As the UK experiences a second national lockdown, leading clinicians from London-based mental health and wellbeing clinic The Soke have laid out their advice for how to cope with anxieties around work, personal relationships and self-care.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people in the UK suffering from depression has doubled during the pandemic, with mental health charities calling for the Government to offer a winter support package to help prevent a national mental health crisis.
Long periods of isolation and economic uncertainty has led many to suffer from issues such as anxiety, loneliness, low confidence and self-esteem, whether due to financial insecurity, job losses, or lack of personal contact.
Yet, there are some simple steps that can help to promote positivity, while relieving feelings of anxiety around work, relationships and self-care.
Across almost all industries the world of work has been turned on its head, with daily job losses announced and a completely new way of doing business now commonplace. The daily commute and weekly boardroom meetings now seem a distant memory, replaced with a new home-based office and regular Zoom calls. While there are indeed benefits to
working from home, they come hand-in-hand with a lack of personal contact with colleagues, the potential slowing up of career progression, the challenges of new technologies and the potential for burnout brought on by the ‘always on’ culture.
Maryam Meddin, founder of The Soke, has some suggestions for navigating the turbulent waters of the working world in the age of COVID:
Given that what was once ‘working from home’ has effectively morphed into ‘living at work’ for many, we need to consider the impact of this new world order from two different angles. The first is: how is it affecting our personal wellbeing in the context of who we are as private individuals. The second is: how is it shaping the way that we interact with, and what we feel about, our colleagues, our employers and/or our employees?
There have been numerous studies to show that the starting point on the journey to wellbeing isn’t necessarily a leap to embrace positivity but the taking of steps to reduce the negative noises that we absorb daily. With everything that’s going on in the world, and with many of us already sitting in front of our screens – the window through which the world’s chaos enters our private sphere – it takes little effort to be exposed to sources of constant stress.
To propose a significant reduction in screen time would be to have an unrealistic take on how the majority of us tend to live these days, so the alternative is to suggest a more conscious intake of information. There’s data showing that performance suffers if our day is punctured by the intake of negative news, regardless of whether or not we’re directly impacted by what we’ve heard or watched. It would be prudent, therefore, to be selective and make a conscious choice to steer towards narratives that affirm a belief in positive outcomes. This doesn’t mean seeking out rainbows and unicorns, but stories that inspire resilience and determination, leading us to the belief that our actions drive our fate – a precept that can be enormously empowering. So, take time to seek out a motivating influence online as often as you can.
Looking at the question of how this new way of working impacts our careers: the importance of leaders enabling sessions in which their teams are able to talk openly about their experience cannot be overstated. Individuals who have long viewed each other in a neutral setting are now suddenly seeing their colleagues in a whole new light, thanks to the powers of Zoom, and being influenced by assumptions that may have no basis in reality. Our experience with corporate clients shows that in many cases, previously warm collegiate relationships are being fractured purely because of an inference on how the other half live (incidentally, “the other half” often can be defined by an equation as benign as single vs married).
We have found it incredibly productive to create forums in which colleagues have felt safe to talk about their individual circumstances with honesty and vulnerability, helping in turn to create a sense of mutual understanding and empathy that may have gradually dissipated over the past months. It’s worth saying that these honest talks are an incredibly delicate exercise and not one that should be “tried at home” without proper training or, better yet, the input of an experienced professional. Deftly handled, however, we can report from experience that the outcomes can be transformative for both employer and employee.
As doors have been closed across the nation and people can no longer socialise outside of their home or support bubble, the potential impact on people’s mental health is huge. It can put extra strain on family relationships, while creating greater distance between friends and family members. But how can you maintain healthy and regular communication? What are the warning signs to look out for and how can you seek help for yourself or others?
Dr Shadi Shahnavaz, Head of Family Therapy at The Soke, offers her guidance on how to look after personal relationships during the pandemic:
This second lockdown may be an opportunity for couples to reconnect with one another. For parents, this is because the children will continue to go to school and so they can shed their cloaks of being parents for a short time during the day and occasionally check in with each other as individuals whose identities exist beyond that of “mum” or “dad”. For those living together who aren’t parents, there’s still a need to set aside some regular protected time that’s focused on reaffirming the reasons they chose to be together – to think and talk beyond the concerns of the day to day routine.
Many couples are finding new ways of working together as a team, for example where the usually absent partner is stepping up to help around the house more. However, in some relationships, a pre-existing imbalance in the workload has been magnified and is leading to consistent conflict as old excuses of not being physically present no longer hold the water they used to. In these instances, there needs to be an examination of possible dysfunctions in the relationship with the input of a professional who can skilfully manage the discussions and help to navigate the change in dynamics.
