Protecting the mental health of you and your people

Given the current situation regarding Covid-19, a lot of our employees – in all corners of the world – will be feeling anxious and stressed. But we can help each other get through this challenging time.

As global governments are advising us to avoid all but essential social contact, more and more of us will be staying home and many of our usual social activities will no longer be available to us. Maintaining good mental health might be more challenging at the moment, so we wanted to share some advice on staying mentally healthy. HR professionals are often required to think about everyone else before themselves, so here’s a gentle reminder that you need to look after your own mental health, too!

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation – talk to someone

Firstly, you might find it helpful to think about the current situation as a different time in your life. The rhythm of your life has changed, and the way in which we will socialise and interact with each other will change for a period. Social messaging, video calling, the phone – these are all still really good ways to be close to the people you care about. Making sure you have regular contact with people is really important for your mental health, and that shouldn’t change just because you can’t physically be close to someone.

We are all going through the same worry and concern, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about what’s going on. Share your feelings – even when it feels like you can’t do anything about it, it’s important to talk to people about what is worrying you and what is on your mind. Set up regular coffee and virtual chats with your friends, colleagues and family members. Maintaining these relationships will give you strength during these times of stress.

If you don’t feel like you can talk to a friend or family member, there are a number of resources available to you that are still operating:

  • The Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.uk
  • Shout Crisis Text Line – Just text Shout to 85258

Or make use of your confidential Employee Assistance Programme, where you’ll find a friendly, trained person to talk to about whatever is on your mind. Encourage employees to use this any time they’re feeling low or anxious.

Choose your news wisely – and limit your time on social media

Social media has made it very easy for rumours and speculation to be shared very quickly, as though it’s real news. This constant feed of ‘news and opinion’ can make you feel more anxious, but getting quality, real information can help you to feel more in control. It’s important to find a way to keep yourself informed without falling into the trap of constantly watching or reading the news.

Government websites are being updated regularly, and these will contain all of the most up to date information on the virus:

You can also read WHO’s Myth Busters page to make sure you don’t fall foul of fake news or misinformation.

Get some sleep

Sleep pays a huge part in our mental health and it can be difficult to fall asleep when there is so much going on. It’s important to create a routine for when you wind down to go to bed. Spend at least an hour away from a screen. Maybe read, practice mindfulness, have a bath – do something relaxing so that you have a good night’s sleep.

You can download the mindfulness app Calm for a free trial. This app not only helps you practice mindfulness, it also has sounds to help you sleep and bedtime sleep stories from recognisable voices like Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey.

Exercise in whatever way you can – keep moving your body

Exercise is proven to have a positive impact on our mental health. Even if we’re only allowed outdoors for exercise once a day and we’re otherwise confined to our homes, you can still take a walk or run around your garden or get some exercise. Even if you don’t have an outside space you can use, there are plenty of YouTube videos that will help you exercise or practice yoga at home for free. It’s important we keep moving and stretching. Try building exercise into your new routine.

Eat well and drink plenty of water

UK supermarkets have all confirmed they believe they will have enough food for everyone, and supplies will continue. Your appetite may change with the new routine in your life, so be conscious of making healthy food choices and keeping your blood sugar stable. It’s also important that you eat to keep your energy levels up.

Also make sure you are drinking plenty of water. You may be used to drinking more fluids at work, so make sure you bring that habit back with you if you are home working. Water is really important for our physical and mental health. You might find it helpful to use one of the free apps that available for most phones that remind you to drink throughout the day.

Do the things you enjoy – find some distractions

If you are maintaining social distance, all this new time at home can be put to good use. Try to get through that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Fix that squeaky door, clean out your kitchen cupboards or find a free course online you could do. Lots of organisations are opening up their usually paid-for courses for free or at a discount. Celebrities are also offering free concerts streamed online, and free writing courses. You could use this extra time to learn something new and tune out those anxious thoughts.

The Open University and Future Learn have loads of free online courses for you to try. From law and IT to literature, nature, media and psychology.

Finally – maintain perspective

The best minds in the medical, scientific and public health worlds are working as hard as they can to contain the virus, treat those affected and develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. Listen to their advice, which is to stay home!

Above all, remind yourself that much of what is going on around you is a precaution. Most people who contract the virus will only have mild symptoms and will make a full recovery. The kindest and most healthy thing you can do is make sure you and your employees are not spreading it to the most vulnerable people. Just knowing this will hopefully help to ease any anxiety about staying home.

For the latest information from Benefex about our activity during the coronavirus pandemic, take a look at our Covid-19 help page