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7 ways to support your mental health during lockdown


Composite image. Left: An overhead shot of a laptop, cup of tea and some yellow flowers. Right: Workplace mental health expert Margo Lydon.

Workplace mental health expert Margo Lydon talks us through 7 ways we can look after ourselves and others during the coronavirus lockdown.

Working from home can impact us all differently, even under normal circumstances. But right now, we are dealing with a lot of fundamental basics that are in flux because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only are there health concerns but also questions about the economic impact, which affect all of us in some way. So, adjusting to working from home – or even simply spending more time at home – can become an even bigger challenge.

Fortunately, there are numerous strategies we can use to help people out as individuals, family members, friends, colleagues or as people leaders. Here, I'll take you through seven strategies that can help you adjust – and help others do the same.

Structure your time

At SuperFriend, we have had the flexibility to work from home for a while. Typically, I or my colleagues would use that option when we wanted to shut out the world and focus on a big chunk of work.

What I've noticed now that everyone is working from home is that people are interrupted like they would be in the office – only now it happens over chat, email or phone.

My first tip is to use your calendar to mark out a block of time. Look at your day and try to maximise the incredible opportunity we all have to use each hour to our advantage. Insert regular breaks and make sure you get plenty of movement and energy into your days. This will help you when you need to get a piece of work done, and also gives some added structure to your days.

Look at your work-life balance

I think now we've moved from a place where work used to potentially infiltrate our personal lives outside of work hours, to our personal lives potentially infiltrating our work lives.

In many cases, we are now literally seeing into each other's homes. And there are lots of positives to this: I have really enjoyed meeting people's partners, cats, dogs and children as they pop in or out of a room during video meetings.

But this also means there are more elements we need to consider during the workday. We might feel as if we have to be careful about what we share, how much we share and what's acceptable for our workplace.

A lot of this comes down to your workplace and guidance from employers so that we feel safe in what we're sharing. It's also okay to ask if the guidelines aren't clear or you're ever unsure about anything in this new work environment.

Reach out when you need to

We are all trying to grasp what is going on, with information being updated frequently, and that means we are all more likely to talk openly about the impact it's having on us.

Remember that employers have a responsibility for both our physical safety and our psychological safety. In my role as CEO, I make sure we have guidance around how much to share and what to share so that everyone feels safe while at work.

You could also find out if there is an Employee Assistance Program you could access for support – or reach out to family and friends instead of colleagues.

And when you do need to talk to someone, try to use FaceTime or another video conferencing service rather than the phone or online chat.

Research shows that when we can see each other, even via tech, there is a far better wellbeing outcome than through other mediums. The more we feel like we can hear the tone, sentiment and emotion associated with words, the better the emotional outcomes.

Focus on your strengths

Recognising your strengths and using those strengths as often as possible will help you feel more in control, give you more confidence and remind you of how you add value to your workplace (or the people around you right now).

A good way to start is by thinking of a time when you have felt at your best, looking at what was going on at that time and trying to replicate that. What were you doing then that you can do now? How can you create that optimism or positive influence?

What we also know from a mental health perspective is that building mastery and achieving goals is great for mental health.

So think about what new skills you could master now. For example, people who are not tech savvy (including me) could use this as an opportunity to become better with tech. And that might also lead to stronger connections with people if, say, you have to ask how something works or need some help.

Stay healthy

There are many known psychological, mental health and wellbeing benefits that come from engaging in physical activity.

Now, when I say "physical activity", that could be as simple as some stretching and incidental exercise. It could mean doing some cleaning, streaming an online exercise class or going out into the backyard to play with your children or pets.

What is important is keeping movement happening on a regular basis.

It's also important to be mindful of eating when you're hungry (instead of when you're bored or just want a break). Remember to drink plenty of water – at times of heightened emotion or stress, our bodies need more water.

Think about how you are sleeping too. When sleep changes, it is often an indicator for us as humans that things might not be right. Try to make sure you are going to sleep at a reasonable time and getting regular hours of sleep to help you refresh every day.

Embrace the positives

There has been a lot of research around the connection between positivity, wellbeing and resilience (in particular the work of Dr Barbara Fredrickson offers great insights).

One of the ways we can build positivity into our days is through a focus on positive language. Research has shown work relationships and productivity improve when there is a ratio of at least 3:1 positive to negative comments – and in our personal lives, the "optimal" ratio could be closer to 5:1.

That's under normal circumstances. Right now, concerns and anxieties are heightened so we need to increase that focus on positives.

This could be by sharing your appreciation for a colleague's help or for the extra hours and effort that a team is putting in. Just make sure you are really specific when you're giving positive feedback, particularly at this time, because it will build greater trust, reduce anxieties and also allow for greater acceptance of any negative conversations that you need to have.

To be clear: this is not about sugar-coating things. It is about having honest and open conversations in very empathic ways.

Along with positive language, we could also look for the opportunities that may be opening up during this time. And there are tremendous opportunities for us to embrace this way of working and lean into this as a society to grow and get better.

It's not all doom and gloom, and creative thinking happens better when there is more positive thinking, so ask yourself: what's possible right now?

We also have the opportunity to give back to others. Giving is a really simple and inexpensive way to make you and others feel good. This could be by reaching out to your neighbours for community support, offering your time and skills on a project at work or donating time, pantry items or money to a charity.

If we can bring ourselves and others into a creative, positive environment, it's going to be amazing to see what people can do.

Ask yourself these questions

If you're feeling overwhelmed or unsure, you could start by stepping back from what you're experiencing right now and thinking about what you can do to build a healthy routine. Here are some important questions to ask.

  • What physical activity will I do each day?
  • How will I remain connected to friends, family and colleagues?
  • What could I learn today?
  • How can I give or pay it forward?
  • How will I switch off at the end of the day?

Remember, we are all in this together. We are all human and it's okay not to be okay. It is really important to reach out and ask for help, speak out and share how we all are and what's going on.

We need to be kind to ourselves, kind to others and recognise that we are in a different space to a week ago and could be again in the weeks ahead. But if we reach out and stay connected now, we can get through this.

As told to Amy Bradney-George.

Margo Lydon is the CEO of SuperFriend, a national workplace mental health and wellbeing organisation that works with all "profit to member" superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace. She has more than 20 years' experience in mental health and suicide prevention, as well as an extensive background in leadership, business management and marketing.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article (which may be subject to change without notice) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Finder and its employees. The information contained in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort. Neither the author nor Finder has taken into account your personal circumstances. You should seek professional advice before making any further decisions based on this information.

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Images: Getty Images, Supplied

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