• Old Mutual MiNDSPACE Team

Looking after your mental health during lockdown

Lockdown, physical distancing and isolation have increased anxiety and depression, proving that people really do need people.

Thanks to the months spent at home, there is a new acronym to join FOMO and YOLO. In fact, says Kerry Acheson, a counselling psychologist and life coach, it’s the opposite of FOMO. She says, ‘We’re seeing an increase in FOGO – fear of going out – as many people are understandably still uneasy to do things and go to places that were part of their pre-Covid life.’

On top of that, working from home and living at work have forced parents to juggle several roles – the most common ones being work, housework, childcare and home-schooling. ‘Naturally this has been challenging and stressful for many families,’ she says.

It’s this disruption of our routines and lack of balance that have had a direct impact on mental health. ‘We’re seeing heightened levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Many people are experiencing trauma and grief. People are fearful regarding the safety and health of loved ones. And then there’s the very real fear of loss of earnings and loss of employment in this hugely uncertain climate.’

As Ruth Everson, a Johannesburg-based leadership and life coach, said, ‘We’re back to worrying about the basic needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.’

The six biggest concerns

Under level 5 of the lockdown, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) received calls from people who had no history of anxiety or depression who were feeling overwhelmed, anxious and stressed.

If people who have never been diagnosed with a mental issue felt this way, it stands to reason that those living with mental health issues would be seriously impacted by the pandemic, says Cassey Chambers, operations director for SADAG.

To investigate the impact the Covid-19 lockdown had on South Africans mental health, SADAG conducted an online survey and found that the six biggest challenges people experienced were as follows:

1. Anxiety and panic (55%) 2. Financial stress and pressure (46%) 3. Depression (40%) 4. Poor family relations (30%) 5. Feelings of suicide (12%) 6. Substance abuse (6%)

What can you do to manage Covid’s impact on your state of mind?

The effects of lockdown and Covid will be around for longer than we realise, which is why it’s important to maintain holistic self-care, and pay attention to your mental and physical wellbeing.

‘Now that we can visit friends and family again, you need to stay connected with them, eat and sleep well, exercise regularly, take frequent restorative breaks and make time for fun,’ Acheson says. ‘It’s important that people recognise when they are struggling, and realise that they don’t need to suffer alone. Support is available,’ she says.

‘During these strange times, people’s needs change, and knowing the challenges your team is facing will allow you to provide the necessary support.’

Supportive counselling or therapy can be highly empowering and enable people to connect with their resilience and personal resources in times of high stress. Having a reflective space to step back and review how they are doing and identify personal goals can facilitate processing, meaning-making, and growth.’

Whether workers are back at their workplaces or still working from home, Acheson says employees on all levels continue to face mental health challenges. From a business point of view, it’s important to continue to check in with them regularly.

‘Expressing empathy, recognition and appreciation goes a long way,’ she explains. ‘During these strange times, people’s needs change, and knowing the challenges your team is facing will allow you to provide the necessary support. Effective, collaborative communication maintains trust and keeps expectations realistic.’

It’s important to normalise and de-stigmatise the mental health challenges that are exacerbated at this time. ‘Encouraging people to reach out for professional support when needed adds to a workplace culture of mental healthcare,’ says Acheson.