At this point, 2019 feels like ancient history – like it happened centuries ago. Between natural disasters, impending nuclear war, social strife, police brutality, economic instability, and a global pandemic, 2020 was one of the most challenging years many of us have ever faced. Even now, two months into 2021, it feels like we’re still recovering.
Or maybe we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either way, as reported by Vox, spending a full year in a constant “fight or flight” state has been incredibly harmful not just for our emotional well-being, but for our physical health. There is an extensive pool of research pertaining to the effects of chronic stress on the body, and none of it is good.
According to this research, the harmful impacts of stress include, but are not limited to:
- Memory loss.
- Brain fog/cognitive impairment.
- Changes to how the body stores fat.
- A weakened immune system.
- Higher risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Higher blood pressure and a greater risk of a heart attack.
- Hormonal changes.
Worse still, the above doesn’t even begin to account for mental illness. As noted by a research brief published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the pandemic has considerably worsened the symptoms of many people suffering from pre-existing mental conditions. In short, people are stressed, exhausted, and scared.
And unless we acknowledge that and take action, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But what exactly can we do? How can we work towards mental wellness in a job market that often has us working in isolation?
By starting with something simple – with a few tips that can help us take better care not just of ourselves, but of the people around us.
DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH
For those of you unfamiliar with spoon theory, here’s a brief explanation, per Healthline. Imagine, if you will, that you have a drawer filled with spoons. Everything you do, from doing the laundry to writing a response to an email, requires you to take some spoons out of the drawer.
Once the drawer is empty, you’re done. Your mind is drained. You can’t keep going.
Under normal circumstances, most people don’t really need to worry about running out of spoons. These are not normal circumstances, however. There’s a good chance you might find yourself unable to handle a workload that previously wouldn’t have been an issue for you before everything went south.
That’s okay. You are not the only one struggling. And if you’re management or leadership at your organization, know that your employees likely aren’t firing on all cylinders right now, and people might need a bit longer than usual to finish their work.
ASK FOR HELP IF YOU NEED IT
Now more than ever, we need to dispel the stigma that’s grown around mental illness in the workplace. Even before the pandemic, healthcare agency Kaiser Permanente reports that around 75 percent of employees struggled with their mental health. 80 percent of them avoided seeking help because they were made to feel ashamed of their condition.
Back then, untreated mental health conditions cost American companies billions annually.
In 2021, they could end up costing a great deal more. It’s past time people started opening up. Leadership needs to make mental health support part of workplace culture, and ensure that employees have ready access to counseling services if and when the need arises. Employees, meanwhile, must do their best to be more open about their struggles, and more willing to support one another.
Obviously, you need to do your job. But you also need to take care of yourself, too. Especially if you’re working from home, you need to set clear boundaries between your personal and your professional life while also making as much of an effort as you can to stay physically healthy.
Here’s what that involves.
- Make sure your home office is kept entirely separate from the rest of your home. Ideally, you want it to be in a separate room, but you can also look into things like privacy walls and headphones if that’s not possible.
- Take frequent breaks while working. Get up from your desk, and go for a walk. Stretch a bit.
- Drink plenty of water. As much as humanly possible.
- Practice proper sleep hygiene. No TV before bed, no answering emails while under the covers, and no staying up late to finish a project you’re working on.
- Exercise. Even if you’re just doing wall sits, pushups, and situps, that’s better than nothing.
- Watch what you eat. It may be tempting to go through your day eating only Oreos and McDonald’s, but that will come back to bite you in the long run.
ABOVE ALL, BE KIND
This is a trying time for almost everyone, but none of us have to struggle through it alone. Provided you have the spoons, make an effort to be there for your friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Things are rough right now, but we’re all in this together.
And that’s how we’ll get through it, too.