at this point too
Family dynamics at home have changed. Entire families constantly being under the same roof for such a long time has been a pressure. Juggling who is on a Zoom meeting, who is looking after the kids or home schooling has been tough.
Experts have warned that mothers responsible for 90-100% of childcare has increased from 27% to 45% during lockdown. Researchers from the University of Sussex have said 72% of women interviewed found themselves as the ‘default’ parent for all or most of lockdown with 70% being completely or mostly responsible for home schooling.
More women are now contemplating leaving their workplace due to the increase in the family demands that Covid-19 has placed. 14% of women surveyed said that they were now having to consider quitting their paid employment as a result.
So why is this worthy of mentioning? Alongside these statistics there is anecdotal evidence that some women waking at 5am to work until 9am just to get a chunk of their working day completed before their caring responsibilities for the day began. 73% of mothers working from home said it was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’. Fears that participating less at work would reduce the likelihood of being promoted in the future. Those who had been furloughed fearing they will be in the firing line when redundancies are made.
All of this is going to take its toll on mental health. The reality is that a lot of this is thought. And where we are fearful it can distort our thought processes. Our thought becomes our reality as it starts to influence our behaviours and decision making.
If our wellbeing is not in a good place it can make us feel less confident, have low self-esteem and overall be far less resilient. Perceiving the thing that we are fearful of much larger than our perception of our ability to cope.
It is important that we take the time to educate ourselves on ways to improve our wellbeing which, when in a good place, can actually help to protect us from the onset of mental illness. Positive wellbeing leaves us feeling confident, having a positive outlook on life and experiencing much higher levels of self-esteem. This alters our perception of our coping abilities favourably and because we think we can, more often than not we do cope. Here I want to share some top tips for protecting your mental health
- Find a course, read up, do some research on mental health awareness. Understand the signs and the best ways to protect and seek help. This isn’t only about recognising the signs in others and encouraging them; this is about you having that self-awareness too. This is an area that we specialise in, whether that be for individuals wanting to learn more, or for us to train a larger group within an organisation. See how we can help you at flourishinmind.co.uk
- Don’t hold back in getting help – it’s important. Things can escalate and your mental health can deteriorate quickly. Early intervention usually leads to a quicker recovery.
- Drink lots of water. The brain is 73% water. When we are dehydrated it can make us feel tired, irritable and lose concentration exacerbating any poor mental health signs we may already be experiencing.
- Fill your body with food that will help fill you with goodness and energy. It might feel easier and quicker to throw some junk food down your neck if you’re in a hurry, but your body won’t thank you for it in the long run.
- Exercise is essential and is an instant mood booster. Remember, if you exercise not too close to bedtime, it will help you sleep as well as keeping you fit too.
- Proactively work on your work life or life work balance. Make sure you have got clear boundaries in place. Get up and get dressed as if you were heading to work. Plan your day and include breaks. Have a cut off time and start trigger behaviours so your brain knows to switch off from work (for example, turn your laptop off, put work away in a drawer, go for a walk around the block and enter your home as though returning from work.
- Take time for self-care. It’s more important now than ever that you take time out to do things you enjoy and can relax. Whether it be reading, taking a bath, calling a friend, watching a Netflix series, take time for you. While your mind is occupied doing things you love it isn’t free to be worrying about the future. Self-care isn’t selfish. It is essential. And there is only you that can do it for you. Self-care helps to build resilience and protect your mind from developing a mental health condition.
- Seek clarity or provide clarity if you are a manager or business owner. Uncertainty can very often lead to anxiety because of the worries of what the future may hold. Uncertainty will always cause worry. If you’re an employee and something is ambiguous seek clarity- and put that ‘thing’ to bed, whatever it may be. Similarly, as a leader ensuring you provide that clarity and set your expectations. It really does help to put people at ease and help them to understand where they stand.
- Be kind, respectful and show empathy. Accept that we are working through this all at our own pace and the dynamics for each of us is very different. You can never know fully what is going on with another person. And when we say. ‘be kind’ it’s far easier to be kind to someone who is nice. Our state of mind influences behaviours and responses, and with this in mind just remember that being kind is arguably more important to someone who isn’t displaying desirable characteristics because they’re more likely to need the kindness. Phrases like “sleep on it you’ll feel better in the morning” “what have you got to be worried about” “well at least….” All of these are not helpful. Try “How are you feeling?” “What can I do to help?” “how long have you felt like this” are much better ways of approaching the conversation. And accepting the persons response for what it is.
- Understand the resources that are available to help. Hubofhope.co.uk is a fabulous starting point. It is a directory of local organisations to ensure there is always someone to talk to which is organised by postcode area. Full opening times are provided to ensure people aren’t left calling out to an empty line. Samaritans offer non-judgemental support 24/7 116123. Or check out our simple 1 pager which collates further support available at https://flourishinmind.co.uk/helpful-resources
Times are tough right now. And whatever you are feeling is valid. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be thinking or feeling a certain way. What we can influence is our focus on our self-care and wellbeing and do the best we can. And doing so can really help to protect us from the onset of mental health conditions further down the line. It may be that those thoughts or feelings are not shifting. And I urge you to seek help. Get that professional help sooner rather than later. These things are much easier with quicker intervention and that professional support to help you on the road to recovery. And finally, be kind. To yourself and to others. You often don’t know the full extent of what an individual has going on so don’t judge. As with yourself, be accepting of who they are and validate their thoughts and feelings without expressing judgement. Someone just to listen can be the biggest comfort to someone who is struggling. Let’s be there for each other.
Jennifer Rawlinson, Director, Flourish in Mind Ltd