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Managing your mental health during COVID-19

by Suzie McInerney

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It started with the unfamiliar, became a reality, and now it’s the norm – the impact of COVID-19. As we slowly start to return to the familiarity of the workplace in some capacity, there’s never been a better time to take stock on the last few months and how the world around us is different, and also how we are different.

This morning, I hosted a conversation with Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman about managing the mental health of both yourself and your co-workers. I can tell you firsthand that being a leader during this time has transcended the normal roles of a manager, as you are getting to know your colleagues on a much deeper level; checking in on their health, their homes, their partners and pets.

The data reflects a focus on our mental health, with Beyond Blue experiencing a 60% increase in enquiries and the suicide hotlines charting at an astronomical 900% increase to the same time last year. What does this all mean? It means that although this new reality has become the norm, it’s drastic and isolating nature is taking its toll; and it doesn’t discriminate between men, women, employment status or financial standing. It’s about knowing that you are not alone with feelings of anxiety and stress more-so than usual, as a result of the outbreak.

What can we do about our own mental health?

To revisit an old adage, “fix your oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.” You cannot be a good leader, confidant, manager or even as productive when your own mental health is slipping. The best thing to do is to recognise tell-tale signs that are indicators that you might not be coping with it as well as what you think. It’s also about being open and honest with your team. We are getting to know our colleagues better than ever as our homes become the setting for all meetings, we get a glimpse into their world – and with that we can strip back some of the previous obstacles and have frank and honest conversations about more than just the work in front of us but how we are coping with such drastic social changes.

There are four main things that are within our own control that have been proven to improve mental health: eating well, exercising, sleeping, and staying connected. It’s a good idea to do these things for yourself to put you in the best position to be able to support others.

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Beyond Blue for mental health support.

How do we manage our teams?

There is so much more pressure on those managing teams during a crisis. But there are some ways in which to check-in and ensure that your co-workers are coping:

  • Be realistic about what work can be achieved
  • Stay in touch with them regularly
  • Monitor the warning signs for slipping mental health
  • Encourage switching off from news and technology
  • Reach out to team members to ask about how they are feeling
  • If you feel like they might not be coping well but aren’t communicating; find one of their confidants and check-in with them

There is no right or wrong way to managing a team during the Coronavirus crisis as each team’s dynamic is different, however there are ways to make sure that you’re doing your part in creating a safe space for conversation that makes people comfortable and confident to reach out and connect.

WATCH the full webinar on YouTube

Where to from here?

With the restrictions easing, offices are getting prepared to go back to business as somewhat usual. But it’s important to note that there is anxiety existing around people returning to ‘normality’. Ranging from health concerns using public transport to the disruption of changing what you’ve become accustomed to working from home, people are likely to feel all sorts of anxiety when returning to work.

Before throwing the office doors open, we can connect and find out what it is your co-workers have really enjoyed during isolation. We’ve all learned to work in new and different ways, and perhaps become more productive as a result. Find out what your colleagues enjoyed about the change to see how work life can evolve in the future.

Communicate, be vulnerable, be authentic, and remember that work is work at the end of the day, and our top priority should always be our health; whether that be physical or mental.

COVID-19 has been unpredictable and unprecedented. There isn’t one person who hasn’t been touched or impacted by the effects of Coronavirus, and it’s not limited to health. Job loss, financial loss, relationship challenges, isolation have been just some of the knock-on effects.

Managing your mental health is the top priority so that at the end of the pandemic, we can have learned some valuable lessons around communication and releasing the stigma that previously shrouded mental health discussions.

To find out more about mental health during this time, visit the Beyond Blue Coronavirus website, and remind yourself that you are not alone.