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How important is mental health? I don’t need to be the one to tell you, it’s very important. And now more than ever in the face of a global crisis which has no scheduled end, we need to remember how to stay sane. In this article I give some tips to those of us still locked inside and who have been able to continue working remotely for months. These can be applied throughout your business or be personal to ensure you stay sane. The following is not a comprehensive list but rather potential things you can suggest to your HR, manager or take on board for yourself.
Most of the world has entered a phase of working from home and normally that would have been great, only we cannot leave our house after work or choose to go back to the office when we want it. In Singapore, we cannot even meet people who don’t live under the same roof. This lack of human contact and apparent freedoms can slowly eat away at anybody’s sanity. The hours become harder to differentiate as the weekends and weekdays blend together, as we get more hunched over our computers and glued to our seat. The issue here is without our regular breaks, breathing the outside air and socializing, people can eventually burnout. In the white collar world where most of us can work remotely and online, some are using work to take up their time. But this is dangerous as it makes it hard to differentiate your personal time and space. First I’ll tackle a couple ideas on how to keep in touch with colleagues and friends, making sure we’re all accountable for our own wellbeing. Then I’ll tackle some personal things we can look at adding into our routines to keep our lives from being consumed by work.
This is a system where you pair up and do a virtual video call with a Buddy to talk about how you’re doing. It can be about any topic but try to avoid talking only about work. Use this to voice your thoughts like you would if you were having lunch with a friend. If you can’t run this throughout the office — make your own buddy system by arranging it with a couple of friends. Use a random generator to pair people on the list so you’re getting to pair with new people but also have that social aspect scheduled into your life.
Assigning a buddy who needs to check in on you, can be very useful. At my company, we’ve taken our mentorship program which usually runs over a few months and condensed it during these lockdown times. Now we have a new buddy every 2 weeks, allowing us not only to get some one-on-one time with colleagues we might not typically speak to, but also having a good break during the work week to remind ourselves that socializing is important too.
This clear indicator and forced timeline will ensure people actually complete this task. Do remember not to keep the time frame too wide and have a system of sharing so people can hear some good or funny stories from the group.
There are many Tech companies starting to initiate ways to track your staff. Some of these include psychometric tests or surveys designed by professionals to track people’s mental wellbeing. If used well by HR it can help make sure that any anomalies are dealt with early.
The key to this is keeping it anonymous. If you conduct these yourselves and people think they’re being monitored they may not be truthful about their negative thoughts. Easier ways, are to use ready made tools that then extrapolate data in an easy way to analyse. Put in the right hands, this can help support any members in your team that need it.
Bosses are going to be checking in on the productivity of their staff. This is important, but don’t forget to also check in on how the person is doing. Empathise if there are any challenges and remember not to judge KPIs. If things are different from before, ask why? This includes both under-performance and over-performance.
Under-performance doesn’t mean the person isn’t trying as the pandemic could have affected their ability to control external factors. Furthermore, over-performance is also to be noted as it may be an indicator that someone is over-working themselves and close to burn out. Of course, if that’s not the case then you still want to ask why so you can celebrate these wins and share the story with the wider team— especially now we’re less in touch with the larger group.
Remember to make sure these conversations are not accusatory and are genuine, as the individual is ultimately in charge of their own time. As a mentor or manager you can give your advice and let them know you’re there, but at the core of any good relationship is trust. This is especially important now that we cannot see or hear our colleagues as they work. Micro-management will be the first thing to frustrate someone and put them into a negative spiral. At the same time, never checking in on someone may make them feel isolated, so keep a good balance that works for both you and the team.
Just because we are stuck inside, doesn’t mean we cannot move. It does not mean that after work you have to only walk from your dining room table to your sofa, yours eyes switching from the laptop screen to the TV. If you’ve got a little break do something to get the blood flowing.
Perhaps this is walking around your house or around the block after a meal. Maybe it’s doing a bit of yoga during your lunch break or before you start the day. Perhaps it’s installing a pull-up bar in your house, getting some dumb-bells and doing a quick workout in your living room. All of these things are important to incorporate into your daily routine so you’re not feeling that time is wasting away, while also giving you that necessary endorphin rush.
There are actually many things we can still do virtually. Some teams are starting to do quiz nights or play Pictionary online together. Groups are hosting virtual concerts, parties or workouts. You can be a passive participant or you can organize this with any group of your choice. If you don’t want to do everything with your colleagues, perhaps its time to engage your overseas family members or friends in the same country you cannot see anymore. Whatever it is, schedule it in and do something fun together! If you don’t live alone, even better — you can blow the dust off your board games or puzzle and do something together physically. The options are limitless. Just remember not to do something that is work related.
Everyone’s telling you to do something productive with your “earned” time. This is a great idea — we should definitely try to do something we’ve always wanted to do but needed some extra time forced into our schedule (I could argue that you should always make time if it’s an important enough hobby — but I digress…)
Life poked a little hole into your schedule of travelling, socializing, partying or whatever it was you liked to do a lot pre-COVID. So make use of it.
Maybe you wanted to learn how to code, maybe you wanted to read more books, maybe you wanted to train for a marathon. Time is your resource and now you’ve got it. You can do all the things that you want to.
However, this is not just about bettering yourself. This is no self-help blog. This is about mental sanity. So, if the pressures from all those voices telling you that you have to get good at something during these times or you’re useless…tell them to politely back off. You are in charge of your time. If you are too anxious to do anything heavy outside of work hours, then use the time to rest and recharge because that is also important. Forcing yourself to be productive to prove a point is detrimental. It will only exacerbate any negative feelings and potentially lead to burn out.
Boredom will make you more creative. Human beings have forgotten how to be bored. It’s through those getaways and being completely alone that some of the best ideas were generated. And people usually forced themselves into isolation to get away from our hectic lifestyles. We’ve been given a great gift. If you are lucky enough not to be worried and stressed about keeping food on your table, then don’t waste the spare moments away by being glued to a screen. Allow yourself to just sit, think, reflect and be bored. You’ll never know what ideas come through that mind of yours.
Last, but not least, we need to always celebrate and be grateful for the little things. Maybe it’s a hug with a loved one, maybe you got a present in the mail or you remember that you still have a stable job. Bask in that happiness and allow yourself to smile, laugh or cry. We will not always be in a perky, happy mindset. And that’s fine. I’m not saying you should be happy 24/7 because the realities of life don’t allow for that, especially when we might feel like caged animals.
Instead, whenever you’re lucky to feel that happiness, ride the wave. It’s important to celebrate the wins in life, as small as they may seem. We don’t have to stay miserable and feel sorry for ourselves. No, the strongest of us will pick ourselves back up and use those positive feelings to fight off any negativity.
Your mind is one of your most important possessions and you want to make sure that it’s well taken care of — especially during these abnormal times stuck locked in our houses. Don’t forget to pamper your mentality by doing things that make you happy.
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