The pandemic has transformed how we live and work – and has taken its toll on our mental well-being.
“We can’t overestimate the impact the pandemic has had on our lives and mental health,” CSL Chief Human Resources Officer Elizabeth Walker said as she opened a panel discussion sponsored by CSL and the Philadelphia Metro chapter of Women in Bio.
The event, entitled “What the Health! Managing My Mental Health in Changing Times,” featured panelists from a range of professions who are encountering mental health concerns in their patients, their clients, their team members, or even themselves.
Here are five tips they shared:
- Schedule self-care and make it a conscious part of your routine. Whether it’s exercising, eating lunch with your child, walking your dog, or attending a virtual meeting outside for fresh air, build simple self-care activities into your day. They’ll give you a micro-break and can do wonders for how you feel.
“We all need to find those meaningful things we can do to alleviate stress and strengthen our well-being, even if they appear small,” said Walker. “Little things can add up and make a big difference.”
- Understand chronic stress and its effects on your body and mental health. During the pandemic, people have been dealing with anxiety, uncertainty and change, all of which can cause stress. As time goes on – which the pandemic has done for over a year – this can lead to chronic stress.
“Stress gets under our skin and really affects all our body and brain functions,” said Dr. Diana Martinez, a clinician with a private practice in Boston. “We can develop chronic diseases where the main cause is that we have been exposed to chronic stress.”
Martinez went on to say that chronic stress activates the automatic nervous system (functions that we don't think about, such as heart rate, muscle tension, temperature). This puts our brain in a defensive state – ready to run when we need to run. So, when it’s time to sit in front of the computer and work on that deliverable, our brain has another priority. Keep this in mind and be compassionate with yourself.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can counteract chronic stress and get your body and mental health functions back to baseline.
“Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose with non-judgement because the only moment that exists is this one,” said Harriet Stein, a mindfulness teacher and owner of Big Toe in the Water.
To facilitate mindfulness and put a pause on life’s moments, take deep breaths, exhale and quiet your mind.
Stein also advised that when you pay attention to your thoughts, notice that you’re either in a past you can never change or in a future that has yet to happen. So when you start noticing, when you start paying attention to your thoughts, it is important to refrain from judging yourself.
- Embrace your strengths and recognize that being vulnerable is a strength. It’s the ability to say I need help, or this is the problem, or this made me feel bad. It also means processing the emotions you are feeling. For some, this may require having a good cry.
If you manage people, your role is to create an environment where employees feel safe to show their vulnerability, said George Flowers, executive coach and founder of Invisible Hurdle. In short, aim to “create that culture consciously for your team” so they get what they need, he said.
- Ease your employees through change. As employers begin to bring employees back on-site, understand that this change may cause stress to employees. So it’s important to consider how you begin to bring them back.
“Trying to bring people back all at once, five days a week, felt a little harsh to us,” said Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh, CEO of the Urban League of Broward Country in Florida. “So we decided a gradual cadence worked for us.”