Written by Lauren Kelindeman
Everything we know has changed, from our daily routines, workplaces and home lives. Our work and home lives seem to have blurred together, and boundaries between the two become increasingly difficult. Even as restrictions ease in the future, we will still be living in isolation in some ways for a while.
Studies show that a lack of control in our lives leads to anxiety. It’s no surprise that many of us are feeling anxious and distracted from work. It’s important that we focus on our mental health during this time to help us manage work and home.
How a supermarket meltdown taught me the importance of wellbeing during isolation
I am writing this from a position of privilege as I am still employed and was able to easily transition to working from home. I understand that this is not everyone’s experience.
On 9 March 2020, pre-lockdown stage, I had just returned from a relaxing and sun-filled week in Thailand and was feeling very “zen”. During this time I had missed the beginning of the panic buying in Australia. I stepped into my local supermarket to do the weekly shop, when I noticed something peculiar. There were no fruits or vegetables in the Fresh Produce section. I thought that perhaps they were slow in stocking up deliveries, so I wandered over to the bread section, but realised there was no bread either. As I walked past each aisle, I saw nearly every shelf wiped clean of groceries. My heart started to race.
People around me started yelling and fighting over the last item on the pasta shelf. People were shouting about the lack of food to anyone that would listen. My heart was pounding and I started to feel unsafe. I had to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to stop myself having a panic attack beside the canned asparagus (apparently no one was panic buying those).
What was happening to our food and more importantly, the human race?! When I rushed home my anxiety worsened as I started to read news about COVID-19. I realised I had missed the memo on stockpiling while I had been away and scrolled myself into a miserable rabbit hole.
The next day, I was feeling even worse. At any mention of the virus I would burst into tears for no reason. I wanted to close my eyes and wake up in 2021. I had gone from being my most relaxed self on a beach overseas to a high stress environment. I found it difficult to focus on work (or anything else) and my productivity decreased.
If this sounds familiar to you, you are definitely not alone. I’m sure many people have had a similar meltdown moment during this time.
How can you expect to concentrate when your mental health is suffering? The answer is, you can’t. I quickly realised that this feeling wasn’t going to go away unless I took action. I thought about what aspects of the situation was in my control (my home environment, office set up and daily routine) and what I could do about it.
I desperately put together all of the wellbeing habits I had learnt from running wellbeing sessions at work and implemented changes to my daily routine. Within a few days, I felt like a different person. I had recovered from the anxiety and was able to thrive again at home and work.
Here are some of the strategies I have learned, that I hope you too can use to enhance your wellbeing during COVID-19.
Perform random acts of kindness
We all feel an incredible sense of happiness when we help other people. You can do this in many ways:
- Reaching out to a friend to see how they are
- Giving a co-worker a compliment
- Writing a thank you card for your house mate.
- For those who can afford it, making a small donation towards a local charity. Studies show that we feel happier spending money on people other than ourselves.
- Doing small favours or gestures of goodwill, even letting someone go before you in the shopping aisle!
Develop screen-life balance
Try and be mindful with your screen time and create a screen-life balance. This means spending less time on your screens for consumption (scrolling, social media, news) and more time using it for connection (video calls with friends) and creation (music, online fitness, podcast).
Create new positive experiences
Use this time as a fresh start to create fun habits at home to give your day structure. I have seen some great examples, such as:
- Having a “morning tea” break with the people you live with to talk about your day, like you would with your actual co-workers;
- Setting up a short daily or weekly video call with your family to check-in;
- Playing “best, worst or funniest” at dinner each night, where you talk about the best, worst and funniest parts of your day;
- Hosting a country themed dinner e.g. Italian night everyone helps cook an Italian dinner (perhaps with some Italian wine too).
For those living with others
If you are isolating with your partner, children, parents or housemates, even the closest relationships can be strained by spending too much time together. Couple this with people’s increased stress levels and it can get snarky quickly! Believe it or not, you can ease the tension in a few ways.
