If I was asked in January what I was planning personally and professionally in 2020, the plans would have looked a whole lot different compared to being asked today. It was to be a year filled with lots of fun activities, plenty of family and friends time and a focus on business.
Then in March life changed dramatically for me and everyone else. What I once took for granted like travel, socialising or attendings events now seemed to be a luxury and at times unattainable. The constant change and uncertainly was unsettling. At times it felt like I had no control over my life. This had a high impact on my mental health and wellbeing.
While it is normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed by what is a very challenging time for so many in our community. Each one of us will react to stressful situations in different ways. Some people may need mental health support to cope with the effects of widespread uncertainty, self-isolation and loneliness or business collapse, job loss and financial hardship. Others may find ways of coping with these situations by incorporating daily routines to help them deal with the impact on their lives.
I found each day was different. I was awash with many feelings and emotions: fear, anger, panic, hurt or loss. The constant barrage of global information was overwhelming. Each day a new crisis or challenge seemed to greet me. I felt like I was sitting in a small dinghy in the middle of the ocean during a storm. I had to take action.
To begin, I realised I need to re-build my resilience. While I had activities that help me maintain good mental health, I had let some of them slip. When things are going well, and I am feeling ok I tend to miss some activities that keep me well. Things such as exercise, diet, sleep, gratitude and positive thinking all are important tools I use for better mental health.
Having experienced mental health conditions in the past I was able to use these mental health skills to respond more adeptly to this situation. I was very quickly able to do what I know helps me. I was able to get back to thinking more positively and managing the impact of all the information and changes that were occurring.
Understanding what plans, actions and routines to put in place to support yourself will in the long term have a positive impact on your mental health and wellness. If you haven’t developed that toolkit, you might be at risk of feeling completely out of control.
Reframing the situation
The amount of information about coronavirus has been overwhelming. Gaining knowledge and understanding what’s relevant in my area was important. Overloading with too much information becomes tiresome. I found by breaking it down to manageable pieces it allowed me to return to a sense of control.
I needed to make a conscious shift in my perspective of coronavirus. When I did it allowed me to watch the news, gather information and observe what’s going on. I now focus on what I can control. My frame of reference is smaller and easier to manage, and I’m feeling more in control
I’ve learned to be present with my feelings and emotions. They can vary from day to day. Initially I fought against them because I wanted everything to go back to how it was. This created more stress and it was exhausting. So, I allowed these feelings to flow through me without fighting against them all the time. I became present with my feelings.
In doing so it helped me to think positively even when my feelings or emotions were not.
I might feel anxious or fearful when things happen that impact me personally. By being present with these feelings It allows me to acknowledge the situation and then try to focus on positive outcomes. There have been times when I have been quite hard on myself or not reacted well to situations. This is understandable given these challenging circumstances. Throughout all this it is important to be kind to yourself.
Like many people I have been trying to get everything back to being normal. It’s actually okay not to be okay at the moment. However, we all need to learn to manage the negative feelings and emotions and to be present with them. This will allow us to tackle each day in a more positive manner.
While we are still in the midst of this global pandemic, practicing gratitude may seem like the last thing you are thinking about. There must be many other things to do first. Or you are thinking “what do I have to be grateful for?” You would not be alone in this thinking.
All of these thoughts and questions are understandable and might be making it challenging to practice gratitude right now. However, our thoughts play a large part in impacting our mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, where we can, it is important to keep them positive. It is possible to practice gratitude during a crisis, and indeed, it can help.
With everything going on I needed to turn my thoughts more positive. Practicing gratitude was a great place to begin. It was about being thankful for the most basic things I could think of, like walking in the park, a sunrise, family or that I am alive and well. This allowed me to momentarily feel happier and satisfied, giving me the hope to go on.
Without downplaying the suffering many people are experiencing or the seriousness of the situation right now, find a moment to stop and focus on what you’re grateful for?
One way to practice gratitude is to think of things you are grateful for, say them to yourself and then write them down. Gratitude, just like mindfulness, is something we need to practice. And the more we practice, the more spontaneously grateful we may become.
Try to think of at least five things you are grateful for now. Look around you as the answers may be closer than you think. Write them down and then say them out loud. See if they make you feel happier or help to change your thoughts into positive ones.
Humans are social animals. We crave connection.
As we spend more time in our homes, cut off from friends and family in a bid to stop the spread of the virus, the lack of physical connection can be mentally challenging.
For people who live alone especially, this extended lack of contact may be particularly tough. But just because we’re physically distant from each other doesn’t mean we can’t still be emotionally close. Maintaining regular human connection is more important than ever as we navigate these difficult times.
I have been working from home for over 3 years. Prior to the coronavirus I would be out of my home office many times each week at meetings, speaking events and consulting gigs. It was easy to stay connected and interact both personally and professionally. When that ceased, I needed to rethink my plan for staying connected.
Staying connected involved focusing on how I could connect with colleagues, family and friends and make it part of my every day. Calling rather than email or SMS was a great start. People like to hear your voice, have a chat and share their thoughts. Whether you leave a voicemail, have a quick chat or talk for ages, the sound of people’s voices can be a great comfort.
Contacting your customers and suppliers shows you care. Everyone is going through challenges and how each person is coping may be different. It is time to check in with your wider network. Start a conversation. You might be worrying, “what am I going to come up against if I call?” Don’t be fearful as it might provide the best outcome in your day.
I have received a number of calls over the past months. One in particular was a colleague who called to say hello and ask if I was ok. It was the best thing that happened to me that day. How joyous to receive a call! It’s more important than ever to stay connected so you don’t feel isolated and alone.
If you are a business owner with teams then staying connected with them is vital for their mental health. Technology has provided many and varied methods to allow this connection. Being consistent goes a long way to helping them with the challenges of feeling isolated. Create a routine for checking in with the team. Talk to them about how they are coping, Focus on their wellbeing. Chat about their projects or key deadlines. Mix it up and make it fun, just like you would in the office. Every conversation does not need to be about work.
As a sole trader you may be feeling more alone and isolated during these past months. Now is the time to look to your wider community, industry or networking groups. These can be a lifeline for you. They can provide support and connection during these challenging times.
Do not be afraid to reach out to others. It may also be the best thing you could do for you as well as others.
If you would like to find out more about looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, Beyond Blue has some great resources www.coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
The new “Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service” offers 24/7 information and support online and by phone. The free service is available around the clock, delivering clear, evidence-based information, advice and support specifically tailored to the mental health and wellbeing challenges raised by the pandemic. The service offers easy access to a broad range of support like online wellbeing tips, self-help tools, phone counselling from trained mental health professionals and peer-to-peer support in our online forums.