Updated: Sep 22
Mental health has suddenly become something that can’t be swept under the carpet. The world is a mess and we have genuine cause for concern. Uncertainty is everywhere you look and unfortunately it’s difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I guess there’s only one thing to do, and that’s to make the best of it? Well, obviously that’s easier said than done. So, in this post, I’d like to share some of my own experiences and some of the coping strategies that have worked for me.
Having worked all over the world, I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of curveballs. I’ve had to grow a thick skin and develop my own coping mechanisms. Resilience isn’t always an innate trait; it’s usually something that is developed along the way. We have to learn it the ‘hard way’ if you like. Last time for me was the global financial crisis that caused my sleepless nights; this time it’s a global pandemic. Here we go again, but this time is different for me. I feel more prepared. I certainly have more experience and I knew that by adopting the right mindset and facing things head-on we’ll manage to get through this crisis just like we did the last.
But there are plenty of tough stories out there and what I am seeing every day in our clinics, is that people who were fine suddenly aren’t fine anymore. Working from home is definitely taking its toll. There is more stiffness and pain for sure, often due to questionable workstations, but what’s worrying me more than anything, is that this whole situation is messing with people’s heads.
Are you feeling isolated from the 'herd'?
You see, as humans we are ‘pack animals’ and we don’t tend to do so well when faced with isolation from the ‘herd’. In fact, it is generally accepted that people who spend long periods isolated, alone with their thoughts, are more prone to mental health issues. This means that this new ‘Working From Home’ reality is a genuine cause for concern. It’s hard to believe that in a city of almost 6 million people we can be alone, but some people really are. Locked in a ‘home office’ with silence and their own thoughts, without an end in sight.
I worry that this could be a perfect storm for mental stress. Without some strategic thinking here we could just be sowing the seeds for disaster. Day after day, no one is there for a chat and no one to provide emotional support. I believe this needs tackling head-on before there is a massive problem, so let’s start with what we know.
First of all, let us accept that most anxieties or mental health issues gradually build-up over time, and are a consequence of actions or habits – things we are doing or things we are not doing! If we can start building some healthy habits, especially those that reinforce a healthy mindset, that will be half the battle. So what would be some healthy habits to cultivate?
Our metacognitive superpower!
Firstly, as humans, we are blessed with something called metacognition. This is the ability to think about what we are thinking about! It’s probably the number one human trait that, should we use it effectively, can become our ‘superpower’ and the key to long-term resilience and a healthy mental state.
So, let’s try a little self-reflection. Are you as mentally stable as you could be, or do you tend to overact if something is said that you don’t agree with? Maybe you resort to sarcasm or metaphorically stamping your feet. Or perhaps you just tend to sulk? Either way, it is an unhealthy response and probably needs your attention.
What I’d like to suggest is that you work on becoming more self-aware and actually develop a habit of observing your thoughts and feelings — what tend to be the triggers that you react to? The more you learn about yourself, the more you will regain control. Once you’ve identified the situations that push your buttons, you can recognize them before they happen and build in some simple coping strategies. Taking control of your mind is probably one of the most empowering things that you can ever achieve. It may not be easy but if you can get there, what a difference in your life it will mean.
I really do think it’s like a superpower, to be able to harness the power of our own mind. If you think about it, the most powerful influence on your own life IS your own mind. Even when external circumstances make you feel like things are out of control, we can still choose how we interpret them and therefore how we feel. By changing our perception we change our feelings. This in turn changes our thoughts and actions and therefore our outcomes. So next time you feel that emotion building inside, take a breath, hit pause, and smile knowingly. You are now back in control.
Of course, there are other things that can help us with our emotional and mental resilience. Getting out in nature, regular exercise, and even creating a calming, ergonomic workstation, will all help. Daily meditation or mindful exercises will certainly help reduce stress and quiet the mind, as will positive visualisation exercises. It should go without saying that eating healthily and avoiding fast, processed food, or resorting to alcohol, is vital to prevent a downward spiral.
Also, don’t suffer in silence. If you are feeling out of balance, talk to someone. All companies have a responsibility to care for their people but they can’t help if they remain in the dark. If you feel that you need to seek professional help, then please do so. There are many people out there struggling at the moment so don’t be too proud to find someone.
I hope that this article provides some useful information and wish everyone the very best in these more difficult days.