BACK TO NORMAL?

At the moment it may feel more challenging to take care of your mental health and wellbeing than normal.

Under normal circumstances spending more time at home might have been just what the doctor ordered. But when this leave of absence was enforced and out of our control this may have become not so nice and a return to 'normal' a much more daunting prospect.

Work normally gives us structure, routine, human contact, sense of a professional identity and daily challenges to engage us. Maybe we thought it would be a breeze, however right now perhaps the idea of travel and a return to the office may be harder than we thought - the truth is we all struggle with change.

The HSE recognise change as a key stressor, so it is no wonder that when faced with such radical and sudden change that many of us will start to struggle. In fact, it would be unusual if we didn’t.

Add to that the anxiety provoking circumstances which we have been dealing with and we can start to understand how all of this may impact adversely on our mental health and wellbeing.

What is not out of our control is taking measures to mitigate the psychological impact on us and others.

A study of 1,000 employees currently working from home found:

  • 67% would feel uncomfortable about going back into their workplaces full time

  • 56% feel significantly anxious at the thought of being back in the office

The key to our readjustment is how we manage our anxieties to enable us to desensitise to the discomfort of normal.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CHALLENGE

Our wellbeing is not a static thing it is affected by risk and protective factors – we make a good start to acknowledge the current challenge and then take active steps to keep ourselves psychologically well.

The pandemic, isolation measures and current return to 'normal', have been linked to symptoms such as anxiety, anger, confusion, fear, frustration and emotional exhaustion and this will lower our perceived state of health.

The incidence of mental health conditions has risen as a result of this situation, how could it not? Some people will develop symptoms of anxiety and depression and those with existing conditions may find these exacerbated. 

One does not need to be Nostradamus to predict that those who tend towards Obsessional Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may have found the experience very difficult and equally find these times of  returning tough. Nor to predict that those with underlying health anxieties will likely be hyper-vigilant. 

Recognising this is a positive step towards taking appropriate steps to increase the protective factors in our lives.

UNDERSTANDING ANXIETY

If you have attended one of  our training courses  you will have gained an understanding of anxiety and its physical effects. In brief:

When we experience, or perceive, a threat, we release the powerful and fast acting stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline gets us primed for fight or flight - muscle tension, increased heart rate,  hyper alert, jumpy etc. It also makes it hard to concentrate, our breathing may get short and sharp as our diaphragm gets tight (hypo/hyper-ventilating, leading to pins and needles and feeling faint) etc – not pleasant!

Cortisol converts blood sugars for immediate use (useful in fight or flight) but if a persistent feature it serves over time to undermine our immune system. 

Returning to normal, many of us are experiencing that threat response and so we need to do things that mitigate against this being a constant state.  This heightened state makes it difficult to increase our feel good chemicals: serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine and reduces our physical and mental resilience.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

If you are starting to feel overwhelmed then you need to shift your state of mind.

Influencing our stress levels and increasing resilience involves 4 key elements:

  • Increasing self awareness

  • Care of our body

  • Care of our mind

  • Managing tasks and resources

Working on the basics; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged everyone feeling anxious to eat and sleep well, take part in physical activity, stay in contact with loved ones and avoid using alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. When we are stressed sleep becomes important recovery time.

These strange times have though offered us opportunities to learn about ourselves and others (see our resources page) and this increase in psychologically mindedness has to helpful to us all going forward - let's keep doing it.

You don’t have to be a hippy to chill out and relax, learn techniques like meditation and mindfulness, we have provided a great guidance exercise for you here.

Also remember to regularly assess your social media activity. Tune in with yourself and ask if this needs to be adjusted. Are there particular accounts or people that are increasing your worry or anxiety? Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel anxious.

Keep boundaries about your work time – start on time (routine), coffee and lunch breaks but finish on time too. Try going for a walk or a jog down the street after you finish work for the day – this can help you to feel like you have mentally finished at work and help you to switch off.

Anxiety specific:

OCD - Set yourself limits, like only washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds. Plan what you are going to do after washing your hands, this serves to distract your mind and change your focus.

Remember that if you begin to hyper-ventilate a longer out-breath helps dispel the CO2 in your lungs. Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called Recovery Breathing, and is especially helpful if you’re feeling panicky. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on successfully lowering your anxiety response.

If your company has trained Mental Health First Aiders or Champions, make a note of their contact details, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with them if you need to. They can use their skills to support anyone struggling with their mental health by signposting them to the appropriate support, both in and outside of the workplace.

Would mental health coaching via video link help your resilience?

Speak to your HR or EAP If your organisation has this in place.

Help is out there; Samaritans offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day on 116 123. Find a list of national mental health services and helplines at mentalhealth.org.uk

OTHER PEOPLE’S ANXIETY

We are social animals and our connection with others is important in how we and others cope.

Try to empathise with people who may be struggling more than you, hearing a rational and kind voice can be very helpful for others who are not coping with the the new normal.

Involve your family and children in how you are planning for good health. We need to be alert and ask children what they have heard about the virus and support them, without causing them more alarm. Seek to minimise the distressing impact on our children, don’t avoid the topic and explain the facts to them in a way that is age appropriate for them. 

The WHO also suggests we find opportunities to amplify positive, hopeful stories and images to children and each other.

Remember that everyone in your workplace is working with a new way forward, which is likely to lead to tensions, try to cut each other some slack.

Finally let’s boost your resilience

We all have an inner voice that tells us that we are not able to manage, not able to complete things, not able to deliver, not able to be patient or be strong, not able to…..

To quieten this inner voice make a list of everything you have done in your life that took Persistence.  

Things like:

“I had the persistence to decorate my house with my own hands”

“I had the persistence to get through my relationship breakup”

“I had the persistence to get through that cancer scare”

“I had the persistence to learn how to speak Spanish”

 

Now you

“I had the persistence to…………….”  repeat over

By doing this task you are making a rational case to your inner detracting voice that it is wrong. You do this by evidencing hard facts to the contrary.

Then read it out to yourself as and when required.

We are all in this together, all the very best to you and yours from us here

  

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