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Please see article below from Aviva which is a guide to looking after your mental health and wellbeing in these difficult times – received 02/09/2020.

Staying on track Looking after your mental health and wellbeing in difficult times

It’s OK not to be OK all the time

The past few months have been a strange and anxious time for many. And even though things may be gradually getting back to normal now, it’s hardly the same ‘normal’ we knew before.

Moving out of lockdown and getting used to new ways of working can bring challenges of their own, even if you’re moving back to a familiar environment. Just as importantly, the challenges don’t end when you go home. In these difficult circumstances, you may be worrying about the health of family or friends or finding it hard to relax when you’re staying mindful of social distancing. All of this can add up.

It is common to have times in our lives when we feel we just can’t cope. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Thanks to national campaigns and changing attitudes, many people now feel more able to talk openly about mental health issues – and to pass on guidance about looking after wellbeing, both physical and mental.

This brief guide is designed to help you look after your mental health at work and in your home life – by pointing out some warning signs that might show if you’re struggling to keep stress at bay, as well as offering some suggestions on what to do if you’re feeling the strain, and how to get back to your best.

First steps

Before you return to the workplace, it’s a good idea to think about your job and any issues that apply to your own unique situation – all of us are individuals with our own priorities and commitments. Plan an initial conversation with your manager and think of the questions you’d like to ask in advance. These can cover practicalities, as well as more general concerns – knowing exactly how your return to work will be managed and the safety measures in place will increase your confidence and help you avoid anxiety.

Warning signs to look out for

It’s all too easy to tell ourselves we feel fine, or that we’re managing all right, when in fact stress could be affecting our wellbeing more than we realise. It’s only natural to have ups and downs from one day to the next. But there are a number of signs – both physical and behavioural – that might indicate that someone is struggling and could be at risk of developing poor mental health such as:

  • Frequently feeling more irritable, aggressive or feelings of nervousness of anxiety
  • Increased fatigue, poor sleep or nightmares.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by everyday tasks or commitments.
  • Lack of interest in personal appearance or hygiene.
  • Withdrawal from social and personal interactions with family or friends.
  • Drinking or smoking more than usual.
  • Increased physical symptoms such as headaches, aches or pains, or digestive problems. Loss of interest in work or leisure activities.

Working from home: Time to reflect on the positives

You may have heard that pressure is a motivator – and it’s true to say that a manageable level of pressure can improve productivity. But when the pressure is too high, or lasts too long, it can cause stress – which can eventually lead to poor mental health. The pressure of work can be especially strong now that many businesses and organisations are coping with the economic and practical implications of COVID-19. And if you’ve recently returned to the workplace after working from home, remember that a change back to something you did before is still a change – which can be stressful in itself.

Take work issues in hand

If a situation at work is affecting you and you can’t resolve it yourself, try talking to your manager about your concerns. Or, if you’re not comfortable taking the issue to your manager, try to find someone else in the organisation. You could try talking to your personnel department or a trade union representative. And if your organisation has an employee assistance programme (EAP), check if it offers access to counselling or other sources of specialist help. This can also be a good route to take if you just need to talk with someone.

Keeping on top of things

Even if you don’t have specific issues to discuss, it’s a good idea to have regular one-to-one talks with your manager to share how you’re feeling and whether the experience of returning to work has met your expectations. And, as well as your manager or other team members, there’s someone else you need to ‘check in’ with on a regular basis – yourself. Ask yourself how you’re coping, and what you could do for yourself to stay mentally healthy, as well as what might be done differently at work.

Putting work concerns into perspective

Sometimes, we can put ourselves under more pressure than we need to at work. It’s all too easy to worry that the boss would be less than happy if we need to devote more time to commitments outside work. But most employers are conscious of their duty of care, and increasingly recognise that flexible working can boost productivity as well as being positive for employees.

Thankfully, many would prefer their employees to go home on time, or work from home so they can meet family commitments, rather than putting in consistently long hours and compromising their wellbeing. By carefully apportioning your time and priorities, you may find that it’s possible to improve your work-life balance. In practical terms, you could try allocating specific times to individual tasks instead of just writing a ‘to do’ list at the end of each day. This can give you confidence that you’ll have time to get everything done instead of dwelling on the following day’s challenges even when you’re not working.

Think about your working environment

If you’re returning to the workplace after working remotely, this could be a good time to review your working environment. If you aren’t comfortable, or don’t feel at ease with your surroundings, you could risk harming both your mental and physical health.

When you get home

It’s easy to let worries about things we can’t directly influence encroach on time that could be devoted to relaxation or enjoying the company of loved ones. The ease of access to news through digital as well as traditional channels can be overwhelming – especially when the news is largely unsettling. You could think about taking in updates at specific times, rather than through an ‘always on’ approach. Being unable to talk about your worries can make them worse. Talk to someone you trust about anything that’s on your mind.

Taking the physical activity route to good mental health

Physical activity and exercise can help reduce the effects of stress. In addition to the obvious benefits to fitness, exercise releases hormones which can help you to manage stress and promotes better sleep. Taking the physical activity route to good mental health It’s easy to find ourselves becoming less active right now. More of us will probably continue to work from home after the pandemic has eased, and right now there are fewer opportunities to get out and about while restrictions are still in place. But there are plenty of ways to keep active at home, including online workouts, fitness apps and yoga routines. Or, if you have a garden, you could give it a makeover. If you can manage to exercise outdoors, this can help boost your vitamin D levels – and simply feeling that you’re surrounded by nature can also help to raise your spirits

Accept that things change… and change what you can

Change brings challenges – this is just as true whether we’re talking about the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic or any of the big events that form part of regular life. Small steps are the way forward. Be calm, be prepared, don’t try to take on too much – and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re experiencing persistent symptoms, or feel worried about your mental health, do make an appointment with your GP

At this strange time we are all in the same boat, adapting to circumstances which are difficult for everyone.

Some people may be starting to return to work whereas others may still be working from home, either way it is important to look after your mental health.

Charlotte Ennis