Mental health in COVID times

Mental health in COVID times

If anyone had told me a year ago that our lives would start to resemble the movie Contagion, I would have dismissed them outright. Films are films; real life is…..well, it’s not what anyone thought it would be. We now live in strange and uncertain times, that are challenging in many different ways. The global lockdown saw people confined to their homes initially without any idea of how long this was going to last. People were either thrown together as never before, or separated from loved ones. The psychological effects of this are now only starting to be seen and will have far-reaching consequences at many levels.

The lockdown challenged us all. I can only think of a couple of people in my wider circle who genuinely didn’t mind and whose lifestyles were not really affected in any significant manner. For the vast majority, it has been, and continues to be, a very different story. My focus in this piece is going to be on mental health and emotional wellbeing. As I continued my work through online counseling sessions, I began to see how different people were coping. From establishing exercise routines, eating at regular times, getting sufficient sleep, to learning new skills and reviving old hobbies, the list is pretty comprehensive. Many of us connected with friends across the globe in a way we hadn’t earlier, with regular calls and Zoom meet ups. In my own extended family, there were several Zoom birthday parties, which actually brought together family members from around the world after many years. I was struck by how creative people were in structuring their time and also dealing with the overall uncertainty.

With the lockdown lifted, day to day life is slowly returning to normal. Or…is it? The latest acronym that has fast become commonplace is WFH. I have to admit when I first encountered it, I had to look it up as it resembled closely, or so I thought, an even more commonly used expletive. The shift to “working from home” happened pretty much overnight. WFH and various forms of flexi-working are not new concepts but in the wake of the pandemic, WFH became the only way forward for many in the workforce. The term “work-life balance” has taken on a somewhat new meaning as people try to figure out how to juggle their work responsibilities alongside supervising their children’s online schooling while finding time for various other household duties. All of this has added to the stress that many are experiencing on a daily basis. WFH has also meant that people are deprived of the regular human contact and interactions that we all take for granted during a normal working day. Just how much people are missing their office environment is illustrated by the following tale. Back in April, a Swedish music & sound studio called Red Pipe, created a webpage and Spotify playlist made up of different workplace sounds (The Sound of Colleagues). This was done as a joke but more than half a million people tuned into it and data suggests that many keep it on in the background.

These fundamental changes to the way we work and spend large chunks of our day, means that we need to be even more aware of our emotional wellbeing. Regular routines are important as are breaks from work. Zoom fatigue is very much a reality now and we need to be vigilant about this. Exercise in any form is always helpful, and there is plenty of solid evidence from scientific research to show that physical activity does help to lift mood. Checking in with friends and family, face to face where possible, and by phone or through cyberspace is crucial to maintaining an equilibrium. And if all, or any of this, feels like a struggle, that’s ok too. We are all dealing with a new reality and there will be times when it feels overwhelming. It’s ok to seek help, to talk to a trained professional, a counselor or therapist. In fact, it’s a wise decision because it means we are taking care of our mental health. 

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