The spread of the coronavirus is a very worrying news for us all. Turn on the TV and we hear stories of people in self-isolation, border closures and, tragically, an escalating death toll among the vulnerable.
You may have already been asked by your employer to limit travel, work from home or avoid other people, and you may be finding it harder than you first thought.
For people already struggling with their mental health these stories and measures might exacerbate their condition, and potentially trigger issues in people who have, until now, lived mentally healthy lives.
Wall to wall news coverage and social media stories about empty supermarket shelves and national toilet roll and hand wash shortages don’t help, and our overly stressed, risk detecting brains risk losing perspective.
Being informed about developments is obviously very important but be careful where you look. The NHS coronavirus webpage and gov.uk coronavirus webpages are the most up to date places, and although social media is great for staying in touch, maybe take a break or limit your scroll time.
Working at home
It might sound brilliant but working from home is not without its pitfalls. For some, it's great for their wellbeing, but others may feel isolated and un-supported.
The things we used to leave at work have literally been brought home with us. The once peaceful sanctuary of the bedroom has now become the office; the email inbox constantly calling and nagging for your attention when you should be enjoying bath time with the kids.
ACAS have flagged potential issues or those working at home. They include:
health and safety problems (like lone working); communication and trust can deteriorate when an employee rarely sees their manager; homeworkers can become stressed and find it hard to switch off, can become fatigued/less productive
Talk to your employer about how you’ll be supported. It’s a topic I’ve talked about before and you can read more in my Agile working post.
Working at home – with children
If school closures go ahead many of us will find ourselves trying to carry on doing our normal day jobs whilst also caring for our children.
My children are 9 and 7, I regularly work from home. I know how hard it is when they just want me to play, they don’t really understand that Daddy is working. It’s a tough balancing act. Speak to your employer about your family situation to see what would work best for you.
A few things that may help…
- Speak to the school/college to find out what homework or digital learning will be available
- Check out free online courses, such as FutureLearn and BBC Bitesize. Your local library might also have online activities or resources you can use.
So, what can we do to look after ourselves working from home?
If you are self-isolating or working from home, make technology work for you. Keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues with video calls or social media platforms like WhatsApp.
But also remember when to switch off! Just because you can answer emails at 11:30pm doesn’t mean you should (unless it works for your wellbeing of course, but even then, consider the recipient’s wellbeing and schedule it to go tomorrow morning instead).
As well as making us feel good and improving our physical health, studies have shown that getting active can help with symptoms of depression and protect us against anxiety. It can also help us feel good about the world around us.
Exercising at home can be simple and there are options for most ages and abilities. The NHS has seated exercises as well as exercises that will improve your flexibility, balance and strength.
There are also loads of free fitness apps you can use – my wife and I use the free Nike Training Club app.
Keep your mind active too
This might just be a great opportunity to learn something new. We know that keeping our minds active and creating new connections in the brain can have a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health and wellbeing, protecting us for years to come.
Get some fresh air
Research has shown that spending time in nature can improve your mood, reduce stress and have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing.
If you’re going to be at home more make sure you still get all these positive effects. If you have a garden, then spend time in it. Open the windows, let fresh air in and get as much natural light as you can. Having flowers or potted plants in your home has also been shown to make us feel more relaxed.
Plan your time
Try and stick to your old routine as much as possible. Get up and go to bed at your usual time. Think about how happy you are with your usual structure and make some changes.
Plan what you’re going to do. You might find you spend more time at home with your other half or kids. Remember, none of you will be used to this, so try to respect each other’s privacy and give each other some space.
Where to get professional support
If you are struggling to cope with the current situation, or find yourself feeling overly anxious about your health, here’s a couple of links that may help:
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): how to cope if you're feeling anxious about coronavirus