Not going to lie, when Covid first hit it didn’t feel that serious, and then it was. The news started to roll in that this isn’t like a normal flu, it’s spread was a lot faster and with that came slight panic. We watched as everyone went through the initial rollercoaster: Ok, this is more serious than I thought > OMG things are closing > What about my business, my job, my family, finances > OK there is somewhat of a financial stimulus > What do we do now?
We all started to experience feelings we’d never felt before. We’d been forced into a position we hadn’t planned for and we were isolated from the people we needed to support us. Let’s face it, it’s been hard for most people. As we’re currently starting to return back to somewhat of a normal life, we will begin to see the aftermath of what was Covid-19. Isolation can do some pretty damaging things to the mind, but not only that, everything is amplified.
As we all dealt with it in our own ways, some thriving, some really struggling, we knew we wanted to call in Debbie Swibel from Mental Health Management to talk to us from a professional point of view. Debbie is a trained criminologist, psychotherapist and counsellor. On top of that, she’s one of Australia’s leading suicidologists.
Can you tell us a bit about Mental Health Management and what you do?
Mental Health Management present educational workshops on the topics of mental health and suicide prevention. We have developed evidence-based, research-backed, contemporary, and engaging workshops that have been received successfully across many sectors of the Australian workforce. Our aim is to ‘keep your head in the game’.
Our signature workshops are Mental Health Response, which incorporates mental health situational awareness and a first aid response to poor mental health and Suicide – Let’s Talk, an informative workshop on suicide prevention.
Our courses are now offered online and via Zoom, as people have a greater interest in their own mental health and that of family members and colleagues, and as more of us are experiencing poor mental health during this world crisis.
We also have a team of exceptional and experienced mental health professionals offering psychology, counselling and mentoring services. The scope of this service has proved beneficial during Covid-19, as people have a choice of therapies and modes according to their wants and needs.
What are some tell-tale signs that can help us identify that we or someone else isn’t coping?
Simply, we need to practice awareness. We need to be self-aware and aware of the people around us.
Self-awareness is a critical element in the ability to identify our capacity to cope. We need to understand our emotions and feelings and recognise changes in ourselves. Adverse change can indicate a mental shift that may be a symptom of poor mental health.
- Have our sleep patterns changed?
- Are we eating more or less?
- Are we concentrating or are we procrastinating?
- Are we internalising our anger or are we raging?
- Are we feeling disempowered or are we taking on the world and at risk of burnout?
- Are we reacting and responding sensitively to the people around us?
- Are we sad, exhausted, fed up or overwhelmed?
How do we enhance self-awareness?
I suggest self-reflection to improve self-awareness — take stock of yourself every day, a self-litmus test.
How am I travelling today?
What am I doing well, and what is getting me down?
Where can I improve, and how do I make that improvement?
Recognising changes in ourselves, facilitates the opportunity to realign, recalibrate and restore wellbeing. If feeling unsure, or stuck on how to make positive change, reach out and talk to someone, seek support to help work on yourself to make positive change.
The same applies to the people around us.
Are we aware of changes in their baseline of behaviour or emotions?
Do they seem reactive, nervous, or indifferent and uninvolved?
Has their appearance changed?
Do they just not seem to be themselves?
For those who we notice are just not themselves – reach out to them. Talk about the changes you have observed and offer support. Communicating and sharing can go far in improving good mental health outcomes.
We know that in our current climate things are a little more amplified than usual, what are some suggestions you have that can help us manage our mental health during these times?
Managing our mental health at this time is crucial. Here are three tips for maintaining good mental health: gratitude, self-care and setting goals — all scientifically proven to improve mental and physical health and increase feelings of wellness and well-being.
The research informs us that there is a powerful connection between practicing gratitude and the positive impact it has on our mental health and well-being.
When the brain is stuck in the negative, our bodies and minds respond accordingly. Our brains are potent organs, and we can efficiently rewire our thinking, turning a negative mindset into a positive one.
Gratitude provides an opportunity to be thankful, to be more positive and to improve our outlook. A journal can be helpful to those who love to write, or saying three things (out loud, is great) that you are grateful for each morning, or each night, reprograms your brain’s thinking pattern and enhances positivity and well-being.
Self-care is an essential part of life that many people neglect. Self-care is the time you take for yourself to look after yourself. You are unable to look after anyone else if you cannot look after yourself. Self-care activities provide time for you to enjoy life and put aside the everyday stresses and pressures.
Self-care activities include pursuits you enjoy. Listening to music or a podcast, taking a walk or a run, joining in one of the many social media challenges available, or having a chat on the phone, are some pleasurable activities which improve mood and have a feel-good effect.
I am a big believer in setting goals. Goal setting is an activity that focuses on you. Goals can be short term or long term, but it is not enough to set your goals. You need to have an idea of how you might achieve them. Write your goals down and work on them. List all the things you need to do to achieve your goals and how and when you can complete them. Then work toward accomplishing them. Create a tick list of achievements.
