18 May 2020

Dealing with your mental health during a pandemic

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Dealing with your mental health

Global pandemics of the same magnitude as COVID-19 are fortunately uncommon. However, this means we find ourselves in a situation that we have never faced before; one that is likely to continue for some time. Whether you’re a healthcare professional or an office worker, additional pressures are inevitable as a direct result of the virus and the UK’s lockdown. Here, we will explore ways in which you can best safeguard your mental wellbeing.

Back to basics

You have got to look after number one. Though it may feel like everything has changed since lockdown, the fundamentals of self-care remain the same. Give yourself plenty of opportunities to eat, sleep and rest and continue your old routine, as much as is safely possible, while conforming with the government’s guidelines.

For further advice on maintaining positive mental health under normal circumstances, visit our dedicated blog.

Here are a few simple, yet effective things you can do to protect your mental health:

  1. Only entertain news from trusted sources. This includes publications that are working with the government, such as the BBC. Be aware that many publications, especially online, produce sensationalist news stories based on inaccurate data to get more people to read them. Some people protect themselves by switching off news channels completely. If you’re feeling increasingly anxious you could try this or limiting the amount of news you read, see or hear by for example only watching one programme a day, ideally not before bedtime. This gives you a chance to pause, reflect and process
  2. Limit your exposure to social media if you find that using it heightens your anxiety. If this is affecting you, you can try turning off notifications so that you’re not ‘always on’ and puts you back in control
  3. Consider using mindfulness techniques and meditation to stay present and manage your emotions in a positive way. The Headspace app has a free feature called ‘Weathering the storm’ that includes useful guided meditations
  4. Stay in touch with your friends and family using video calls as much as you can
  5. Ensure you exercise regularly because this will help with your mental wellbeing considerably – we now have unlimited time to exercise so make the most of the outdoors when you can. If you wish to exercise at home, to limit your time outside of the house, there are many free online resources. For Yoga, Yoga with Adrienne has great classes on YouTube that you can watch any time. For a high intensity workout, consider checking out Barry’s, the London based fitness brand, on IGTV.

Remember, self-care is a marathon, not a sprint. We are likely to be living with coronavirus for some time, so it’s important to get into good, sustainable habits that you can continue with ease.

Coping with mental health as a healthcare professional

It’s important to accept that, though you may be a caregiver and you are perhaps more clued up than most about mental health, you are not immune to the effects of a pandemic. It is perfectly understandable that you may experience changes to your mental health, such as increased anxiety and loneliness. And, accepting that you are struggling does not make you weak or a failure - quite the opposite. Being able to recognise this is a strength and can help you proactively look for ways to turn things around or to seek help if you need it.

Though your services as a nurse or healthcare worker may be in high demand, and it may be tempting to work as many shifts as you can, you must get adequate rest between each one. Now is not the time to be a hero – you already are one. According to Government guidelines, you should have at least 11 hours rest between them, and either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week, or 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

If you feel yourself struggling, you should confide in your line manager or other trusted people for social support. You may find that your colleagues are having similar experiences to you. Confiding in them will help you get the extra help that you need, or you may simply find that sharing feels like a load off your mind. If you find that those around you are struggling and you don’t want to add to their worries, we would recommend you speak with a professional to get the support you need.

In fact, this week we launched a new advanced mental health training course called Mind on Mind to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which we urge employees to undertake.

Seeking professional help

If you feel that you’d like professional help, you could consider booking an appointment with a counsellor. You can do this either through your GP, directly through a counselling service (the Mind charity can point you in the right direction), or potentially through your employer. At Newcross, all staff have free, unlimited access to telephone counselling as part of myHealthPlan, the employee benefits package. If you work elsewhere, contact your line manager or HR department to see if there are any services available to you.

“I recently used the Employee Assistance Programme while I was feeling stressed at work during the coronavirus pandemic. The counsellors were so helpful, friendly and supportive. I didn’t want to offload to friends who I knew were also struggling. I felt reassured because I knew that I could contact then again anytime” Maddie Nadora

Supporting your mental health as an office worker

As an office-based employee, you’ve most likely found yourself working from home. Even though you’re not working on the frontline, you are still facing new challenges, such as working in a new environment and potentially balancing this with childcare responsibilities.

Here are some things you can do to take good care of your mental wellbeing:

  1. As the boundaries between your work life and home life have been blurred, you could designate a ‘work zone’ in your home. This will mean you can relax elsewhere in the house when you finish up for the day. Where possible, the work zone should be a quiet, comfortable place, clear of distractions
  2. Though it may seem tempting to jump out of bed and get straight to work in pajamas, consider keeping up with your regular pre-work routine to maintain a sense of normality. There’s nothing like a hot shower and picking out a favourite outfit – who cares if you’re at home! Or, you could take a leaf out of one of our branch manager’s books and literally ‘dress up’ in fancy dress for a team meeting – certainly puts the smile back on people’s faces. Highly recommended
  3. Writing a list of tasks for the day is always a good idea to stay productive. However, remember that you need time to rest and unwind, too. So, make sure you’re still taking lunch breaks and, when it’s time to end the day, log off and enjoy your free time
  4. Working from home doesn’t have to be isolating. Using video calls whenever possible is a great way to stay connected with your colleagues or clients.

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At Newcross Healthcare, we’re committed to supporting our workforce of healthcare professionals and office support teams. You can find out more about our employee health plan and the mental health support available to all staff here.

If you’re a Newcross employee, head over to the company blog for information on our free mental health training.