work and mental health

Work and good mental health in the time of Corona

More than a month into lock-down and it’s understandable to feel unsettled at this time. Workplaces across South Africa and the world are facing uncertain and difficult times. Resulting in South Africans focusing on what that means for them. Work and good mental health in the time of Corona is pertinent.

There are many actions that employees, managers and business owners should take in their normal everyday. These still apply to protect and nurture one’s mental health.

  • Be realistic about what can be achieved.
  • Have a routine and keep the hours you work in check while being mindful of work-life balance.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends.
  • Eat well, prioritise sleep and stay physically fit.
  • Try and find time to switch off from technology.
  • Monitor warning signs of poor mental health.
  • Reach out to mentors and colleagues for support.
  • Maintain interests outside work.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Consult your company’s Human Resources or Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider, if you have on

For small businesses owners

Small businesses are all facing unprecedented challenges due to the Coronavirus outbreak and are forced to work in ways they never had to before. The impact on small business owners is significantly stressful. Looking after one’s own mental health as well as that of one’s staff is however equally important.

Supporting employees

Business owners and/or managers, need to think about how they can support their employees during these uncertain times.

  • Maintain regular communication with employees. A routine daily check in is good for both the employee and employer.
  • Keep staff up to date about business’ response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • Make sure staff are aware of the supports that are available to them (for example, if you have an Employee Assistance Programme [EAP] in place)
  • Employees who are concerned about a workmate, should make sure to check-in, have a conversation and encourage them to get the support they need.

Loss of a job

Having your income reduced or losing a job can cause significant emotional distress. This is compounded by the fact that it’s a situation beyond your control. It is just as distressing and heartbreaking for many business owners to have to let staff go, often people who have been loyal and who they have known for many years. It’s worse that the reason for this is that the business is trying to survive, and it’s not that the staff did anything wrong. It is equally distressing for employees who suddenly find themselves without employment, even if they know it is due to the pandemic. For owners or managers, and employees who have lost their jobs, the situation can take a serious toll on many aspects of their lives. Health and well-being, relationships and families, as well as how
they see their future. These feelings of distress tend to be heightened during times of uncertainty and upheaval, where there is no clear end in sight and no certainty as to whether finding another job will be a possibility. Losing your job or financial security is a loss like any other, especially under these circumstances. It is likely to trigger a grief process in everyone involved. This happens in stages, which repeat over and over until acceptance is reached.

The 6 stages of grief

  1. Shock, denial (disbelief, feeling numb).
  2. Bargaining (trying to make sense of things; looking for who to blame).
  3. Anger (at the injustice, at the people involved, at the situation).
  4. Sadness (at the loss of financial security, at the state the world is in, at the effect on the family).
  5. Anxiety (about the future and survival).
  6. Acceptance (of the current reality and that there’s nothing you can change about the loss of your job).

Feelings of anger, anxiety and sadness may also become clinical conditions like depression. Physical symptoms are also common with all of the emotional states. Look out for symptoms that are present daily for at least two weeks, especially if they are becoming more frequent or more intense.

  • Problems getting to sleep or staying asleep
  • Sleeping more than 10 hours per day and still feeling tired.
  • Constant tiredness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or fearful
  • Mood swings or overreacting to small things
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • High levels of frustration
  • Feeling angry, irritable or intolerant.

If you have at least 2 weeks of mood and sleep problems, along with any 2 of the other symptoms speak to your GP or a mental health professional. This is also necessary if you have 2 weeks or more of the following happening:

  • Severe emotional reactions that persist beyond a usual period of adjustment (two or more weeks)
  • An inability to function and carry out day-to-day tasks
  • Using alcohol or other substances to ‘self-medicate’ or cope
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Tips to care for your mental health if you lose your job

If you have lost your job, you are likely to feel less stressed and more in control if you can take steps to help improve your situation. There are many helpful things you can do to help you cope.

  • Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel unsure about the future.
  • Be patient with yourself. Recovery from any significant setback takes time.
  • Get support. Identify family members you can talk to who will help you remain positive.
  • Understand that you’re not the only one who has lost their job. Share your story with trusted colleagues.
  • You may find it useful to write down your concerns and worries and work through them methodically.
  • Draw on your strengths. Remind yourself of a tough time that you’ve managed to overcome in the past.
  • Stay healthy. Try to maintain a balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly. You should do 20 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. Even in lock-down, there are many exercises you can do.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs as they only provide short-term relief, then make things worse.
  • List your skills, not just the ones you were using in your previous job. You may be surprised to find that you have other skills which may be able to take you into a different kind of job that fits into the COVID-19 market.
  • Chat to others who know you, and get their input on your skills and alternate ways of working.
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition that may be aggravated by stress (diabetes, asthma, hypertension), talk to your GP to check how your physical health is doing and if you need more support.

