Mental Health Awareness Week: Controlling post lockdown anxiety

by | May 20, 2020 | News

This article has been contributed by health, wellbeing and engagement partner, Heather Deering, of Morson Group. Morson is a strategic partner to the Keep Britain Working campaign and will work to lead the movement’s presence in the North. With a 50 year heritage in recruitment, Morson will partner a skilled labour force with existing and new roles that open up as Britain emerges from complete lockdown.

The measures imposed by the UK government and authorities around the world to tackle the coronavirus outbreak have meant people have experienced isolation, uncertainty and disruption more than ever before. Homes have become workplaces, schools and gyms, and people are facing considerable uncertainty around their health, finances and job security. Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that stress and anxiety have been exacerbated, with many of us – pre-existing mental health conditions or not – experiencing high levels of worry.

However, as countries start to lift lockdown restrictions and governments set out tentative measures to re-open society, thoughts turn to how we will cope with reintegration and resocialisation. Over the past few months we’ve steadily adapted to our ‘new normal’. We’ve been able to stay in our homes, a space we can control and feel safe in, and we’ve been able to take measures to prevent our exposure to others, like limiting time outdoors and maintaining social distancing. This has been a worrying and stressful time, however through actions encouraged by our government and health experts we’ve been able to mitigate potential anxieties throughout the lockdown period.

Whilst the prospect of easing restrictions will be positive for many – for example, we might finally be able to give loved ones a hug, access a professional haircut and spend downtime in eating and drinking establishments – learning to live alongside coronavirus will evoke some levels of discomfort. After adapting to stay-at-home measures, we may feel hesitant or lack the confidence to go back out into the world – even if, at the same, time we’re looking forward to it.

The concept of holding two opposing viewpoints simultaneously is called ‘cognitive dissonance’, and commonly causes mental discomfort to arise.  In the employment context, integration back into office spaces raises similar anxieties. There will be a natural apprehension around returning to spaces which were once completely ordinary, but over the past few months have been deemed dangerous. As lockdown measures ease, mental health experts are anticipating a rise in the experience of anxiety, whether we have a history of mental health issues or not.

If you are experiencing fear or anxiety about post-lockdown life, the following tips may be helpful:

1.   Listen to yourself take steps to understand how and why your anxiety arises, how you can recognise it within yourself and others, and develop strategies that may help you overcome it. This might take the form of engaging with mental health champions in your workplace, seeking out information or advice from mental health charities and organisations, or speaking with your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional.

2.   Communicate – being open and honest about your feelings with those around you will encourage others to do the same. Though we all respond differently to stress, this is a unique and rare situation where the entire population is having the same experience at the same time. People sharing their feelings serves as a good reminder that we’re all in the same boat, and we can’t underestimate the comfort that this can bring to an uncomfortable situation.

3.   Mental and physical health – protect your health and wellbeing by eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of good quality sleep, and by making time for self-care. When anxiety overtakes us, it can be difficult to find the mental capacity to do all of these things, every day. But take it all a step at a time, do little bits of each thing and watch how your mental load improves when you strike the balance. Build up from there.

4.   Be kind to yourself – recognise that if you are feeling discomfort or anxiety, it is normal; we’ve gone through a lot of change in a very short space of time and adjustment to it is unlikely to be immediate. Be kind to yourself and those around you and don’t expect to necessarily slide straight back into life as it was pre-lockdown. It took time to adjust to lockdown and it’s going to take time to adjust back. If you don’t feel ready, don’t bow to any internal or external pressure to dive straight in – take it slow and steady.

If you are an employer or manager, you may never have had to think about other people more than during this time of crisis. It is essential that this continues as lockdown restrictions ease. The health and welfare of your people must be a priority and appropriately managed as many of your employees face a potentially daunting prospect of returning to their workplace. As an employer you not only have the responsibility of ensuring your employees’ physical health and safety by creating Covid-secure workspaces, but by understanding the effects of disruption and anxiety, you can also prioritise mental wellbeing.

Here are some tips to help you put in place support mechanisms and create a culture where employees feel able to share their challenges and in turn, ease anxieties.

1. Talk to your people

Keep in regular contact and whether people are in the workplace or at home, be honest and authentic. Start by acknowledging the uncertainty and the stress the workplace now causes, and be prepared to say that you don’t have or know the answers to questions ‘right now’. Reassure anyone left waiting that you will prioritise finding the solution to their challenge, and you’ll come back to them at your earliest opportunity.

Make sure that alongside regular communication with all staff, you also liaise with line managers. They are the main contact between the heads of an organisation and its people and if you want to achieve consistently applied policies and advice, they may need more information than you give to all staff. Remember, you should only share advice and guidance from accredited and responsible sources, especially in regard to people’s health.

2. Everyone has a different mental health

This pandemic has had an impact on how we all think and feel about ourselves and the world we live in. There is a lot of talk of physical vulnerabilities in relation to the coronavirus, but many people will be going through the entirely new experience of mental vulnerability. From feelings of displacement, being overwhelmed and stress and anxiety, people who may never have experienced mental health issues before may be feeling mental distress and it’s important to consider this.

These circumstances might lead people to disclose mental health problems they have previously not discussed at work. Treat new disclosures with respect and compassion and make reasonable adjustments.

3. Promote access to support

Provide access to support services through your workplace – there are many excellent third-party mental health resources that you can promote to help your employees such as an Employee Assistance Programme and through charities like Mind. Make sure these resources are made widely available on company intranets and are clearly signposted within the workplace.

In addition, ensure people also know where to go and who to talk to internally. If you have mental health champions, allies or mental health first aiders make sure they have the latest information, and that if you change working practices as more government guidance is announced, that this network of mental health support continues to adapt so it can provide constant support.

For most people anxiety will be temporary and will fade over the coming weeks and months. For others, it may represent a more long-lasting concern that will require support to overcome.

As employers, we need to adapt our approach and develop the tools to support the wellbeing of our community in tackling the additional challenges that COVID-19 poses to the mental health of our workforces.

As individuals, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or feeling overwhelmed don’t keep it to yourself – speak to a trusted friend or loved one, your doctor, or to a mental health support organisation like Mind or Samaritans. Better yet, use your internal mental health support services – they’re there for you, too.

As we all navigate COVID-19 and the changes it is bringing to each of our lives, we all have a responsibility to reach out and start the conversation around mental health:

  • Talk, connect with one another and reinforce the support systems around you. 
  • Share with us your ideas on what can be done to support mental health during this time, as we try to #KeepBritainWorking. 
  • Think about what you can to support not just your own mental health, but those around you – share with others how you can help through making a pledge to promote health and happiness!
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