There’s not just one curve. Alongside the widespread societal, economic and health impacts of the pandemic, people have been asked to stay at home. Both this isolation for which many have no direct comparable life experience as well as the uncertainty of what’s coming next, can enact a huge strain on the mental health of individuals, and can be especially trying for those with pre-existing conditions.

No doubt about it: we need to focus on flattening the mental health wave too. According to this poll, 36% of Americans have said their mental health is suffering right now. 48% have claimed they are scared of contracting the coronavirus but there are many indirect fears too. 68% fear a long-lasting effect on the economy, with 57% worried about the virus making a direct impact on their own personal finances. And there’s historical precedent saying that this will leave huge after-effects: after SARS in 2003, both healthcare workers and those who were self-quarantined exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Everybody has to work together in this situation. More than ever, employers need to focus on making sure that their employees are happy and healthy, especially those with pre-existing health concerns. On the other side, it’s crucial for employees to take steps to help themselves and get out the other side. Here’s some tips and tricks on making it work for you.

This article offers coping strategies for day-to-day anxieties that many are experiencing during this time of COVID-19. If you have a serious underlying condition or just need to talk, about any topic and in any country, there’s a whole host of helpline numbers assembled here thanks to the team at Checkpoint.

How to deal with workplace anxiety: for employers

‘You are not working from home. You are at home during a crisis, trying to work’.

people working from home may suffer from anxiety

The first thing is to understand that this is not the same as ‘working from home’. This iteration of working from home includes a huge amount of extra baggage that your one day of home office a month never had. The situation also varies person-to-person. Whether you’re a parent juggling two kids, or you’re living alone in your apartment, your experience matters just as much. And once you’ve understood that: it’s key that you get talking about it.

For many years, talking about mental health has been seen as a taboo at many workplaces. At DCMN, that’s never been the case. Culture has always been top of our agenda, and we’ve also over the years shown a great deal of interest in both the general mental health of our employees and mindfulness as a tool for supporting them through difficult times. This can be done by looking into workshops. In the pre-COVID times, we’ve worked with a breathwork and meditation teacher who regularly came to our office. Then we also had a visit from The School of Life for a workshop on self compassion and resilience! It’s also crucial to have trust people assigned at work – dedicated staff members who others can go to and talk about everything and, crucially, confidentially. If employees know there is something they can discuss their issues with confidentially, they are more likely to unload and feel better. 

During COVID-19, these things still apply: why not organise remote workshops focused around self care strategies? Trust people can also be contacted via Zoom or whatever teleconferencing software you use. But there’s more – it’s crucial to also talk about things that are completely unrelated to work. Our CCO Marco Neubert has been driving themed weeks, getting DCMNer’s to share what they are up to in their spare time – from arts and crafts, to food and fitness. We have the Friday All Hands where we drink a beer together and catch up on good news and even play an (often hilarious) game. Recently we did a game in which we had to guess who was who from their baby photos! All of these things to make your employees feel together and up-to-speed inevitably help with the mental health struggles of today.

Above all, employers should manage their own expectations. This difficult time will inevitably result in fluctuating levels of engagement and productivity from your staff. Employers and leaders should be mindful of not pushing their teams too hard at a time when anxieties are already running high. 

How to deal with workplace anxiety: for employees

going outside helps to deal with anxiety

The strain on the individual right now is unprecedented. With the security of their jobs (and maybe even their company) on the line, it’s likely your employees are happy to work at absolute capacity. But faced with home office, some may be less productive and subsequently frustrated. Amongst many other symptoms, employees may find it hard to concentrate, overthink, experience mood swings or feel tired and exhausted – even if they aren’t doing a lot. Constant video calling is said to be more exhausting than it is IRL. 

Even though the employers have to play a role in supporting their employees, for most people 90% of their time is spent away from their bosses. That’s why self-guided tips are so necessary for dealing with COVID-19 anxiety. 

Here’s one that seems simple but is so easy to forget: breathe. Many studies have proven that breathing techniques are helpful in the fight against anxiety, stress and insomnia. After all, it’s our first response to stress. If you don’t breathe, this will send further messages to your mind signalling that you’re not OK. This is a reason for your ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response deciding that you’re in some kind of danger and putting anxiety in motion.

Deep breathing is proven to help reduce tension in the body, increase oxygen and give your body all the signs you‘re NOT in danger. There are some amazing breathing techniques to try out, including this one. It works both physiologically (stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychologically (diverting your thoughts). 

There are other techniques that can be helpful to anyone – employer or employee – experiencing stress or anxiety at this time. One I love for relaxing your body (your mind will follow!) is progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves tensing and then releasing all of the major muscle groups, in combination with deep breathing. This is a common treatment for anxiety because it demonstrates what a relaxed body feels like – allowing you to become gradually more mindful of incorporating this in your daily life.

One final technique requires you to focus on your five senses in order to bring your thoughts back to the present moment. This 5-4-3-2-1 technique involves acknowledging five things that you can see, four that you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell and one taste. It can be a powerful tool for grounding you in the present moment when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

How to move forward, during and post COVID-19

anxiety can be helped by going outside

As I have previously stated, the uncertainty is one thing that is fuelling this situation. We don’t know when we’ll be back at work and living like we did before. And even when social isolation ends – the COVID-19 crisis realistically looks like something we will be living with for quite some time. This means it’s even more crucial to look out for the little things!

 

Five top tips for employees right now:

1) It sounds simple but don’t forget to breathe. Some simple breathing exercises can go a long way when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. 

2) Get some oxygen! See the sun, and get outside of the for walls. Exercise can also do wonders.

3) Take a minute to ask yourself some questions. Is worrying helping me? What can I do about my situation?

4) Try out progressive muscle relaxation to tense and then relax your body. Your mind will follow!

5) Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to acknowledge your senses and ground yourself in the present moment. 

 

Five top tips for employers right now: 

1) Recognise the issue & acknowledge that this is not a normal ‘working from home’ set up

2) Create awareness, perhaps with ambassadors?

3) Communicate and keep everyone engaged through weekly fun events at work.

4) Establish trust people within the organisation.

5) Run workshops focused on self care or mindfulness to boost employee wellbeing.

This article offers coping strategies for day-to-day anxieties that many are experiencing during this time of COVID-19. If you have a serious underlying condition or just need to talk, about any topic and in any country, there’s a whole host of helpline numbers assembled here thanks to the team at Checkpoint.