COVID-19 has required all of us to adjust our regular way of life. Understandably, some people may be struggling more than others with these adjustments. Humans are biologically wired for social connection, and prolonged periods of social isolation have been linked to negative mental and physical health outcomes.
Our emotional state, our mental health and our overall general wellbeing are influenced by the other factors in our lives. The impact of physical distancing measures and the need to stay at home are likely to disrupt our ability to engage in activities that are important for our mental health and wellbeing, or to access services. As a result, many people may be experiencing distress, anxiety, sadness, stress, boredom and loneliness.
While it is important that we maintain our physical distance, we need to try to remain socially connected.
To keep ourselves and others physically safe from COVID-19, we need to alter how we interact with one-another. Below are a few suggestions for how you can support your peers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Regularly check-in and connect with team members. Ask them how they are doing, what they are struggling with and any surprises. Find out about their interests, talk about how you have been staying in touch with family and friends, and ask what support may be helpful. Think about colleagues who may be particularly vulnerable to social isolation, and make an intentional effort to reach out.
- Have a work ‘buddy’ that you regularly communicate with. This should be someone who you can be honest with about how you are coping.
- Make use of technology. For example, phone, text, messaging, video-conferencing software and email. Keep in mind that video-based chats are more likely to mimic the real-time reciprocity of face-to-face interaction. Consider spending a couple of minutes each day messaging a colleague, particularly as you are no longer having incidental conversations in the workplace (such as when someone walks past your desk or in communal office areas).
- Schedule a virtual coffee with work colleagues. If you usually have coffee with colleagues in the morning, replicate this online using video-conferencing technology.
- Be understanding of people’s unique circumstances. Many people are working in spaces that have not been set up for work, may be stuck with flatmates, sharing their space with partners and children, and may be attempting to juggle work with home schooling and parenting.
- Be flexible. We are all adjusting to this. Encourage one another to be realistic about what can be achieved under the current circumstances, and help one another engage in perspective-taking.
- Encourage work-life balance. Because of reduced boundaries between work and home, and fears about job security, people are more likely to overwork than underwork.
- Share tips on healthy lifestyle activities. Explore how your team members are staying active and exchange suggestions. The Black Dog Institute has published research showing that as little as one hour of exercise a week can help prevent depression and anxiety.
If the below symptoms have been present for two or more weeks, reach out for professional support:
- Mood swings or overreacting to small things
- Feeling tense, agitated, easily irritated, angry, on-edge
- Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or fearful
- Reduced concentration and performance on work duties
- Consistently not meeting deadlines
- Reduced attention to detail compared to usual
- Memory difficulties
- Reduced engagement
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Disrupted sleep – sleeping more, sleeping less, trouble falling asleep, interrupted sleep
- Changes in appetite – eating much more or much less than usual
- Persistent sadness
- Difficulties carrying out day-to-day tasks
- Problematic use of alcohol/drugs and use of these substances to cope
- Uncontrollable worry
- Feeling despair, hopeless, worthless
- Unrelenting tiredness/fatigue
- Thoughts about death and/or ending one’s life
Consider speaking with your GP, seeing a psychologist or accessing online resources. See more information on how to access mental health support here.
Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Coordinator.