Many of us are teleworking full-time for the first time, including me, and we may feel isolated from co-workers, friends and family. Now more than ever, we need to attend to our mental health and well-being. In our home, we are treating the situation as if we are on a long sea voyage, except we don’t run out of fresh vegetables and we get to take daily walks.
Keep in mind that social distancing does not mean social isolation. The American Psychiatric Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health has some practical tips that might help us feel better, and maybe a bit closer.
Dr. Price shares tips for mental health and well-being
Keep a regular schedule
Create and maintain a routine and schedule. Set up a designated space for you and each family member to work and learn. Don’t forget to schedule breaks for recharging. Be sure that you are working reasonable hours. It can be tempting to work longer hours at home. However, doing so can be taxing on your health and well-being, so stick to a schedule with healthy boundaries. Although everyone’s schedule is different, here’s an example:
|7 a.m.||Wake up, stretch, take care of kids (and animals)|
|7:30 a.m.||Breakfast and family time (technology free!)|
|8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.||Work and check on updates with small breaks every 30 minutes or so|
|12 p.m. – 1 p.m.||Lunch break, get fresh air, stretch and exercise|
|1 p.m. – 5 p.m.||Work with breaks every 30 minutes, check in with co-workers|
|5 p.m. – 7 p.m.||Dinner break away from the screen! Call a friend, family, or loved one|
|7 p.m. – 9 p.m.||Self-care time|
Stay connected with family, friends, and support systems using technology like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and other online video options. Talk about your fears and concerns with people you trust. Chances are they are feeling the same way.
Keep your immune system strong
- Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds (or two Happy Birthday songs!)
- Get enough sleep
- Eat well and stay hydrated
- Take vitamins
Prioritizing personal hygiene and limiting contact with others is imperative to avoid spreading the virus
Here’s what should be done:
- Again, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer regularly.
- Use a tissue to cover your sneeze or cough, or when unavailable, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
- Use anti-bacterial wipes to disinfect areas and objects that are heavily-trafficked or touched regularly where you live and work.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick and stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Exercise and stay active
This is not only good for your physical health but your mental health too. Periodically, get up and move around your home. Walking, stretching, planks or jumping jacks (whatever works for you) can reduce or alleviate stress and increase endorphins. While our favorite gyms and fitness centers are closed during this time, many are offering free livestreams or app-based workouts for members and the general public, so check online to see what’s available. If circumstances allow, go outside for a brisk walk and fresh air, but avoid crowds and close contact with others.
It’s good to stay updated on the progress the world is making to combat the virus. Reliable sources of news include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). However, avoid continuous exposure to news, media, and social media that may trigger or elevate anxiety, stress or panic.
Distract and get creative
Engage in activities that benefit your well-being, bring you joy and distract you from feelings of overwhelm. Do what helps keep you calm. You may enjoy journaling, reading, art projects, cooking with new recipes, breathing exercises, or listening to a podcast or music.
Share tips with co-workers and friends on what’s working well for you and discover what works for them. Consider new ideas like planning a Google Hangouts. Share photos of pets and how they are enjoying your new routine.
Tips for those diagnosed with mental health conditions
Continue your treatment plan
Despite changes in routine, it is extremely important to follow your treatment plan. If your symptoms change or you need reassurance during this difficult time, call your treating provider’s office to see if they are offering virtual visits. If you are concerned about medications running low, request that your treating healthcare provider approves a 60-or -90-day supply for you. Cold and flu medications may interact with antidepressants and/or antipsychotics so consult with your health care provider and pharmacist if you are using over the counter medications.
Recognize warning signs and triggers
Continue to monitor new or worsening symptoms you may be experiencing with your mental health or overall health and well-being. Try to keep your stress level low. Engage in activities like those listed above that may help you during this disruptive time.
Engage your support network
Stay connected with family and trusted friends via phone calls, social media and related avenues of connecting and let them know if you need extra support. Be clear about what you need during this time.
Tips for managers and HR professionals
It’s more important than ever to encourage and facilitate regular communication with employees. Understand that your team is likely feeling overwhelmed and anxious about circumstances related to the coronavirus. Make yourself available to talk about fears, to answer questions and to reassure them about work and other issues. Use virtual meeting options like Zoom and JoinMe to allow teams to connect “face-to-face.”
Encourage online training. This is a good time for employees to sharpen their skills with online training. It is also a good distraction to focus on learning rather than worrying about other issues. Find online trainings and new learning opportunities to recommend.
Loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Be aware of significant changes you may see in team members’ personalities or work. Check your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to confirm their availability and to coordinate support for employees. Remind the staff that the EAP is there if they need support. It can connect employees with other behavioral health support if needed. Also, connect with your organization’s health plan(s) to learn what they are offering to support members and pass that information on to employees.
Additional helpful and reliable resources
- CDC: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html
- APA: psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2020/02/coronavirus-and-mental-health-takingcare- of-ourselves-during-infectious-disease-outbreaks
- WHO: who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_8
- SAMHSA: samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/tips-social-distancing-quarantine-isolation-031620.pdf
- NAMI: nami.org/getattachment/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2020/COVID-19-and-Mental-Illness-NAMI- Releases-Importan/COVID-19-Updated-Guide-1.pdf?lang=en-US
Support & Lifelines
If you are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or depression, reach out for support.
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Dr. Bert Price is a medical director for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. A psychiatrist and Jungian psychoanalyst, he is working online while sheltering at home with his wife Cindy and their two dogs, Blue and Peetie. He has daily contact online with his daughter and grandkids in San Antonio.