As remote working arrangements continue in various capacities for many organisations, there is an eerie stillness on the streets of Hong Kong. The government has urged the public to avoid gatherings and maintain social distancing, much to the dismay of shopping malls, restaurants and local businesses. Many have even had to shut shop. Furthermore, schools have yet again extended the holidays and it seems we are getting more and more used to this isolated way of life.
While staying at home certainly helps to minimize risk of infection, it can also play havoc with our mental wellbeing. So what can we do to ensure we stay mentally healthy? As a doctor and wellbeing advocate, I’ve listed 7 ways in which we can combat negative feelings during this challenging period:
1) Check in with colleagues
When you’re working from home for long periods of time, it’s easy to feel isolated and even a little lost. Make sure you check in regularly with colleagues by keeping multiple communication channels open. In my own team, I have set up a Whatsapp group for daily catch-ups, as well as weekly team meetings on Skype. The key is to be available and maintain that ‘in-office’ dynamic as far as possible. As a manager, ensure tasks and objectives are communicated clearly so everyone is aligned. Give positive reinforcement to uplift morale (even if it’s as simple as an occasional thumbs-up emoji). These will in turn enhance productivity and motivation.
2) Switch off
Another problem with working from home, is that the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘home’ becomes muddled, and with “nothing better to do”, it’s easy to fall into the trap of continually working (which isn’t healthy). Try to switch off when it’s ‘home time’ and use that extra time saved from not having to commute to do something nice instead.
3) Connect with friends and family
Similarly, make sure you stay connected with friends and family. Weeks of being cooped up at home can lead to loneliness and cabin fever. If venturing out to meet them is not an option, try picking up the phone or video-calling. Take yourself away from the screen and hear their voices. It will keep you grounded. For those with the opposite problem (too much family time!) don’t be afraid to take some ‘time out’ in one of the rooms and let the others know that this is your ‘me time’.
4) Maintain perspective
As difficult as it is, try to maintain a perspective on the situation. Accept what you can and can’t control. Do your part for yourself and the community by following recommended precautions, but beyond that, know that there is only so much you can do. Try not to worry too much, as stress can make you susceptible to colds and flu.
5) Maintain a healthy routine
Should you really contract the virus, the best line of defence is your own immune system. Therefore, make sure you stay healthy - eat well, sleep well, exercise everyday. Get out for a bit (away from crowds) if you can. Some sunlight and fresh air will do you the world of good.
6) Practise mindfulness
Practising mindfulness can significantly reduce stress and anxiety¹. Whether you choose yoga, meditation or deep breathing, set aside 10-20 minutes a day to relax your mind and body. Working from home presents the perfect opportunity to do this and there are plenty of apps that can help you.
7) Take a break from social media
There is such a thing as ‘social media overwhelm’. While the internet can be a great source of information, it can also be a hotbed of scare-mongering and misinformation. Take a pause from all that scrolling and discipline yourself to only checking once or twice a day for important updates. Your mood and stress levels will thank you for it.
If recent events were anything to go by, there is no doubt that the coming years will present more change and uncertainty. I hope these 7 steps will help you to keep some semblance of sanity during these challenging times. Since mental health and stress levels have a direct impact on physical health and immunity, it is more important now than ever to stay mentally healthy.
Dr Winnie Ho (From Health and Employee Benefits, AXA Hong Kong and Macau)
¹ Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders: https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.149.7.936