As businesses begin to slowly reopen, it’s important to continue to stay safe and care for your mental wellness amidst the pandemic. Learn from these 7 effective tips below.
A snapshot of the US economy back in June showed that nearly 42 percent of Americans were working from home full-time (while 33 percent weren’t able to work at all, and only 26 percent continued to go to work as essential personnel). But thousands of Americans have gradually been called back into offices in cities and states where lockdowns have ended or eased up.
Yet while we are slowly going back to work, things are far from “normal.” And it’s clear that, even after the pandemic, COVID-19 will continue to shape the workplace for years to come. One of the things many of us are still struggling with is focus and productivity.
It’s become harder to work effectively in the light of this crisis, especially amid sky-high anxiety rates and an increasingly uncertain future.
Here are 7 important tips to remember as we try to navigate through the second half of an eventful year.
1. Jot Down Your Thoughts and Worries
Your brain is often too quick to open a new thread before the first one has resolved. That processing speed can pick up when faced with overwhelming stress. It all accumulates, turning into thousands of open-ended bare-threaded questions and worries, all piling up too fast to be addressed.
When you can’t find ways to calm yourself mentally, turn to an empty page and start writing. Jot your thoughts down – stream of consciousness-style or in list form – and just put to words what it is you’re thinking and worrying about. There’s no need to publish or show what you’re writing to anyone else.
You could even write it all down and promptly delete or scrap it – symbolically tell yourself that these worries are all transient and not pertinent to the here and now, and you’d like to return to the blank page both in your hands and in your head.
Alternatively, consider journaling. Write your thoughts down and use the structure of a journal entry to help organize the chaos in your mind. Reflect on agitated thinking with a cooler perspective, and calm down.
2. Use Your Daily Commute to Calm Yourself
If you’re being called back to work, your typical commute might be especially stressful given the current situation. Commutes are a terrible time to be struggling with anxious thoughts, as we’re prone to falling into the trap of rumination.
Consider finding ways to make your commute more enjoyable and use it as a mood setter for the rest of the day. Pick a happy playlist, or a podcast you enjoy, or some other distraction to help you get into the right mindset for your morning.
3. Cut Out News Media and Sanitize Your Feed
The news cycle can be especially upsetting these days. Every new day tends to be dominated by at least a few headlines that are liable to spark anxiety and controversy.
While it’s completely understandable to feel the need to stay informed at all times, it’s also quite harmful. We tend to develop a skewed view of reality when inundated by a 24/7 news cycle. Especially one that is financially incentivized to capitalize on the worst events of the day. Consider drastically reducing the amount of media you consume, and setting aside portions of the day or week to check out reputable news sources rather than checking the newest headlines every hour on the hour. Avoid starting your day with a bellyful of awful.
Similarly, sanitize your social media feeds, or take a break from social media. Visit your Facebook and Twitter profiles more sparingly. Mute or leave group chats obsessed with sharing every piece of distracting news on the Internet. Make room for more qualitative conversations with friends and family through messaging tools and video calls and take a break from the unnecessary stuff that just leaves you feeling down.
4. Prioritize Good Sleep
While the importance of sleep is mentioned quite frequently in selfcare guides and productivity articles, it’s still a topic that is generally underrated and ignored. We seem to be stuck on catching up with the day’s news and gossip after work and dinner, often in our beds, when we should be winding down to get a good night’s rest.
Poor sleep hygiene is a widespread problem affecting millions of Americans, and it’s often only haphazardly covered up by sky-high caffeine consumption.
While there’s nothing wrong with a cup of coffee in the morning, it’s a bad sign when you’re endlessly groggy and not quite “awake” without your coffee. Make your sleep a priority, before anything else. Your mental state will thank you for it.
5. Get in the Habit of Setting Daily Goals
Feeling overwhelmed is a hallmark of anxiety, and when it’s at its worst, every day can feel like a paralyzing mountain of unsorted and insurmountable tasks and obstacles.
Rather than find yourself terrified at what lies ahead for today, the week, the month, and the year, scale all the way back down and prioritize the top two or three tasks for the day. Set aside just a handful of things that you want to accomplish at work and get laser-focused on doing just that.
Ignore what comes after – especially when you’re having a hard day, and just need a place to start. It’s good to think ahead and have foresight when you’re feeling better. But there is a time and place where tunnel vision is just healthier and will help you get more done.
6. Split Your Day Into Bursts of Work
If you have lots of tasks ahead, consider organizing your day into individual bursts of work paired with short, but effective breaks. Make use of those breaks in a productive way – don’t just go to the bathroom, check your emails, or read an unrelated article.
Instead, get up off your chair and spend a few minutes looking out through the window. Make yourself a cup of something warm to drink. Pace around the office for a bit and get a few steps in. Stretch your back and hips, sip some water. Try to take a total break from work, and “refresh” your mind. Use the last few minutes of your break to plan out how you’re going to start your next task. Then sit down and start the next task energized.
7. Make Your Mental Wellness Nonnegotiable
Given pandemic levels of anxiety and the sharp incline in stress-related issues since this crisis began, we simply cannot afford to continue acting like burnouts are an appropriate cost and natural necessity for success.
Striving for short-term gain while ignoring the long-term consequences is a recipe for disaster in any endeavor. And this goes for the workplace as well.
Managers and employers need to do better to ensure the wellbeing of their workers, show their employees that they care about equitable healthcare and better mental health management, and pledge themselves to emphasizing the importance of overall mental wellness. It relates to productivity, creativity, and a company’s competitive edge.
To that end, petition for policies at work that you feel will have a bigger impact on your mental health and the health of your colleagues. Get together with other workers and open a line of communication with management to identify ways you can work together and smooth the transition back towards focused and effective work.
At home, look for ways to separate yourself from work and seek out activities that help you create a distinct divide between work and home. This could include chores, working out, TV time with the family, or dinner. Appropriately turn off anything coming from work (aside from true emergencies) after a specific time.
The coronavirus crisis is an ongoing issue, and the changes it will force at home, in public, and at the workplace will shift and mature over time. Making sense of things during this volatile period while remaining productive is challenging, but by taking it a day at a time, you’ll be able to face individual problems as they come up.