Managing Stress During a Pandemic
Telecommuting is not a new practice, but many are teleworking full-time for the first time. Our daily routines are being upended, causing added stress and anxiety. While many Americans enter their fifth, sixth or seventh week of stay-at-home orders, everyone is feeling the strain of having to adjust to this new, uncertain reality in a way that goes beyond job stress, and could use a friendly reminder that April is Stress Awareness Month.
In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, grief expert David Kessler explained that we are all grieving collectively. “We’re feeling a number of different griefs…the loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection,” said Kessler. “We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”
We are navigating uncharted waters with this virus, making it important to find new ways to work and interact while also taking care of our mental health and well-being. Here’s what employers and employees can do to combat stress:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Providing open and consistent communication with employees via video chat, texts, phone calls and emails can combat loneliness and overall workplace anxiety. Employees likely have questions they are unsure about asking, so try to communicate with employees as often as possible about the company, clients, long-term goals, etc. Make sure your employees know who to contact when they have questions about benefits, time-off policies, working from home, or other assistance programs.
- Encourage “normal” routines for working from home: Employees are not going to be able to separate their personal lives from their work, increasing the likelihood of burnout. While you should encourage employees to stick to a “normal” routine, that may not be possible for everyone. Employers need to be more flexible with work hours and ensure you and your employees respect when others are on and off the clock.
- Make sure your team is equipped: It may be challenging for employees to replicate the same focus in a completely different atmosphere. Be sure to check in with your team every few weeks to make sure they have everything they need (and ask if there is something that could make their workspace better).
- Keeping the team spirit alive: By now, we have all attended an awkward virtual happy hour, so mix it up a bit. To keep employees engaged and emotionally healthy, schedule video conferences 1 – 2 times a week, even if it is only for 30 minutes, to get some much-needed face time with your team. While these meetings can/should in part be productive, set aside time to retain or rebuild team culture by introducing work-appropriate games or exercises.
- Celebrate good news and share humor: With everything going on, it can be easy for employees to experience loneliness, stress and anxiety, and small gestures can go a long way to combat them. When there’s good news to share, even if it is small, celebrate it with the group. (Jess finally got her wireless printer set up correctly, YAY!) If something makes you laugh (and is workplace appropriate), share it with the group – trust me, we could all use a laugh.
- Try to keep a regular schedule: It may not be possible to replicate your pre-COVID routine under stay-at-home orders, so try to create and maintain a routine/schedule that works for you, and maintain healthy boundaries for work life and non-work life. If you share your space with anyone (human or dogs), don’t forget to account for other individual’s schedules when it comes to meetings, calls, lunch breaks, dog walks, etc.
- Keep things separate: Even if you’re limited for space, try to designate or create a space for work that is separate from non-working/relaxing spaces. This will allow your body to properly adjust to the two settings and make it easier for you to take periodic breaks and recharge. Try to avoid using your bed for a workspace, and if you’re transforming an existing space into a workspace, like your kitchen table, try to transform it back to a non-workspace at the end of each workday.
- Stay connected: Use your support system to talk about your fears and concerns and try to get face time with them using one of the many video chat technologies. Share tips with co-workers and friends on what is working well for you and encourage them to do the same.
- Communicate with your team: If you have questions or concerns about your job, benefits, or anything work-related, don’t be afraid to speak with your boss(es) or co-workers. If you’re struggling, your boss or co-workers may have tips to keep you on track and may be able to help with the workload or suggest an adjusted work schedule. If you need a mental health day, ask for one.
- Stay active: This is not only good for your physical health, but also your mental health. Periodically, get up and move around your home by stretching, meditating or doing yoga, or go outside for a safe, socially distanced activity, such as walking, biking or running, etc.
- Limit media consumption: It is good to stay updated on progress being made in combatting the virus but try to avoid continuous exposure to media and social media that may elevate anxiety, stress, or panic. Stay informed by following few, authoritative resources the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), but limit media consumption.
- Sharpen your tools (or not): Sure, this is a great time to sharpen your professional tools or pick up a new hobby, but you shouldn’t feel anxious or stressed about what you’re doing or not doing during this time. You don’t have to “use this time” to improve yourself; you can use this time for whatever you want, and if that happens to include picking up a new hobby (or one you’ve started 10x before), finishing a book you kept putting down, learning an instrument, or finally taking that online class you’ve wanted to take, that’s great. And if it includes binge watching a Netflix series you’ve already seen a dozen times or trying to maintain your pre-COVID home life by becoming the world’s fastest laundry folder, that’s great too.