Many will have noticed the impact of feeling low on efficiency and productivity, but experts say … [+]
We all knew it, but now it’s official: stay at home orders and physical distancing restrictions designed to halt the spread of COVID-19 are taking their toll on mental health.
A survey published by the CDC reports that, in late June, four in 10 U.S. adults struggled with mental health or substance abuse. And, in a Public Health England survey, around half (49%) of respondents said the pandemic has impacted negatively on their mental health and wellbeing, with significant proportions experiencing increased anxiety (46%), stress (44%), sleep problems (34%) and low mood (46%).
Many will have noticed the impact of feeling low on efficiency and productivity, but experts say there are several things we can do to keep energy and morale high.
Digging yourself out of low points starts with acknowledging and naming your stressors and any self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that rob us of our confidence, says Dr Dominique Pritchett, therapist and CEO at Beloved Wellness Center.
She adds: “When you acknowledge what’s happening, it makes implementing resilience-based coping strategies more realistic, rather throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks.”
After acknowledgement comes acceptance, followed by assessment: what and who do you need in your corner for support? After that, says Pritchett, we can take action.
She explains: “This is a great opportunity to schedule and follow through with brief coping moments throughout the day such as deep breathing, stretching, napping, pausing social media or taking a lunch break. In order for any of these to be effective, you have to be intentional and make them a priority.”
Pritchett adds: “Speak up if you ever get to the point where you do not feel safe with yourself. This is the ultimate act of self-compassion and safety preservation. If you need professional counseling, use your employee assistance program or seek therapy on your own.”
Dr Roger Hall, psychologist and author of Staying Happy, Being Productive, advises shifting our focus away from work and towards creating better nutritional and exercise habits.
He explains: “Exercise is probably not the answer you want to hear, but it is the most simple and effective solution. Your brain is constantly repairing itself, and exercise and nutrition are essential for it to do that and to function correctly. Your brain can only use the resources you give it, and if you don’t give it what it needs, it can’t produce the results you desire.”
Hall adds that it can be very difficult to motivate yourself to stick with a regular routine of exercise, and you cannot expect to see results right away. For that reason, he advises making your diet and exercise routine “stupid easy”, never grocery shopping when hungry, only having food in the house that fits into your nutritional plan so you aren’t tempted to eat junk food, and controlling your environment to encourage more exercise.
He explains: “If the only furniture in your TV room is a bicycle, you’ll be forced to exercise when you watch TV. If you love listening to audiobooks, only allow yourself to listen while you’re on the treadmill. When you take your lunch break, go for a walk before you can sit down with your food.”
To increase the chance of success, Hall suggests creating one new good habit at a time.
Harvard-trained clinical psychologist Dr Sabrina Romanoff, who works at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, recommends trying a range of different practices to boost your mental wellbeing, including “negative vizualization” to break you out of the here and now.
In short, think of the worst-case scenario that didn’t happen, about what life would be like if you didn’t get your accomplishments, and didn’t meet people from those experiences, in order to feel gratitude.
Similarly, Romanoff advises we engage in the practice of savoring, explaining: “This involves stepping out of your experience, to review it and really appreciate it while it is happening. This can boost your mood, avoids mind wandering, and increases gratitude.
“To try this, take part in a gratifying activity, and track what you savor about it. This forces you to notice and enjoy the experience while keeping attention on it. For example, instead of eating cookies while focusing on problems, eat cookies while thinking about how great the experience is. You could also think about how lucky you are to experience it, look for other people to share it with, think only about the present, be absorbed, and talk to another person about how good it felt.”
Romanoff also recommends working to maintain our social connections, which will make us happier and more positive, and suggests: “Strike up a conversation with a friend, someone you haven’t seen in a while, talk to a stranger, and track it as this will make it a habit.”
Having lived for years in the cruel grip of burnout, I cured myself by researching how to achieve more in less time, testing productivity hacks, and looking at the