I repeatedly hear people ask, “Who could have imagined this was going to happen!”. COVID has really thrown a spanner in the works on a global scale. We have seen businesses and people forced to adapt to a new reality in order to survive, and as a result, we have seen a sharp increase in poor mental health, and more specifically, a rise in anxiety, writes Jodii McGuire.
So why do we all feel that little bit more anxious?
The obvious answer is we don’t really know how this COVID pandemic truly started, and we don’t know where it will go, but we all want it to go away. COVID19 has taken (or at least radically altered) our sense of freedom and choice, and as humans we see freedom and choice as fundamental rights! when you throw in the social, financial and economic disruption, you can truly see the marked impact on collective mental health. While we drift through the COVID pandemic, and all that it means to our current reality, we see an array of secondary concerns emerge, namely financial trauma, social deprivation, cognitive distortion and optimism oppression.
Through this lack of physical mobility and physical socialisation, we see people increase their use of social media usage, being bombarded by a tsunami of “finds ways to thrive during the pandemic”, “ be your best self”, and “take time for you”. This constant barrage of positivity is not providing any therapeutic relief to this compassion and kindness fatigue that is setting in.
When we first thought this was only going to be a few months we were more open to the idea of ‘taking more time for myself’.
But now with businesses closing their doors, jobs in question and bank balances depleting we can’t in all good conscious keep focusing on the things that make us feel better in place of the things that makes us money.
This stress of ensuring we still have a job by the end of the day or a business that is generating some sort of profit in an uncertain world adds a higher level of pressure to perform and not make any mistakes. We have seen many articles and know many people in industries where standdown measures are in place and/or businesses are closing their doors for good, and this information sits on the shoulders of many workers as a warning of poor performance, increasing anxiety and stress levels in employees.
For those people fortunate enough to be working in industries that are still thriving, the world of work doesn’t provide all the relief we need. There are a number of paradoxes that subtly keep the anxiety on the table. For example, essential workers face the risk of contracting COVID every workday, however, they still have the ability to earn an income. Or for those who have had to switch to remote working, they don’t need to worry about commuting and are earning an income, however, their work/life boundaries are becoming blurred and more difficult to manage.
Many remote workers face the dilemma of setting those boundaries: when are we worker and when are we partner, parent, friend or self?
The problem of blurring our work self with our personal self isn’t new, it has just been exacerbated by our new way of working, but is it really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing? For those of us who stay at home full time and work, yes, our likely exposure to the virus is significantly reduced but the blurred lines are a risk of becoming a squiggle and it may be very challenging in the years ahead to return to a workplace setting.
There is a very real opportunity here for workplace leaders, HR professionals, managers and legislators to consciously design the workforce of the future right now. The current workforce is fearful and unstable, there is space to step in here and have some meaningful and transformational conversations. But as we have seen over the past 18 months challenging traditional thinking is easier said than done!
We need to be treating stress, anxiety and depression as more significant than ever before, especially in workplace contexts. It’s ever-present right now, and we need to be focusing on our tools to manage our wellbeing and mental health and be proactive not reactive.
I talk to people every day who are feeling significantly unsettled but they are not using any cognitive or physiological strategies to manage their worries.
Not every employee will have financial access or the opportunity to access a mental health practitioner, in order to understand how to stay proactive against the stressors and underlying anxiety brought about by our current work landscape. And by pinning our hopes on relying on border openings, vaccines and WFH strategies as solutions, we are creating a problem that will not simply disappear with these ‘solutions’.
My guess is the stress anxiety and depression that we are experiencing now will still be present beyond a COVID managed world. Let’s not miss the opportunity to promote and teach mental health and wellbeing strategies to our employees, just as we did with hand washing, social distancing and mask wearing. Mental Health & wellbeing tools don’t have to be difficult or expensive. There are more simple angles a business can take to implementing learnings and good mental health practices for their employees: learning to breath effectively to clear our minds and settle a racing heart or creating space between a negative trigger and our response are some examples.
While COVID has disrupted our lives, plans and relationships, I believe there are a few things it has taught us.
It has really shone a spotlight on mental health, especially in the workplace, which, before the pandemic hadn’t been as widely understood or valued. It has taught us that some of our behaviours prior to the pandemic were contributing to poor wellbeing, like having a busy and jam-packed schedule, not valuing relationships and connection opportunities as much, and it has definitely taught us that work can be done remotely or in a hybrid manner.
However, I still wonder at times if its’ lessons have been properly learned and ingrained, or if we will revert to our old ‘unhelpful’ habits as soon as we return to whatever is our new normal!
Nature regrows and thrives after a disaster, so can we as humans take yet another lesson from mother nature and grow through this stronger, better and more resilient?
The answer lies in the present; in the choices and actions, we choose to imbed and ingrain in our workplaces, and our relationships.
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