When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, few of us were prepared for the impact. The pandemic disrupted everything from our daily interactions with co-workers, our family routines, our ability to run errands and our social engagements. As we’re all adapting to the new environments created by the shelter-in-place orders, the re-emergence and beyond, we’re seeking new ways to cope with the stress and anxiety associated with prolonged isolation, fear of the virus, re-emergence into the workplace, and economic uncertainty.
Finding a sense of mental well-being in a COVID-19 environment is not easy. According to the “America’s State of Mind Report” conducted by mental health provider Ginger, nearly seven in 10 employees stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most stressful time of their entire professional careers.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 45% of American adults say their mental health has been affected by the pandemic and 19% say it has had a major impact.
We’re stressing to our clients the importance of reinforcing with employees and customers that every aspect of their health is important and advise that this key point becomes a much larger part of external and internal messaging moving forward. To further reinforce this message, and in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness month, we’re advising clients to thoughtfully and appropriately encourage their employees to engage in some of the following mental wellness strategies:
- Practice self-care. Dedicating time for self-care is essential during the best of times, especially as professionals strive toward work-life balance, so it’s no wonder that focusing on self-care in the COVID-19 environment becomes critically important. Self-care takes on different forms for each person such as taking morning walks in the park, reading a book, exercising, or engaging in hobbies. It does not matter how you practice self-care – just do something that you enjoy and that will take your mind off the stressors.
- Continue making future plans. During the pandemic, many people have taken on the mantra “one day at a time.” However, having something to look forward to is proven to be a more powerful motivator than just trying to get through the day. Go ahead and book a trip or register for a cooking class. These things may get rescheduled or cancelled but looking forward to them today positively impacts your long-term mental health.
- Find ways to make personal connections from a distance. We all crave personal interactions – it’s what makes us human. During a typical day, we have hundreds of small, personal interactions that help us feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Fortunately, current technology provides us with opportunities to creatively connect with family and friends without making personal contact. Services such as Skype, Zoom and WebEx make it possible to have face-to-face conversations, virtual happy hours and “connect over coffee” sessions. With some advance planning, you can even play your favorite board game with family located in another city. Some communities are leveraging social media to host social distancing happy hours, during which residents sit in their yards with a cold beverage or walk around the community and interact with neighbors from a safe distance.
- Establish a new routine. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted even the most flexible routines. Some families are trying to balance having multiple adults working from home while also monitoring their children’s educational activities. Families with frontline employees (health care, grocery stores, truckers, etc.) are working extra hours or unusual shifts, while other families are dealing with job losses. Regardless of the circumstances, having some type of routine creates a sense of normalcy. Adopting a morning ritual, maintaining a daily school/play schedule or chore chart for the children, establishing a regular dinner time, and having a standard bedtime routine are all ways to make the “new normal” feel more normal.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional guidance. It will be months before we know the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, but the medical community is already anticipating a greater need for professional mental health services. According to the “America’s State of Mind Report,” from February 16 – March 15 there was a 21% increase in prescriptions filled weekly for antidepressant, antianxiety and anti-insomnia medications. Approximately 78% of the prescriptions filled during the peak week of March 15 were for new prescriptions, indicating the rise of stress and anxiety produced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, it’s already documented that the pandemic is aggravating existing mental health conditions, and it’s expected that many frontline employees in health care and grocery stores will likely experience PTSD symptoms in the coming months. There is also evidence of increased addiction disorder, abuse, and suicide resulting from anxiety, stress and prolonged isolation. All these situations will require substantial mental health resources.
Mental health professionals are not just for individual with severe situations. Anyone experiencing depression or anxiety or who feels overwhelmed with the COVID-19 disruption is encouraged to seek professional guidance. Couples and family counseling are also encouraged for families who are experiencing issues due to the disruption in daily routines and increased “togetherness.” As you consider the best options for you and your family, it’s important to remember that there is absolutely no shame in seeking professional mental health services.
COVID-19 is reminding us that regardless of our differences there is still much that we have in common, including the need for self-care. These strategies are not just to share with employees and clients – they also apply to corporate executives, managers, human resources personnel and communications professionals! These are difficult times, and there will be new challenges in the coming months as we transition through the re-emergence and adopt new social norms. Being mindful of our mental health will allow us all to be resilient as we chart new paths.