Firstly, lower your expectations. Relationship success is often to do with our expectations. We should not be expecting our iso-buddies to be their most generous and considerate selves during this time. They are also going through a hard time and we need to cut them some slack. For example, if someone doesn’t unload the dishwasher when they are supposed to, try to be compassionate and patient.
Secondly, focus on their strengths. Promote the good things in your relationship by doing something together that you both enjoy. For example if you are both active, go for a walk together. If you both like a certain TV show, have a binge night together.
For those living alone
For people isolating by themselves, this is prime time for you to embrace activities of solitude that are good for mental health. Some examples include meditation, exercise, creative hobbies and dancing in your living room!
For social creatures, just because you are physically alone does not mean you have to be socially alone. Reach out to all of your favourite friends and family and schedule a catch up for each day in the week. It is important that this is done by video, as studies show that intentionally connecting in real time (such as a live video call) has almost as much benefit as face-to-face social connection.
For those not sleeping
There are a few ways you can help get a good night sleep. Firstly, you should get up and go to bed at the same time each day (even when you wake up tired!). This is important for our circadian rhythm (body clock).
Secondly, you need to keep moving and exercise each day. Surprisingly, less physical activity actually leads to more fatigue. This will keep you more alert during the day, and sleepy at night.
Thirdly, if you are in bed and can’t fall asleep for a long time, don’t stay in bed. Get up and go to another room where you can do something quiet like listen to a podcast, music or read a book. Once you feel tired again, go back to bed.
For those feeling anxious about the news
Studies show that when people read news on tragic accidents (where it is no one’s fault), they are more upset than when they read news where someone is to blame. This is because it threatens people’s assumptions about the safety and fairness of our world. This means that all of the COVID-19 stories we are passively inhaling is doing a lot of damage to our mood and wellbeing.
But hang on, how am I meant to keep up to date, I hear you ask? Easy, you can follow these tips:
- Try and source as much positive news too through hashtags like #covidkindness.
- Pick a reliable news source that is factual and non-sensationalist;
- Check that source only once a day maximum;
- Do a check-in with yourself about your emotional state before you check the news. If you are already feeling down or anxious, give it a miss that day;
- Do not check the news after dinner. Taking in this distressing information close to bedtime will be a detriment to your sleep.
For those struggling to be productive at work
First of all, you should give yourself a break. Everyone is worried about their health, finances and jobs – of course we won’t be as productive as usual!
The good news is that if you focus on your mental and physical health during this time, your emotions will be more under control so you can focus.
Here are a few practical ways you can stay productive during this time:
- Start the day in work mode. Getting dressed into anything other than pyjamas can help your brain distinguish from relaxation time. It also means you are more likely to go out for a walk on a break (as you are already dressed properly).
- Separate the day into 4 modules and assign tasks to each module. Take a break between each one so you return feeling refreshed. This is easier to tackle than one big work day.
- Avoid multitasking. There is already enough going on in your head!
- Negotiate boundaries in your home. If you are getting constantly interrupted by people you are living with, set a rule e.g. not to disturb you if the door is closed or during a certain time slot.
- Make a to-do list at the end of each day for the next day so you are prepared. Write down small achievable tasks so that you can celebrate small wins.
For those with children
There are many parents out there who have children at home all day, every day. Children have also lost their routine and they don’t have the tools to understand what is going on. Add to that the need to home-school, and things can feel chaotic pretty quickly. Setting a schedule for their day and sticking to it will help bring routine back into their life.You can also share positive stories with them of kindness and COVID heroes during this time.
It is important to remember that adults have a huge emotional impact on children and they will catch on to how you are feeling. This is why it is important for you to focus on your own positive mental health.
If you aren’t feeling yourself during this time, remember that it is okay to not feel okay. We can all put in place some easy strategies to help us get through this time.
That is why we have started our new initiative Love Your Life, a free daily 15 minute wellbeing session available to the public via Zoom. Sessions include desk yoga, drawing lessons, music, goal setting, games and personal development. We created this to give people something relaxing to look forward to each day. Take 15 minutes out of your day for some “you” time. Join us here: https://zoom.us/j/5944356497 Password: 419011