So far 2020 has taken some unexpected turns to an unknown destination for most of us and we are only in the month of April. The rest of the year still lies ahead of us and to ensure that 2020 can still be one for the books, we must make our mental health a priority. None of this is easy. Not the social distancing, lockdown, working from home, not being able to see your family or friends, losing a loved one or even being diagnosed with Covid-19. The best we can do is take it day by day and do our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Many companies had already opened up the possibility of people being able to work remotely before Covid-19. This gave employees more flexibility and many prefer having that flexibility above a steady 9-5 job at the office. For many of us, working from home during our nationwide lockdown is a whole new ballgame. You might be confined to working in a small house or apartment and/or with family members, children, or roommates who don’t have to work from home and struggle to understand that you do. Or they might have their own work or school demands and there is a lot of pressure and adjustment for everyone to accommodate each other.
“Fear right now is just rampant because of the unknown,” says clinical psychologist Lori Whatley, Ph.D., author of Connected & Engaged: How to Manage Digital Distractions and Reconnect with the World Around You. Even settling down to focus and work is hard, she says. All the emotions that we have to deal with now, the combination of stress, anxiety, fear, doubt and other strong emotions, along with the demands of home and work life can take their toll on your mental health.
Here are some tips to keep your mental health strong during this time and even going forward after the lockdown.
Don’t ignore, but acknowledge the impact
Working from home can be more challenging than it seems, says clinical psychologist Kevin Gillliland, PsyD, executive director of Innovation 360, an outpatient group of counsellors and therapists. “Prepare to be surprised at how difficult the transition is,” he says. Your surroundings right now are completely different than what you might be used to. Your home has more distractions that you won’t have at the office. Even just by having other people living with you and also working or trying to get school work done in the same space as you.
As a result, it’s essential to be as patient as possible, says Maurya Glaude, PhD, an assistant professor at Tulane University’s School of Social Work in New Orleans. You need to adjust and make peace with the new reality now. Don’t expect perfection from yourself. Give yourself time to adjust, get comfortable, create new habits and learn from the ones that didn’t work for you today and implement better ones tomorrow. By putting more pressure on yourself because you are not performing as per usual will just prolong the adjustment. Breathe, create habits and take it day by day.
Creating a new routine
When you have a routine, it simply takes the pressure off trying to keep up with the day. Sometimes when we don’t have a routine we can easily fall into bad habits because there is no structure. You can be a bit more flexible because you might not have to travel to work or get the kids ready for school, but getting up at a decent time before work starts, getting dressed, clearing your work space, having a good breakfast, and starting work at your normal time is the best way to ensure you are productive. Ensure that you take regular breaks; your brain still needs it. Step outside for some fresh air a few times a day, stretch a bit and acknowledge your performance as your day goes on. Celebrate small victories and take it hour by hour. This will help you achieve your goals.
Limit information overload
While you already have to focus on getting your work done and keeping anxiety under control, watching the news all day and following the infected and death tolls around the world is not going to make your focus any better. If you feel you need to stay updated, then watch the news in the morning before you start work and then again at the end of your day. Limit scrolling though social media as well while you are working. All this is doing is distracting you, breaking your focus and stealing your time. Before you know a half an hour of even longer has passed and now the anxiety levels are up again because you have fallen behind on your work. It just isn’t worth it. Limit the extra and even unnecessary information to a minimum and keep your focus on the end result of each day.
Know your needs and boundaries
We are all different, and this includes your family members and loved ones living with you. Extroverts might find it difficult not to have people around them to connect with and to recharge their energy during this time. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get that face-to-face connection by using video calls, Zoom, Skype or even Facetime. Try not to just send text messages, it is not the same as seeing the person on the other side of the screen.
For the rest of us as introverts, we might enjoy having more alone time, but if your family members, kids or loved ones are constantly in your space, boundaries will have to be put in place so that they understand that you need your space.
It is also valuable to note how your energy and concentration flows throughout the day. Try to schedule your bigger or more important tasks to the time of the day when you know your energy and focus is much stronger. That way you can prevent being depleted at the end of every day.
Keep your physical and mental health a priority
The key during this time is to be constantly aware of how you feel. Make sure your stay active, be it walking, stretching, doing Pilates, push ups or high intensity workouts in your garage, garden or living room. There is always a way to get your heart rate pumping. Get some fresh air, eat healthy, try not to stuff your face out of boredom and just breathe deeply as often as you can throughout the day.
This time might not be ideal, but we always have something to be grateful for. Write a gratitude list at the beginning of your day, meditate, connect spiritually if you are a spiritual person and focus on keeping positive thoughts.
If you have struggled with your mental health in the past, and feel anxiety and depression creeping up again, evaluate how you would have normally controlled it before. Keep in mind that there is help available. Reach out to your physician, psychologist or psychiatrist so that they can listen and assist with perspective and support. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
This is certainly a great time to start getting to know yourself in a much different way than you might be used to. When we understand our needs, triggers and capabilities, it will become easier to navigate through this time of isolation. This might not be an easy time but try to make the best of it and know that you will come out stronger on the other side than you’ve been before. Take care and be safe.