Being in each other’s company 24/7, means that tensions will inevitably appear and lead to irritability; it’s therefore important to avoid the pretence that everything is okay, allowing the pressure cooker effect to take hold. Instead, we need to say how we feel, whilst trying our utmost to express ourselves in a manner that’s neither hurtful nor destructive. The possibility of choosing to address issues in a positive and constructive manner always exists and can be enormously valuable in strengthening a relationship. Some couples will find this difficult and will need the guidance of a professional to support them in raising issues, learn from the discussions, and move on together. Help is always out there.
It’s also important to set aside time for ourselves as adult individuals – do whatever interests or appeals to you personally and don’t feel obliged to explain yourself.
Depending on the age of the child(ren), parents are faced with various challenges, but the lockdown is also an opportunity to spend good times together as a family. So many children and teenagers I work with have told me how much they have enjoyed having both parents at home and having family movie nights together. It’s worth remembering that the current situation is probably even more difficult for our children as their lives have been disrupted to a high degree, so they need our help and support more than ever. There’s immense value in making a real effort to listen to them when they are ready to talk to us. Be warned that children and adolescents can open up at unusual times which may have us wondering why they picked that particular moment – but we need to be present and willing however odd or inconvenient.
We also need to not forget our sense of humour and laugh together as a couple and a family: I believe that humour is a great resilience in life.
When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, you must look after yourself first and foremost, in the same way that you would put on your own life jacket before helping others.
Prolonged periods of isolation can take their toll on your mind, leading to negative thoughts, bad sleeping habits and feelings of anxiety and loneliness and stress. So what can you do everyday to help yourself, what are the good habits to get into and what methods of both preventative and proactive care can you take?
Holli Rubin, Head of Personal Wellbeing at The Soke, provides her tips on how to look after yourself during lockdown:
The hardest part of self-care is remembering to practice it! It is always important to focus on ourselves and in unprecedented times we all need to be encouraged to prioritise our own health – both mental and physical. So, here are some ways to ensure your own self-care:
Prioritise yourself in the first moment as you open your eyes to set yourself up for the day. It takes practice and it can feel terribly cringey if it’s not something that you are used to doing, but try to find a different uplifting phrase to silently say to yourself each day for example: “Today will be a good day” or “I’m grateful for..” Commit to revisiting this ‘morning moment’ and convert it into regular self check-ins that eventually get repeated a few times a day. It’s a good habit to adopt.
Routines are important; nothing rigid but something familiar. This should be a process that comes to feel familiar and safe so that we can rely on knowing what comes next in some very small way. When we cannot see the bigger picture, small reliable routines allow some certainty which helps us to feel safe and OK in uncertain times.
It doesn’t have to be a taxing fitness routine or workout but getting up from your desk or computer regularly and moving your body is absolutely necessary to ensure you can function and work effectively.
Nothing needs to be gourmet or elaborate but regular and for the most part, nutritious food intake is important to keep our brains and bodies working. Mood is impacted by irregular eating patterns and dependent on what we consume. That said, if you are eating well enough 75 per cent of the time that is good enough. The last thing you need to do is to chastise yourself for what you are eating considering the major restrictions we’re already under. Meal preparation is something that many did not need to do or think of when shops were open all the time and we could come and go more freely, but lockdown has placed much more emphasis on meal planning and it can be stressful for many. Be kind and aim for getting it good enough, no place for pandemic perfection. Nourish yourself. It’s for you and for those around you.
Make time to connect on a human level. Social media is going to be part of your life, so you don’t need to be reminded to go online but you do need to remember to call a friend or colleague and importantly check in on family. Pick up the phone – it will be a welcome relief to a Zoom call and a deeper connection than that ‘Like’ on Instagram.
Nothing beats movement and fresh air. We’re allowed outdoors but are limited by light hours so why not take advantage of whatever light we have and soak up that Vitamin D when we can, which will help to boost immunity. It’s free and it doesn’t even have to be sun, the daylight offers benefits too.
Similar to the start of the day, take a final ‘me moment’, summarising your day, reminding yourself of what went well and focussing on something positive. If that’s hard to do, focus on gratitude – what you are grateful for? A physical reminder, such as a picture, a video clip, or a favourite thing you wear – anything that you associate positively with, can help to serve as a reminder to keep your self-care thoughts on track.