If we can think of mental health and wellbeing in terms of prevention it will serve us well in our lives altogether but, even better now, as we begin to reintegrate after a period of isolation and working from home. Our emotional health, while traditionally disregarded or placed second to other health issues, remains equally important as our physical wellbeing.
Sometimes I toy with the idea that mental health should be considered as more important than physical health given what we know about people, perfect “in body” who may have suffered the “loss of the mind.”
COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures have come with very drastic changes for everyone. Still, the psychological effects of social distancing, isolating and quarantine are greater for some than others as we each are asked to quickly adapt to very stringent and stressful measures.
Work-from-home arrangements, while appearing luxurious and idyllic have turned out to be far more challenging for many people. Some have been complicated with having to manage a work day with the entire family present, including younger children, and having to be parent, spouse, cook and dishwasher, plus provide comfort to your family during working hours.
The sharing of communal spaces for work stations where homes do not have designated study or workspaces was a tough one for many of my friends and, in some instances, having technical challenges with Internet and work interfaces was/is at times a bit daunting.
Now that we are expected to return to our previous working arrangements, or some semblance of that space, the stresses are heightened.
Our families are necessarily going to leave home for varied directions: Would we be safe from infection? How much physical distance should we and can we reasonably retain in our workplaces? Is T&T going to suffer a second wave as scientists are predicting for everywhere else in the world? What does that mean for me?
When would we be able to get a vaccine? How and when would we know if there are adverse effects to any of what is definitely very rushed medical interventions? And the questions flow ad infinitum and mostly without us ever voicing them but continually living in the stress and anxiety they produce on/in our mind and bodies.
While we hope our managers and employers and the State as our largest employer are being counselled and prepared for our return-to-work agenda, each of us must take responsibility for managing our mental health and wellbeing as we prepare to return to some semblance of the work life we once had.
Here are some basics for dealing with the management of personal stress and trying to strike work-life balance:-
Talking about your feelings is one of the best ways to protect your mental health and wellbeing. No one should discount the value of counsel and how it works to help us cope in our worst challenges. Often we carry around our anxieties too long in our heads thinking either we will be seen as weak to speak up or we would be regarded as broken if people knew what troubles us. But talking and receiving appropriate counsel is our best tool to navigate either one’s work-from-home situation or for returning to the workplace.
The best of us can become overwhelmed in circumstances far less challenging than our current scenario. Asking for help is an excellent strategy at this time. Some companies already offer employee assistance programmes (EAP), use these services. At this time, in my opinion, every company, organisation or office should offer workplace wellbeing interventions. It is my hope that the State would employ a blueprint for answering people’s call for help, providing leadership at the national level, especially because stigma and prejudices about mental wellbeing and mental illnesses remain prevalent issues here.
Maybe this is a good time to ask for a break from work if your work programme can allow it. If your stress and anxieties are high about the uncertainties of this time, it may be a good time to negotiate your vacation rather than return to the office.
If you must continue going to the workplace, maybe it is time to renegotiate your hours. Is there a possibility for flexitime? Can we consider less office days and combine the work week with work-from-home hours once the tasks are completed in a timely fashion?
Employers and managers must give consideration to individual situations and must also benefit from the counsel of industrial/organisational psychologists now more than ever.
Returning to work requires a lot more tolerance, kindness and compassion not just from others but from ourselves for ourselves. No one should be considered as being weak, pretending or making excuses, but each person’s fear or anxiety must be taken on merit.