Looking after your mental health throughout COVID-19
Looking after your mental health throughout COVID-19
One of the less-documented effects of COVID-19 and all the upheaval it represents – new working arrangements, families working in close quarters, social distancing – is how it has impacted people’s mental health.
It’s an easy thing to ignore, especially because there’s already so much happening around you – new restrictions, economic crises, home-schooling – but letting your mental health slide may be having a greater effect on you than you realise. As the Greate Group founder and life coach Kyla Tustin explains, “Everyone thinks they should be able to cope through this, but bodies and brains aren’t actually built to live this way, with so much stress and constant technology usage.”
Looking back at the GFC, Kyla saw similar worries – but they’re magnified now, compounded by ” the health crisis, ongoing lockdown uncertainty, financial instability and rioting in the USA. People are getting to the tipping point of despair and hopelessness.”
As a result, Kyla explains, many people are (consciously or otherwise), turning back to old coping mechanisms – alcohol, junk food, constant TV watching and so on. “Self-care definitely isn’t always the easiest option to choose, and wellness isn’t about living perfectly, being happy all the time or ignoring our stresses and emotions. Though these current distraction and comfort zone habits are not the healthiest or kindest ones.”
“Kindness in itself,” she continues, “has been proven to be the opposite of stress, as it brings oxytocin into our bodies which has a calming effect.” She recommends “choosing kind words, thoughts, actions and choices through these times is critical.”
While she’s passionate about people exercising self-care during this difficult period, she’s careful to note that “the kindest thing for your mind and body isn’t necessarily the ‘easiest’ one. Self-care isn’t just sitting on the couch.”
With that in mind, what are some practical steps you can take right now?
Practice “aligned action” every day
Kyla believes “the way you start your day determines how you will end it.” To that end, she suggests ensuring that when you wake up each day – perhaps earlier, if necessary – you practice some kind of self-care.
“If people just wake up and go straight to the computer,” she explains, “they’re not really preparing themselves for the day. Prior to this, we’d at least be going to the office, commuting, moving our bodies. We don’t have that option as much now.”
She says that even if you’re working from home, “you can still do a kind of ‘commute’. Maybe just a five-minute walk around the block. Some kind of exercise that tells your body what it’s preparing for over the course of the day.”
Take regular breaks
Taking time away from the computer when working at home seems like a desirable thing to do, but Kyla’s spoken to many people who rarely manage it. “The computer’s right there,” she says, “so it’s easy to just work all day and work late. When I started working from home, I wasn’t even thinking about taking breaks or going for walks. I still had my investment banking ways of living and was in the mindset that the faster I go, the longer I worked, the more work I’d get done.”
In fact, Kyla says, she found the opposite was true: the more she pushed herself, the less she was actually getting anything done. “Burnout” is an oft-mentioned idea in the context of working in the office, but in some ways it’s even more dangerous when you’re within email distance 24/7.
“Our brain is 31% more productive in a positive state,” she says, “rather than neutral, negative or stressed. It essential we take regular breaks, especially for fun and play. And realise your work, wellness and productivity is going to suffer if you aren’t looking after yourself or continue to push your body and brain to burnout.”
During a time like this, it’s incredibly difficult to avoid the constant coverage of everything that’s going wrong in the world: whether it’s infection rates, market volatility or unemployment. And while Kyla believes people need to be educated about what’s happening, she says one also needs to responsibly limit their exposure.
“Be aware that everything you consume,” she explains, “whether it’s news, other media or even conversations with people, is going to impact how you feel and how you look at the world.”
“For me,” she continues, “my energy and mindset will determine how I support my clients. If I’m consumed by fear and despair, I’m of no use to anyone. You can stay informed and educated while also regularly asking yourself this question: is what I’m watching useful right now? Is my mood getting depleted?”
If you’re getting to that point, Kyla recommends turning to inspiration and asking yourself these questions:
- Who do I want to be?
- What do I want to feel or experience?
- What can I choose to focus on? (For example, gratitude, appreciation or celebration.)
- Then, reflect on your thoughts, choices and actions throughout your day and ask, “Are they kind, useful and supporting to elevate my energy, mood and mindset?”
It’s difficult to tell when this crisis will end, but you’ll come out of it stronger if you take the time to prioritise yourself.
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