By Cat Donovan
Big Buzz Idea Group
In March of 2020 we began navigating a maze of unknown depth and complexity. Juggling balls and spinning plates multiplied by the day. Professional settings and expectations changed overnight. Families with school-aged children had the routines they depended on completely uprooted. It quickly became apparent that managing and maintaining positive mental health was going to be both a challenge and a priority.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, released the results of a tracking poll about one year into the pandemic that indicated four in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. That is an increase from one in 10 adults who reported the same symptoms from January to June 2019.
Mental health organizations jumped into the deep end to provide triage amid the early Covid spread. Much of the content shared tips for working from home, ways to feel safe leaving home and how to manage isolation, as well as sharing help lines and virtual support groups.
But how about now? The rollercoaster ride has arrived at the 18-month mark of the Covid-19 pandemic. The tactics we applied a year and a half ago as a daily guide to unprecedented changes might not be providing the same dividends today.
Jenny Andersen, a licensed clinical social worker at Gurnee Counseling Center and prevention and wellness coordinator at Grayslake North High School, said the current transition back to work and school is highlighting that people of all ages have become dysregulated as a result of pandemic living.
“Following this year, our clients are carrying a much greater load of trauma,” Andersen said. “As therapists, and for each other, we are asking how we support those in the workplace in being intentional and strategic, but not experience the burnout of carrying hard things.”
Andersen said to combat workplace anxiety in her private practice, counselors are meeting with each other on a two-week rotation to brainstorm, ask for feedback and just talk with no agenda. “Having mindful interactions with colleagues, being an active listener, not thinking about what you’ll say next or what’s on the to-do list,” she said, has been helpful.
Dr. Luisa Bryce, a licensed clinical psychologist with Colorado-based Harmony At Home, said a shift has occurred since the start of the pandemic and today. “Initially, our approach was an acute state of just getting through the next few months. Now, we could be in this for years to come. There is a sense of chronic fatigue,” Dr. Bryce said. Along with their workload, some employees have had to find ways to balance their productivity with social and emotional wellbeing that has been impacted by long-term isolation.
Here are five tips intended to help maintain positive mental health in the workplace:
Employees want to be kept in the loop with consistent updates. One of the biggest stressors is being unaware of when the next big change will occur. Business owners and managers should communicate realistic timelines and allow employees the space and protection to advocate for themselves.
Andersen said breathing exercises or taking a total technology break for just 10 minutes each day can be helpful. She also recommends taking mindful steps when moving from one place to the next. Think about your feet and focus on how they feel against the ground. Be aware of the sounds and sights around you. Make an active effort to stay in the present moment.
Some employees work better in an office setting while others thrive remotely from home. And there are those who prefer the hybrid model. Recent studies have shown mixed results when it comes to where higher productivity output occurs. Leave it up to the employee who knows where they perform at their best. Employees should be prepared to present the data to back up their choice.
Dr. Bryce said a major area of struggle for workers is the fear that flexibility may go away as the pandemic continues to shift. The work/life landscape is permanently changing before our eyes. The mornings and late afternoons now hold additional responsibilities, especially for working parents. Ask your employer to not schedule meetings first or last thing. Mid-day meetings allow those team members longer, more uninterrupted chunks of focused time.
Some industries can’t accommodate a work-from-home option. Andersen said for employees to be successful in their job they need to feel safe. “Advocate for the highest level of safety in spaces we have to be in. Colleagues can all buy into that,” she said.
As Covid-19 continues to morph, it’s critical to consistently check on the status of your mental health. One thing we all have in common is we are experiencing living through a pandemic together. People want to help because they can relate to the stress and anxiety increases felt as a result to one degree or another. Reach out to a coworker to share your feelings – you might be surprised to know you are not alone.