The great lockdown is not just an economic problem – it could also be a mental health one. Jonny Jacobs CA talks through what you can do to keep your mind fighting fit.
- A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation highlighted the problems: one in four adults feel lonely, 20% consume more alcohol to cope with stress, a third of those in work worry about losing their job, and almost half of those unemployed worried about having enough food to meet basic household need
- Communication with your organisation, friends and family is fundamental. Conversations about why you feel vulnerable and uncertain at times of change can be powerful
- In this new business landscape dealing with the disruption could also mean embracing it as a time of opportunity
For ICAS mental health champion Jonny Jacobs CA these are challenging times.
“Humans crave certainty,” he says. “They don’t like change.” Even in a normal business environment, uncertainty can contribute to stress and anxiety for many. Over time, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to mental and physical ill effects including depression, high blood pressure and fatigue. Such problems cost the UK an estimated 12.8 million working days last year, according to government figures.
With months of disruption behind – and in front of – us as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, “business as usual” is now anything but. With rolling changes in the way we live and work, how do we stay mentally healthy?
“Recent events have driven a lot of anxiety, and we’re seeing that rising to the surface now,” notes Jacobs, whose work as Finance Director for Starbucks EMEA, and non-executive for the Mental Health Foundation, embraces his passion for mental fitness in business.
Exposing your vulnerability can have value to those around you. The empathy and humanity that can come off the back of that is amazing
The statistics are worrying and show “while we are in the same storm, we might not be in the same boat”, he says. A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation highlighted the problems: one in four adults feel lonely, 20% consume more alcohol to cope with stress, a third of those in work worry about losing their job, and almost half of those unemployed worried about having enough food to meet basic household needs. Recognising that we are all affected in different ways is important.
Employee assistance programmes or wellbeing ambassadors are a good first step for those struggling with workplace mental health issues – and for Jacobs, talking to someone is an important step to safeguarding your mental health.
“Communication with your organisation, friends and family is fundamental,” he says. “Conversations about why you feel vulnerable and uncertain at times of change can be powerful. Exposing your vulnerability can have value to those around you. The empathy and humanity that can come off the back of that is amazing.”
The way you talk to yourself can also impact whether a period of uncertainty becomes a tundra of fear. Focusing on what you can control is key to staying balanced. You may not be able to affect your company’s restructuring, but there are plenty of things that are within your sphere of influence.
Don’t always accept your thoughts as facts: just because something is unsettling, it doesn’t necessarily follow that something bad will happen.
These include keeping active, connecting with people and maintaining strong boundaries between work and home life. Concentrating on your strengths, and how they can help you navigate challenging times, will also help build resilience.
Continuous development is another way to surf a changing tide – whether upskilling, pivoting or even learning something unrelated to work. For example, Yale University recently made its most popular course, The Science of Well-Being, free online – offering tools to becoming happier, including, crucially, how to manage expectations.
In part, this entails letting go of them, but maintaining focus. Don’t always accept your thoughts as facts: just because something is unsettling, it doesn’t necessarily follow that something bad will happen. If anxious thoughts are on your mind, try not to let them dominate. If there’s something you can do to address them, make a plan; if not, let them go. Regular meditation and mindfulness practices can also quieten the mind, and helping someone else can remind you of your power to effect positive change, even in adversity.
In this new business landscape dealing with the disruption could also mean embracing it as a time of opportunity. “Obviously as we return to work there will be a shift, and organisations may look very different,” says Jacobs. “The Covid-19 pandemic is an accelerator for business technology. We are seeing a massive uptake in tools such as videoconferencing, which is proving to organisations that home-working can work – although face-to-face contact will always play an important role as well.”
A key part [of mental health] is knowing it’s okay not to be okay, seeking support and talking about it.
And as we all grapple with the uncertain landscape, a general feeling of supportiveness may enhance the ways in which organisations help their employees. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was changed to “kindness” as a result of the pandemic, to reflect a quality many of us have found in abundance during the crisis.
“I think that resonates with what we feel as a community and as a nation,” says Jacobs. “I’d encourage organisations taking tough measures to act in as kind a way as possible. Acts of kindness as management or as leadership will have a massive impact.”
Communication and connection look set to influence the mental health agenda long after the practical shifts of the pandemic have played out, he suggests.
“A key part [of mental health] is knowing it’s okay not to be okay, seeking support and talking about it. We are all going through this together and we are seeing that the world is perhaps not quite as divided as we thought it was. In some respects, this has given permission, and a platform, for people to talk about mental health that maybe wasn’t there before. It’s okay now to say to people, ‘I’m feeling down’, or “I’m feeling anxious today’.
“The question is how we embrace our new equilibrium and emerge from this with all the benefits that come from having those conversations – and then doing it in a more ‘normal’ environment. If we can manage that, just think what we can achieve.”