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How To Look After Your Mental Health During A Pandemic

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In a press briefing on March 26, 2020, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) discussed the challenges that the world is facing in terms of mental and psychological health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Physical distancing and isolation measures, [and] the closure of schools and workplaces, are particularly [challenging for] us, as they affect what we love to do, where we want to be, and who we want to be with,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, in his opening remarks.

“It is absolutely natural for each of us to feel stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness during this time. At [the] WHO, we consider [effects on] our mental health [and] psychological well-being as being very important consequences of COVID-19,” he added.

As people all around the world find themselves working from home or being home-schooled — unable to travel even down the street to visit friends or family — staying mentally healthy could become increasingly difficult for many.

So what can individuals, as well as society at large, do to preserve mental well-being and cope with stressors such as anxiety and loneliness?

To find out, Medical News Today have reached out to two mental health advocates: business neurolinguistic programming practitioner and mental health trainer Tania Diggory, founder and director of Calmer, and mental health first aider and coach Kat Hounsell, founder of everyday people.

This Special Feature presents some best practice tips for maintaining good mental health that Diggory and Hounsell suggested, as well as the official advice offered by experts from the WHO.

Unique challenges of working from home

Working from home may seem like the dream set-up for some, as it offers the possibility to tap into that latent creativity from the comfort of a cozy, familiar environment.

However, it can also bring a unique set of challenges — especially as an enforced measure.

“While [being able to work from home] can empower and up-level our working life, if taken to the extreme, we end up being switched on the whole time,” Diggory told MNT.

“In many cases, the boundaries between home life and work life can become blurred, and these boundaries are what enable us to stay healthy and well,” she cautioned.

In an enforced “work from home” situation, people may end up continuously sharing a space with other family members, and they may start to feel as though they have to attend to both domestic tasks and work assignments at the same time.

This blending of home and work life may also lead to working longer hours than usual.

“People may […] fall into a pattern of overworking, a sense or feeling that they ‘should’ be working long hours, to show colleagues that they are being productive — even though no-one can physically see them working,” said Diggory.

Managing stress while working from home

So, how can people address these challenges and reduce the amount of stress that comes with working exclusively from a home environment?

“Firstly, accept that stress levels will likely be higher for many at this time — whatever you’re feeling is valid considering the current context,” said Hounsell.

That is why, “when working from home, prioritizing your mindset and well-being at the start of the day is essential,” Diggory told us.

One helpful way to set boundaries so that a person does not become overwhelmed with competing tasks is to create a physical space that is for work only, where the person will not face non-work-related disruptions and interruptions.

“Where possible, it is worth designating a space that is yours for work only. This separation can support you physically and mentally, and help get you into the appropriate headspace each time you settle in to work.”  – Tania Diggory

“If you live with family, a partner, or housemates, you could […] [have] a chat with them about what boundaries you need to put in place in order to ensure a healthy and productive mindset,” she suggested.

She also said that people who share their homes with others may actually be able to benefit from the situation by co-opting family or housemates to actively help them stay on track.

For instance, Diggory said, “If you struggle to take breaks throughout the day, you could use living with others to your advantage — perhaps ask for their help in encouraging you to take time away from your desk at lunch or for a mid-morning/afternoon break.”

Cooperation is key, Hounsell agreed. “Be kind and patient with yourself and those around you,” she advised.

She also stressed the importance of maintaining other healthful habits — such as eating regularly and sticking to a healthful diet — because these are, in themselves, a cornerstone of mental health.

“When planning your day, schedule in eating regular nutritious meals, […] renew through exercise, make time to connect with others,” and maintain good sleep hygiene, Hounsell emphasized.

She also mentioned the importance of maintaining good communication with both housemates and work colleagues at this time.

“Be open with your plans with those you live with and your team — have clear boundaries with your non-negotiables, and be open to flexibility where your schedule may need to adapt to support someone else,” she added.

MedicalNewsToday, excerpt posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com, Mar. 31, 2020

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