Heather Buckeridge, a clinical nurse consultant at Aviva UK Health and Protection, discusses the pressures presented by Covid-19.
How might controls against Covid-19, such as social distancing, affect people’s mental health?
Each individual is unique and will respond differently to everyday pressures in a home or work environment. Some people really need social interaction in their workplace; others are very comfortable working from home. Working within the confines of home with other family members can challenge our self-worth as we often have two separate identities – a work identity and a personal identity – and you may feel these are merging into one. Finding a balanced daily routine for yourself and other family members can help.
How can people manage anxiety and feelings of isolation?
It is really important to maintain your relationships with family, friends and colleagues during these difficult times. Keep a balanced perspective on the current situation, even though this is obviously hard. Limit your exposure to news about the pandemic, keep up to date without feeling overwhelmed. Try to maintain a regular routine, get up and go to bed as normal, eat a balanced diet and limit alcohol intake. Regular exercise is important, so check if there are virtual classes being offered. Or just take time out to get some fresh air by going for a daily walk or cycle if you can.
Do reach out for help if you need to – talking to family or friends; your manager may also be able to advise you of any health and wellbeing services that are available. Your GP will be able to refer you to treatment services accessible in your community.
How can employers help?
The most important thing for employers is to use listening skills to respond appropriately with help and support to meet individual staff needs. Employees can be referred for help and support as a part of their employer’s workplace health and wellbeing toolkit, which may include private healthcare, group income protection or an employee assistance programme. Management should promote easy access to the available help and support for employees. This should be a regular part of team conversations, so that everyone is aware of how and where to access help. You should still have regular virtual coffee or lunch catch-ups, or celebrate birthdays and mark different occasions. Maintaining a normal routine, even remotely, will help maintain good mental health.
What does the future hold?
The immediate priorities will be directed to dealing with and managing the current crisis. Mental health services will most certainly be under pressure to provide for an increased need for treatment, and planning for this is already underway. Some charities and the private sector are also actively involved in support and treatment provision.
There are also potential positives to be taken from this global traumatic event, with perhaps reflection, recognition and understanding of what is of true value and matters most to each of us. The time we are spending with family and loved ones will hopefully strengthen those relationships into the future and promote healthier family units. Neighbourhood communities are stronger – we have seen many examples of people coming together to help those who are more vulnerable. The workplace, too, will perhaps see stronger support systems for all workers, whether remote or office-based. This may develop awareness to ensure flexible working and the ongoing wellbeing of all employees.