How to cope with continued or new lockdown restrictions
With continued or new restrictions looming around the world, how can we overcome the mental health challenges that many of us faced earlier this year?
When COVID-19 first hit, and countries around the world went into various states of lockdown, it was a shock. For many, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under their feet, with social plans cancelled, support networks taken away and work now to be done at home, sometimes even combined with childcare. On top of this, many were worried about catching the virus or its impact on loved ones.
The pandemic has had a clear impact on our mental health. Data from Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index found that 70%1 of high net worth individuals from around the world have experienced symptoms of mental ill-health since the pandemic started. A total of 21% suffered from fatigue, 22% from disturbed sleep, 23% endured a low mood and anxiety and another 21% experienced feelings of anger and impatience.
And with huge changes to almost every aspect of everyday life as well as constant reminders in the news and on our news feeds, Dr Luke James, Medical Director Bupa Global & UK Insurance, says that this is not surprising. ‘The sheer amount of information provided on a daily basis during the pandemic, from social media and traditional media stories can fuel a sense of anxiety,’ he says. ‘One shouldn’t underestimate the impact on our mental health of watching or reading the news with stories of death, suffering and illness on a day to day basis throughout the crisis. We also have to remember how many people may have lost relatives to COVID-19 during this time and the subsequent impact of this.’
Now, with cases still high around the world, it’s no wonder that many are dreading the thought of further lockdowns or tighter restrictions.
‘We all knew from looking at other countries around the world that a second peak would probably come, and that the government would probably have to introduce a lockdown to protect the health service and other key services,’ South Korean architect Je Ahn and director of [the London-based] Studio Weave says.
‘My business is able to work remotely, but I do worry about how our public finances can sustain certain levels of propping up. Plus, I am concerned for others in the restaurant and entertainment industries and other jobs that involve working on a site, as many of our contractors do,’ adds Ahn.
The Good News
There is a glimmer of hope. The first lockdown came as a surprise, fuelling anxiety and poor mental health. ‘Uncertainty, the unknown, can obviously make this worse,’ Dr James agrees. But we know what to expect from further restrictions: we are more prepared than we were last time around.
Businesses around the world quickly adapted to home working, utilising technology to keep teams in touch and even implementing additional mental health support for those who might be struggling, such as at Microsoft, Deloitte and P&G, which have set up mental health helplines for employees and their families.
In the community, many reported that they felt closer to neighbours and their local area during the previous lockdown. According to the Countryside Charity, 40% of Britons said they felt more connected to their community during this time2. ‘Many of us feared that lockdown would see more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world,’ Crispin Turner, CEO of the charity says. ‘Many of us were more connected than ever, with different age groups connecting more, which was truly inspiring to see.’
How to manage mental health
But if you are feeling stressed or anxious it’s important to come up with ways to help tackle it. The first is to try to stay positive, which can have huge benefits on our mental health, including making us more resilient and better at problem solving – key business skills – as well as improving our immunity3,4,5.
‘Thinking about the positives in the situation can help reduce anxiety,’ Dr Luke Powles, an Associate Clinical Director for Bupa Global, says. ‘Focus on things such as having more time with your family, no commute, and an increase in community spirit.’ He adds that limiting social media time and watching the news can help ‘and making sure what you read is from an accurate and trusted source.’
While many found themselves overeating and drinking in the last lockdown, Dr Emma Bullock, a GP for Bupa Global, recommends we keep up healthy habits. ‘It’s really important to eat well, reduce alcohol intake and allow time for exercise. It helps if you set time and perhaps do it with your family, such as go out with your kids on the bike.’
Healthy habits have come into force as indicated in Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index which found that 32% of high net worth individuals increased the amount of exercise in their daily routine to help alleviate mental health concerns during the pandemic.
Alister Gray, Executive Leadership Coach, adds that there is another habit we should adopt: ‘This one may be the most important to remember and is often the easiest one to forget,’ he says. ‘Be kind to yourself. Become aware of the words and language you use today and set the intention to be a little kinder to yourself with every thought and word you speak.’
According to Mason Donovan, Managing Partner of The Dagoba Group and author of The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce, the problem with working from home can mean, ‘There is no such thing as leaving the work in the office when your office also doubles as your kitchen or bedroom. Employees are blurring the lines even more between personal and work life causing increased anxiety and burn out.’
‘There is a risk if we don’t manage the boundaries between work and home life well that we trade in the stress of a commute for a stress of being permanently ‘on call’,’ Dr Pablo Vandenabeele agrees.
He adds that learning when to say ‘no’ is essential for maintaining a good work/life balance; ‘The word ‘no’ can be incredibly effective when used correctly. Spreading yourself too thinly or allowing work issues to consistently creep into your home life can often lead you to breaking point.’
Dr James adds that executives need to model good behaviours for their teams: ‘Leaders are the ones to help their teams re-establish these, such as switching the laptop off at a set time, creating a fixed space to work within the house, making time for family and leisure activities.’
Social distancing measures shouldn’t be confused with totally cutting ourselves off. ‘Chronic isolation is linked with heart disease, high anxiety and depression,’ Dr Bullock says. It can also be detrimental to the workplace: ‘Gone are the corporate kitchen talks, lunches, and informal discussions before and after meetings,’ Donovan says. It’s important to not neglect the interactions that help keep our day sociable. For families, many used weekly Zoom calls to connect with relatives around the world. ‘It’s really important to feel connected with other people,’ Dr Bullock adds.
Know when to ask for help
Dr Powles says that many people are managing their stress on their own and coping. Research from the Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing Index found that 31% of high net worth individuals delayed seeking help due to the pandemic. ‘If you’re struggling, then you should ask for help,’ Dr Powles adds.
Bupa Global Resources Customers
Bupa Global has resources to help you and your family cope. If you’re a Bupa Global customer and have a health concern the Global Virtual Care (GVC) service provides confidential access to a global network of doctors by telephone or video call, with virtual appointments available 24/7 in multiple languages - enabling you to speak to a doctor at a time that suits you. Please visit our COVID-19 information hub for more details on how you can access our GVC service.
Bupa Global customers also have access to our Healthline service, which gives access to general medical information on COVID-19 and other medical conditions (mental and physical) as well as providing advice from health professionals and referrals for a second medical opinion.
Alternatively, if you have access to Bupa Global through your employer – you and your family may be entitled to use the Employee Assistance Programme. The programme entitles Bupa Global policyholders to access trained healthcare professionals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year via phone, email or online to talk through any work, life or personal concerns.
Global Virtual Care and Bupa Lifeworks are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or by the Prudential Regulation Authority. Global Virtual Care is provided by Advance Medical, a Teladoc Health Company, and Bupa Lifeworks is provided by Lifeworks who are both service providers for Bupa Global. Bupa Global is not responsible for any actions or omissions carried out by these third parties in the provision of these services.