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People around the world are facing increasing mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Q&A we look at some questions around managing mental health and provide some tips for employers and employees for their working and individual lives. 

For many COVID-19 has brought much fear and anxiety and it feels like overnight our priorities have changed and in such a volatile environment, it is normal to worry about things that just a month ago were not even on our radars.

It is important that employers take the time to consider the mental health of the workers and that employees are aware of how the situation can affect them and the workplace. The following answers some questions around managing mental health.

For more resources and information around mental health check out Ai Group's Mental Health portal.  

How can employees stay calm and manage their mental health?

Accept the situation

Employees should try and:

  • accept the situation;
  • understand that is much uncertainty;
  • remind themselves that this is temporary; and
  • understand that there will be some suffering. 

Almost everyone is being affected negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be going through a range of emotions such as anger and frustration. Try to empathise with fellow employees and everyone else and show understanding. 

Apply a realistic lens 

There is no doubt that the world is currently on its knees. The fear and concern is justified, and the virus is not only putting lives at risks, but livelihoods and businesses are also in jeopardy. 

Whilst most of us know people who have lost their business or  their job, we also know a lot more people who are still working. It is absolutely appropriate to be aware and concerned, but it is imperative that concern is balanced with the facts – not just fear.

Overthinking things is unproductive and will not help the situation. 

Tune out

In a climate where social media and the news has become a lifeline to the outside world there is a risk of information overload about the terrible impacts of the pandemic.

It is normal for people to feel stressed, anxious and fearful of the impacts to their lives, however a healthy balance of information is required to reduce our brain's alarmist response. To help, try limiting news and social media that you find it distressing.

Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t!

More than ever before, employees need to dig deep and think about every action, behaviour and output and how that supports the business.

This means that an interesting project may need to be put on hold, or a team workshop may need to be cancelled whilst all energy is focused on safeguarding the business during this crisis. This takes a selfless approach and employees need to be less focused on ‘whether or not it is their responsibility’ and more focused on what positive contribution they can do at any level in the business.

Keep in contact 

Humans release feel good chemicals in their brain by keeping in contact with friends, family and colleagues via email, social media, video conferencing or telephone. Keep in touch regularly and set up regular chats with your peers.

Stay active

Do some activities that you enjoy and find relaxing and avoid sitting in front of the computer all day. Break up the day with a regular routine including exercise and venturing outside for some fresh air. 

Working from home

If working from home, try to break the day up by allocating specific work hours, taking regular breaks and, if possible, establishing a dedicated workspace. Further tips for remote working can be found here

Avoid asking for constant reassurance

It is appropriate to share fears with leaders or peers around what COVID-19 means to the business and even specifically your role, but it is not healthy to keep asking.

Seeking reassurance can calm fears, but it also creates a feedback cycle in the brain where we only feel calm when we are reassured that everything will be fine. The trouble with this is that employers don’t know what the future will hold, and no certainty can be provided.

Consider a Cognitive Behavioural Training  technique

Cognitive Behavioural Training (CBT) is an effective technique to tackle persistent thoughts with rational counter statements.

For example, if you are constantly thinking “I am going to lose my job”, a CBT approach attempts to counter this though with a factual statement such as, “everyone in my department is still employed and we are positively contributing to our customer needs”. Controlling our own internal dialogue is critically important.

Allocate a period to worry

It is not realistic to completely remove worry in a time of great uncertainty.

Perhaps instead of trying to remove it altogether, allow yourself a small amount of time each day or week to work through your concerns in a logical and clear manner. Seek assistance where required and be aware of allowing your worry to maintain the focus of your thoughts.

How much should organisations share with employees?

Sometimes employers are concerned about having open and transparent conversations with employees as they worry about the potential disruption to business. The truth is that irrespective of industry, seniority or specialty, most Australians are expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

In the absence of a strong communication strategy, employees may be unnecessarily concerned which will have a disastrous impact on employee wellbeing and the health of the business.

How can I support an employee/colleague who has suffered from mental health issues in the past?

As it is normal to feel anxious or stressed during this time, Beyond Blue encourages people who have experienced mental health issues in the past to:

  • activate their support network
  • acknowledge feelings of distress
  • seek professional support early if you’re they are having difficulties.

For those already managing mental health issues, they should continue with their treatment plan and keep track of any new symptoms. 

As mentioned above social contact and maintaining routines can be supportive for our mental health and wellbeing. In circumstances where this is not possible, staying connected with friends and family online or by phone may assist. 

Helpful resources and contacts

Beyond Blue has a dedicated page on its forums about coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond Blue also has many fact sheets about anxiety and offers other practical advice and resources at beyondblue.org.au.

Further information

For further assistance, Ai Group members can contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.

More Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources can also be found at Ai Group's dedicated webpage. Specific COVID-19 HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members can be found here

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