Social support is necessary for everybody

It’s important that you seek out support. This will not only be good for your mental health but good for your place of work or business too. Social support has been studied in the area of coping with dread diseases, and it is also an important buffer during times of upheaval like during this pandemic and economic instability.

There are 5 types of support

  • Emotional (a safe person to vent with who won’t judge, tell others or force advice on you).
  • Instrumental (practical, hands on).
  • Esteem (you are still worthy).
  • Information (should be confirmed through at least three sources).
  • Companionship (people, pets, a book, a plant. Actually no one is a stranger anymore, we are all in the pandemic world together, facing the same threat).

Working from home safely and productively

Many people are working from home or are likely to have to work from home for a period of time. Here are some tips for employees and managers that will help support everyone’s mental health.

work from home

If you need to work from home, you should:

  • Set a work schedule for the day and stick to it
  • Shower, and dress comfortably, as if you’re going to the office
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance by setting time limits
  • Create a separate office or workspace, if possible
  • Move around hourly and go outside at least once a day
  • Choose a good chair and set up your computer properly
  • Keep connected to colleagues and communicate daily with your manager
  • Keep the kitchen stocked with healthy snacks and meals

If you are a small business owner, or a manager with a team working from home, you should:

  • Ensure employees are aware of resources to support their mental health and well-being
  • Be aware that individual circumstances vary and consider options to support each team member’s needs
  • Provide IT support and guidelines for remote working
  • Be mindful of the disruption that potential school closures may cause to families.
  • Agree on working hours that employees know they are not expected to work beyond
  • Touch base with each team member daily and have regular one-to-one meetings
  • Remind employees to work in ways that are kind to their mind and body
  • Maintain regular virtual team meetings
  • Advise teams to stay as connected as possible
  • Remember that being a manager doesn’t make you immune to the same stresses as your employees and that you need to look after yourself too.
  • Try to maintain a practical and calm approach.
  • Widespread panic can complicate efforts to manage the outbreak effectively.
  • Stay calm and follow official advice.

Watch out for stigma

Remember that no one wants to catch the virus or have a loved one become ill. Nobody wants to pass the virus on to someone else. The virus does not discriminate, as we have seen the rich, famous and royal have all been victims of it as well. Remember that those with the disease have not done anything wrong. If there is fear about being ostracised for being sick, people are going to hide their symptoms. People will be reluctant to seek medical help in the early stages which could result in them going to work

Choose your news

Aim for balance between knowing what’s going on and getting swept up in negativity around the economy and the spread of the virus. Limit yourself to 15 minutes of news and social media per day. It’s important to get accurate information from credible news sources. Steer clear of fake and overly sensationalised news. It might make you feel more anxious. Choose news publications that are credible, and respected.

corona virus fake news

Accessing support

If you are in urgent need of support, or are concerned that someone you know may be at immediate risk, contact SADAG on:

  • Cipla Mental Health Helpline (24 Hours): 0800 456 789
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567
  • Dr. Reddy’s Mental Health Helpline: 0800 21 22 23
  • Substance Abuse Helpline (24 Hours): 0800 12 13 14
  • Cipla WhatsApp Chat Line (9am – 4pm): 076 882 2775
  • General SMS Line: 31393
  • Substance Abuse SMS Line: 32312
  • www.sadag.org
  • Facebook: The South African Depression and Anxiety Group
mental health matters

Additional self-help links and resources:

www.thoughtsfirst.com (Stress, Anxiety, Sleep, Social Support)
www.neilbierbaum.com (Free e-book: The Little Book of Motivation)
www.practicalmindfulness.co.za (Free online course on mindfulness basics)
https://www.discovery.co.za/corporate/covid-19-how-to-cope-with-longer-lockdown (Free online podcast on How to cope with a longer lock-down)
https://lifepodcasts.fm/podcasts/371-locked-and-down/episode/304238-on-staying-motivated (Free online podcast series on lock-down and COVID-19)

COVID-19 resources

National Hotline : 0800 029 999
The National WhatsApp : 0600 123 456
National Institute for Communicable Diseases website : http://www.nicd.ac.za
COVID-19 information website : https://sacoronavirus.co.za

Financial support and information for businesses

Resources for returning to work : www.return2work.co.za
Information on relief for small business, workers : WhatsApp : 087 250 2674
Business for South Africa (B4SA) website : www.businessforsa.org

Work and good mental health in the time of Corona is important and should not be neglected.

3 Comments

  1. Such a brilliant piece and it is a tough time for many of us. We are on a greatly reduced salary and it takes its toll. I ended up having a virtual consult with a therapist coz I wasnt coping I was sleeping 2-3 hours at the most. Really helps to know there are other out there also struggling with mental health at this time

    1. Author

      Thank you for your feedback. Tough times and we need to look after ourselves in the process

    2. Author

      thinking of you Thanks for the feedback

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