The COVID-19 pandemic will be one of the most defining public health crises of the 21st century. No one is left untouched as the pandemic changes our way of life and society as we know it. Feelings of doom and gloom and that the world is spinning out of control are palpable and weigh heavily on our minds. The stress and anxiety can be paralysing.
Thanks to the proliferation of blogs, opinion pieces and news articles by organisational change experts and wellbeing gurus, we are well furnished with practical tips and resources on how to stay calm and socially connected during these isolating times. We can also turn to research in the field of positive emotions to help us cope and deal with the stress and strain of rapidly evolving situations.
For many people in the workforce, the working from home experience has likely consisted of one blissful day a week with no meetings and the chance to focus on paper writing and other high concentration tasks. But working nearly exclusively from home can be really lonely.
There are tonnes of practical tips out there about managing your workspace and time – like not forgetting to wear pants during Zoom calls. But it’s also important to actively manage feelings of isolation – working from home can be pretty lonely after long stretches.
So, if we are working alone in our homes for the next little while - in addition to doing all the right things like setting up a good workspace, logging off at the end of day, and not eating all the chocolate in your pantry - please make sure to keep strong social ties with colleagues, it makes a world of difference.
Staying socially connected doesn't mean never switching off nor taking time for yourself. For those not at the frontline working on the COVID-19 prevention and control, the suggestion of disconnecting for some thinking time may sound ridiculous amidst the tsunami of health, social and economic fallout. Working on ‘non-essential’ tasks and being asked to focus on anything but COVID-19 can seem absurd, irrelevant and dismissive of the calamitous impacts of this global crisis on our lives and society. But as shutdown or lockdown becomes inevitable, the prospect of bunkering down could provide a valuable opportunity for us to pause and even take micro-sabbaticals from the coronavirus anxiety. It is an opportunity to spend quality time with family, and to psychologically revitalise and recharge our creative spirit. Whether small wins, like finishing off that manuscript, or major breakthroughs, like hitting a research idea eureka!, all achievements can give us a sense of control and psychological boost. A few suggestions on ways to unplug:
Physical activity is critical to our physical health and mental wellbeing and a shutdown or lockdown poses serious challenges to staying active. Frustrating as it is, the good news is you do not need huge amounts of physical activity to get health benefits (the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150-300 minutes per week) and there are ways to incorporate physical activity into our life, even indoors.
The above are just some initial thoughts on thriving in these unprecedented times. We encourage you to share other tips and tools to get us through this new ‘COVID-19’ world, and to make a transition to a life that for many of us will largely be lived at home – at least for the next little while. Staying connected, using the me-time creatively and keeping active are key ways to get us to our post-coronavirus world in good shape and mental health.
Keep well everyone.
This paper has been prepared by the Prevention Research Collaboration at the Sydney School of Public Health. This specialised research group is committed to expanding research in non-communicable disease prevention, as well as other aspects of primary prevention and health promotion including physical activity, nutrition, obesity and tobacco.