The months ahead will be a time of uncertainty as the effects of COVID-19 become known and the impacts on businesses are managed as much as possible.
But as you protect your business and your physical health, remember to also protect your mental health.
Concentrate on what you can control
There’s a lot you can’t fully control right now but there’s also a lot you can, and taking action helps us feel in control.
For a start, if you work in essential services and are still at work, remember to take all steps to protect your workplace against COVID-19. Posters and other resources are available to share with your team from the government's COVID-19 website.
Living with the uncertainty of the current situation, whether that’s concern for our financial or physical health, can lead to anxiety or us feeling overwhelmed. When in isolation, especially if you cannot work or stay productive, feeling stressed and anxious is totally normal.
To help, here are some things we can all do to stay mentally healthy during these times.
Take steps to protect your mental health
- Keep your usual routines: Even if you’re in isolation at home, stick to your usual mealtimes, bedtimes, etc, as structure helps keep us grounded and calm. If you’re not working, write a to-do list for each day so you have something to achieve.
- Don’t overwork: If you can work from home, don’t forget to clock off as it can be tempting to overwork, especially if you have a business to run. Becoming over-tired or fatigued isn’t going to help your mental wellbeing or your organisation.
- Eat well: Choose healthy foods that help boost your mental health. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; wholegrain breads, rice and pastas; and legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas. Keep sugary, salty and foods high in saturated fats to a minimum. Think about planning meals in advance and cooking extra food to freeze so you know you have extra if you need it. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Healthyfood.com has good advice about staying healthywhile in isolation.
- Keep active: Going to the gym isn't an option right now, but you can garden, or go out for a walk or run if you stay away from people. Search the internet for workouts you can do at home, or some yoga, Tai Chi or stretches, which can also be calming.
- Stay connected – from a distance: Keep in touch with family and whānau, friends and workmates to talk about how you’re all feeling and what you’re experiencing. But do it from a distance, or via phone or video calling.
- Practice ‘grounding techniques’: If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, use grounding techniques to reconnect you to the present and calm down. These are measures such as controlled breathing, stretches, quick bouts of exercise, or mindfulness techniques.
- It’s OK to ask for professional support: If you feel like you are becoming distressed, call or text 1737 at any time to talk to a trained professional for free. Contact your psychologist, therapist or counsellor if you have one.
See Depression.org.nz’s COVID-19 page for steps you can take if you’re feeling anxious or stressed. The Journal may also help – it’s a free, personalised programme to help manage anxiety or depression. A team of experts guide users through lifestyle and problem solving skills to help them stay positive.
How to deal with employees off work during COVID-19
Essential services workers remain at work. If a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19, there are responsibilities as an employer. Obviously, these are around keeping the workplace as physically safe as possible, and also about treating that team member fairly.
Protecting a sick employee’s privacy is important as a diagnosis of COVID-19 can provoke stigma and discrimination towards those with the disease, and even those unfairly perceived as potential carriers.
That’s partly because COVID-19 is a new disease with a lot of unknowns, which creates anxiety and fear. It’s entirely human to associate our fears with those we perceive as ‘other’, but that can translate into dangerous stereotypes.
Also, if people fear they will be mistreated, they may hide their illness and not seek help, which could infect more people and make themselves sicker.
Employers have a responsibility to prevent discrimination and stigma wherever it is, including around COVID-19.
- Share only approved information: There is an unquantifiable amount of misinformation about there about COVID-19, its spread and effects. Stick to approved sources of information, such as Health.govt.nz and the World Health Organization.
- Be compassionate: If you’re the boss – as with everything – lead by example, remaining calm and demonstrating understanding, empathy and compassion to those affected.
- Keep in touch with all employees, including those affected by COVID-19: Stay connected with team members when they're off, even if they're no longer working. If you have a team member affected by COVID-19, keep in contact with them and – with their permission – share their progress with other employees. This demonstrates they deserves compassion and sympathy, not fear or stigma.