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In just a few short weeks, UK life as we know it has changed beyond recognition. Schools, shops and workplaces have shut down. People are told to stay at home unless they need to go out for one of a set of very specific reasons and students and workers across the land are finding out more than they ever thought they would need to know about Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing software.

We are all in this together, or so we are told. The reasoning behind our new regime is to protect the NHS; to try and stop older and vulnerable people from catching the virus and to flatten the curve of new cases being diagnosed to force the infection rate down. That’s all well and good – but where do we stand when it comes to our mental health? Our physical health is so strongly linked to our mental wellbeing that it can be seriously compromised if we find ourselves struggling emotionally or spiritually with the situation we find ourselves in.[1]

For the sake of our health and that of other people, then, it is key that we take mental health very seriously during lockdown and do our utmost to look after our emotional wellbeing.

Mental Health At Work

One thing that many of us have in common in these strange times is the need to keep on working and being useful. For many, this means carrying on with our current job role from a laptop on the dining room table, rather than in a fully-equipped office that we travel to by bus or train. Others of us are key workers, keeping much closer to a ‘normal’ routine as we go out to work to keep the country running.

For many people, having structure and certainty in their lives is a large part of sustaining more robust mental health. In some ways, therefore, people who fall into these categories have an advantage when it comes to mental health that they know roughly what they are supposed to be doing, even if their surroundings or priorities have changed. Workers who have lost their jobs or been furloughed have the added worry about what will happen to their former routine and earning potential once life returns to post-virus normality.

Coping With A Reduced World

As mentioned above, our mental and physical health are very strongly linked. It can be hard to stay motivated to keep physically fit and to eat properly when our world has shrunk down to our home and immediate locality. However, it is crucial to keep as fit as possible, using a garden if you have one, to exercise in and to make the most of your daily exercise outing. Follow online exercise classes to find more inspiration and download healthy recipes and meal plans to help you to stay away from tempting, unhealthy snacks. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will feel mentally. Choosing to exercise and look after your body will give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of accomplishment after each healthy meal or fitness workout.

Another aspect of living in lockdown that many people struggle with is not being able to socialise and meet up with family, friends and work colleagues. Again, this lack of human contact can have a seriously detrimental effect on our mental health. We are sociable creatures and thrive on face-to-face interaction – it can help reduce the risk of depression far more than contact via social media[1].

Avoiding The Information Deluge

Although the internet and social media have opened up our access to news, resources and methods of entertainment like never before, this freedom comes with consequences. We are deluged with information, diversions and opinions 24 hours a day and this can affect our mood and wellbeing hugely. During especially worrying times such as a pandemic, exaggerated, or fake news stories can circulate widely with scary suggestions and speculation abounding that can seriously affect even the most sanguine individual’s anxiety levels.

There are two key ways to help mitigate against this very real threat. First of all, reduce your exposure to the information overload. Pick a time in the day when you will look at the internet or check out Coronavirus news stories and updates. Do not look at anything outside of these times. Secondly, employ critical thinking when assessing the likelihood that the story or opinion you are reading or taking in is true or not. Stick to reputable news and information sources, such as Government briefings and articles or programmes from trusted media outlets. If you are concerned about what you are reading or watching, or feel your mental health becoming adversely affected by it, speak to, email or text a level-headed friend or family member for a reality check.

Maintaining A Positive Outlook

Language is a very important aspect of how we train our minds to cope in trying circumstances. Compare the statement, “I’m stuck at home and can’t see my friends or do what I want to do,” with, “I am staying safe at home to help reduce the burden on the NHS and to help protect vulnerable members of society.” The first sentence focusses on what the person is missing out on, and negative feelings of being trapped. The second looks out towards the wider community and offers reassurance that the person is staying safe and helping others to do the same.

From a work perspective, it is equally vital to stay positive and as productive as possible. If you are still working, check in with your manager and team regularly to reassure yourself that they are alright and that your workload is progressing and on track. Make time for social contact too, if appropriate and help each other stay connected with the outside world. As you would in a physical office setting, look out for signs of mental distress or concerns affecting anyone within your teams and reach out to anyone who is struggling, or direct them to the appropriate resources, such as HR, an in-house psychologist or counselling service or a senior manager.

Looking For More Support?

If your workplace has access to tools and training programmes such as Mental Health First Aid, this can also be a valuable tool to strengthen people’s resilience in the face of these challenging times, as well as to share coping strategies to help keep things on an even keel. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about how Mental Health First Aid can help you and your work colleagues get through this current period of working from home, continuing as key workers or handling the change of pace that comes with furloughing or losing an existing role, or adjusting to a new one. Keep on keeping on – and stay safe!

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Post Author: Gayle Young