How to be mindful of mental health during lockdown

1 July 2021
Researchers from psychology, work and organisational studies share advice
Keeping your mental health in check during lockdown can be difficult. Our experts from the Body, Heart and Mind in Business Research Group explain how you can safeguard your mental health and wellbeing at work.

1. Try to gain back control

“As we settle into this lockdown, it can be valuable to take some time to reflect on what you learnt during last year’s experience,” Associate Professor Anya Johnson explained.

Perhaps most importantly be kind and compassionate – to yourself and others.
Associate Professor Anya Johnson

“Our research suggests that while working from home can have its benefits, when we are in lockdown, we generally lose control and flexibility. This lack of control, in combination with social isolation can significantly increase stress and exacerbate the underlying levels of emotional exhaustion and fatigue that have been building over the last 18 months.

“It is important to exert some control over your day like planning (and taking) regular breaks, exercising, eating well and having a good sleep routine. We need to recognise that everyone has a different experience of lockdown – for some it can be incredibly isolating and lonely, for others, it can mean supporting family members and children,” said Associate Professor Johnson, Co-Director of the Body, Heart and Mind in Business Research Group.

“Perhaps most importantly be kind and compassionate – to yourself and others. We can’t know what others are dealing with as they try to maintain their usual work routines, so as colleagues and managers, we need to try to understand how the experience is different for each person, and to adapt and reassess what can be achieved.”

2. Consultation is key

“The safety and mental health of employees needs to be a priority for all leaders in business. For managers and supervisors, lead by example. You need to be well in order to help others,” Associate Professor Helena Nguyen, Co-Director of the research group, said.

“Consult with your team on changes that impact their work. By creating a flexible workplace and considering good work design, you can help your team cope with change. Let people know that it is okay not to be okay. Support and help each other to build a workplace culture that prioritises people’s wellbeing at work.”

Associate Professors Nguyen and Johnson have authored multiple papers on workplace issues confronted in the healthcare sector specifically, many of whom have been the first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Special consideration needs to be given to frontline healthcare staff who are working through the pandemic, putting themselves at risk to help others. They are likely to experience considerable amounts of anxiety and stress due to the risk of exposure to themselves and the health of their families and colleagues.”

3. Treat frontline staff with care

Dr Karyn Wang is an expert from the research group with expertise in the effect of customer mistreatment on service employees like retail assistants.

There have been repeated reports of frontline workers being verbally abused throughout lockdowns. But Dr Wang cautions that for some workers, dealing with mistreatment by customers is an everyday occurrence.

“When it comes to employees being mistreated by customers, it's important to keep in mind that these are not isolated incidents that occur during pandemics or lockdown. Instead, they, unfortunately, represent the lived experience of too many retail employees as they go about their everyday work.

Our research shows that it's not the big attention-grabbing incidents that cause the most damage, but it's the more insidious everyday incidents that cause wear and tear, and ultimately burnout,” Dr Wang explained.

“Companies need to carefully review their policies and procedures to deal with these incidents. More importantly, organisations need to engage customers to ensure that events do not occur in the first instance. At a fundamental level, staff training should encompass active de-escalation strategies rather than relying on the manager to problem solve or asking employees to be resilient.”

If you are experiencing distress and need support, you can contact:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Headspace: 1800 650 890

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