• Tatum Souza

Managing Mental Health in the Midst of COVID-19

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

By: Caitlin Ackerman

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, business leaders and government officials were forced to put new policies and standard operating procedures in place, to ensure they were in compliance with the CDC’s “community mitigation policies.” These policies (as I am sure you are aware) included recommendations for “social distancing” – a term that epidemiologists are using to refer to the conscious effort to reduce close contact between people, with intent to contain transmission of the virus. Since 'social distancing' has been implemented/required, the White House and individual states have closed use of public congregational spaces such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, movie theaters, libraries, gyms, schools, and workspaces and everyone has either been encouraged (or mandated) to self-quarantine for a minimum of three weeks. While this will absolutely reduce the risk of transmission, – it is estimated that 20% of the adult working population had mental health problems even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, sudden changes in lifestyle, uncertainty (enhanced by the media), and physical isolation, will only increase this percentage.

Which is why FitPros felt it was important to share with our community 'how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges,' as well as strategies to mitigate these challenges. However, in order for us to do so we must first point out the difference between Mandated “Work from Home” and Traditional Remote Work.

Mandated “Work from Home” vs Traditional Remote Work

Working remotely has become a popular benefit for most employees as it has given them the opportunity to obtain enhanced work-life balance. 43% of the U.S. workforce already currently works off-site, some or all of the time, and 97% of people say having more work flexibility has a “huge” or “positive” impact on their quality of life. The benefits of working from home include; less time wasted on commuting, the ability to save money, make your own schedule, stay more focused, avoid office politics, and more! The caveat however is, these praises come from those who consciously chose a remote role.

People who are use to going into an office daily are not prepared and/or may not even be ready to accept that it is a benefit that they are getting to work from home. Office go-ers are accustomed to specific workflows. Their routine in the morning, their commute process, their desk, their supplies, their lunch conversations, in person meetings, wellness activities, nutritional snacks, and a set arrival and departure times. Additionally, most people who go into an office enjoy social camaraderie, even if they sit in a traditional cubical or work from a small satellite office, because chances are they are use to having at least 5-10 small in-person conversations a day! While some days, these 'in office' employees may wish they could work from home, that is typically because they just want a much needed break, NOT because they want to be a remote worker.

Which is why it is important to acknowledge that your employee's lives, due to your necessary WFH policy, have been completely disrupted and they require your support to learn the skills and competencies necessary to remain happy, healthy and productive.

Additionally, don't forget your already remote population's lives have been altered as well! Most likely they each have morning routines including, out-of-home gym sessions, lunch meetings, coffee shop breaks, working in public spaces, and/or whatever helps them stay creative, productive and sane! Their 'typical workday,' though it is in the same location, has now been completely upturned, as they now share an office space with their roommates and/or family and are unable to go partake in any human interaction activities!

Lastly, some of your demographics (laborers, cleaning faculty, onsite service providers etc.) might not be able to carry out their day-to-day tasks until further notice.

Which means... there is a clear need for strong leadership and policies/benefits to be put in place, so your employees can avoid feeling, depressed, anxious and/or hopeless.

Loneliness, Depression, and Anxiety during Covid-19

As humans, we are wired for connection. It’s in our DNA, and is as strong as ones need for food, water, and warmth. Therefore, when we are forced into this physical (but necessary) periods of isolation, feelings of disconnection and loneliness may arise, which can increase ones likelihood of becoming depressed. Similarly, new lifestyle changes that are out of our control, may cause anxiety or stress as one might feel unprepared and/or a pressure to work differently.

The good news is we can combat these negative feelings by first identifying them in ourselves or others, and by having/implementing creative connection activities into our day-to-day.

Let’s first breakdown these greater concepts and then we will offer strategies to assist!

Loneliness is a negative condition resulting from a state of aloneness. Ongoing loneliness is characterized by constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone, separated or divided from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level. Signs include surface level engagement, feeling and projections of self-doubt and self-worth, and burnout when trying to engage socially. When these feelings of loneliness occur, your body’s cortisol levels increase causing inflammation, weight gain, insulin resistance, and concentration challenges. These can put someone at risk for more serious medical and emotions issues such as depression, diabetes, substance abuse, heart disease, and more.

Depression is when loneliness and hardship affect how a person feels and the way they think and act. These feelings of sadness can cause loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, loss of appetite and energy, difficulty sleeping, feelings of worthlessness or guilt and thoughts of death or suicide.

Anxiety: is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worries, thoughts, and physical changes, like increased blood pressure. People experiencing anxiety typically have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns, and may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may experience physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.

Combating Loneliness, Depression, and Anxiety during COVID-19

When we are forced out of our norms and into mandated precautions and routines – it is completely normal to feel spikes in negative thoughts or worry. It is also completely normal and essential to identify what you are feeling, and to try different techniques to help you. Additionally, business leaders should encourage their employees to name when they are feeling overwhelmed and offer tools to support them. When we can acknowledge what we are feeling, we can find ways to treat it. Personally, I have tried some pretty awesome and creative suggestions out there, for how to stay connected in a period of social distancing and recession.

1. Rephrase everything! Reframe negatives to be positives:

  • “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”

  • “I cannot see my friends and family” to “I am thankful for technology that allows for video calls with people everywhere!”

  • “How will I pay my bills and I’m afraid for the economy” to “There are resources out there that will help me in time of need, and our elected officials are doing everything they can to find solutions!”

2. Stay close to your normal routine – try to maintain a semblance of structure from pre-quarantine days

  • Keep your pre-work routine - Wake up at 6am, Workout, coffee and read. If you did things during your commute like listen to a podcast - still do that in your house!

  • What did you do with your co-worker routinely in the office - you can still eat lunch and have coffee break together just do it virtually! This is a great time to get a little more intimate with your team as well - show them around your house, brag (or not) about your culinary skills, just simply laugh together.

3. Ask questions, get clarity, and know your work cadence

  • If you are working from home check in with your team to assure you are all aligned on specific goals and tasks, over communicate with each other and set work hours with built in breaks!

  • *Note – if you are not working right now - set new goals. It's a great opportunity to interview your friends, learn new skills, and be prepared to fully bounce back when COVID-19 is laid to rest.

4. Check in on your network.

  • Your introverted friends might feel good at first, but that might change over long periods of time. Similarly, your extroverted friends get their energy from the people around them. Simply, being intentional with everyone in your network will help us recognize who needs more support and when.

5. Use Telehealth

  • Use Telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if negative feelings become unmanageable, many licensed psychologists are offering Telehealth options over HIPAA-compliant video platforms

6. Remember – you are not alone!

  • The entire globe is experiencing and combating this stressful situation together. Let go of illusions of control and find peace that you are doing your best to shine your light, in the darkest of time.

In conclusion, whether your WFH routine was altered, your home office is your floor, you’re out of work for a few weeks, or you’re physically displaced from human interaction – there is always something you can be doing to mitigate stress and we encourage you to be proactively and creatively do these activities. Loneliness, depression, and anxiety are common feelings during dark times, but knowing the signs and having a few tricks up your sleeve, are a great start to winning the uphill battle.

If you are looking for resources and support for your employees, FitPros is here to help! Our Webinar Health Talks with Wellness Experts, 1:1 Telehealth Coaching Sessions, Live Meditation, and Wellness Care Packages are all great resources to keep your teams engaged, focused, and connected!

Want to learn more about FitPros' virtual mental health resources?

Email: hello@fitpros.com

or call: (815) 348-7767