Note: If you are feeling overwhelmed and unable to implement any of these strategies to help improve mental and physical health, I recommend you reach out and seek support.
What are some common problems you’ve been identifying and how do you think we can overcome them?
There have been a range of issues that we have seen arise out of Covid-19. Two major issues involve loss of control due to so much uncertainty and increased anxiety.
People are facing overwhelming uncertainty. They think that the goals posts are often changing and changing often, and they feel confused and disconcerted. There is so much unknown, that people feel they have lost control. For business owners, managers and business leaders, this can be extremely challenging. A loss of control influences our ability to perform and impacts our identity and self-esteem.
This is challenging to overcome, but not impossible, and as with most things that take time and effort, is worthwhile. Self-awareness and self-reflection can help with understanding the importance of control and the value of being able to let it go, and still be a capable and effective leader.
Another widespread problem is an increase in anxiety. We have seen children, teenagers and adults who are experiencing high anxiety and stress. There is fear and worry about the world we live in and anxiety often creeps up at various times. It can occur intermittently or continuously. Anxiety inducing influences are everywhere. The news and social media can be a source of anxiety. Misinformation is concerning and people continually talking about the negative aspects of their lives, business or family situations, creates stress. When we are stressed or fearful, our bodies undergo a physiological reaction and our brain responds by sending adrenalin throughout the body. Anxiety thus affects us both physically and mentally.
There are several strategies to help overcome anxiety.
- Exercise improves our ability to cope with stress. Making exercise part of our daily routine can be helpful in retaining self-control and assisting our body cope with negative physiological changes.
- Maintain a well-balanced diet, high in nutrients and reduce foods high in sugar, caffeine intake and snacking. What you eat affects your brain, your body, your mood and your mental and physical health.
- Avoid alcohol as much as possible, as alcohol makes changes to the brain, which often exacerbates feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Take time out every day. Take time for you, whether it is closing the office/bedroom door and sitting and breathing, dancing, meditating, play a computer game or running around the block.
- Limit the amount of time spent watching the news or on social media.
- Reach out and talk to a supportive and understanding person.
When it comes to the load of business ownership, how do you think people can deal with the stressors of not only managing other people but themselves as well?
Covid-19 forced immediate and significant change upon businesses. With that change, has come enormous pressure. Some businesses have ground to a halt, some have lost work, income or the ability to pay bills. People have lost jobs, and relationships have been severed.
Business owners have had to apply lockdown regulations, understand initiatives like Jobkeeper and navigate many commercial, legal and financial challenges — additional to managing the business load.
Many businesses have needed to pivot and require staff to learn new technologies and quickly upskill, to meet additional demands. Business owners are under enormous stress and may be placing pressure upon staff to perform, in order to retain clients and to preserve income.
Zoom, and the like, has been a saviour to business continuity but has also brought its own issues. Zoom meetings are commonplace but can be time-consuming and fatiguing. Zoom has brought our colleagues into our home, which can feel intrusive, annoying and like there is no longer an escape from work.
Businesses are operating under considerable strain, and the pressure is mounting for both owners and employees. Stress is a leading source of poor mental health.
Having strategies in place to help alleviate stress is vital to business continuity, improving working relationships, and enhancing physical and mental health.
Strategies need to be embraced by all members of the work team, and business owners should be leading by example.
Mindset shifts can have a substantial impact – understanding that quality over quantity is essential to an ongoing effective business plan. By encouraging work breaks, walks, 20-minute YouTube exercises, healthy lunches, sharing recipes, 10-minute meditations or stretching during meetings, staff may well feel appreciated and well regarded.
Taking the time and effort to ensure staff feel valued goes a long way in improving working relationships. The research tells us that when staff feel appreciated and respected, they will respond accordingly and as a result, productivity increases.
Checking in with your people, honestly and encouragingly, improves working relationships. What pressures are they experiencing? How can you support them? Offer mental health training to all staff. Email free eBooks on wellness and well-being. Collaborate with them to find out how to improve moral and boost workflow.
This shift in mindset may seem like a time-consuming exercise, yet the most significant investment a business owner can make is in their people.
Lastly, what advice can you leave us with that can help people move forward?
This is a great question and talks to building resilience. How do we best manage when life knocks us down? Resilience. I strongly believe that resilience is not about just bouncing back after being knocked down, but about improving and bouncing forward.
How do we build resilience?
Resilience involves a psychological shift by modifying the thought process. It takes mental strength to build and to refine. Mental strength, like physical strength, requires work and practice. Resilient people acknowledge a situation, learn from it and actively move forward.
3 helpful strategies to help build resilience:
- View adversity as an opportunity. Change the way you interpret and respond to stress and adversity.
- Take the opportunity to learn. Change is a part of life. Accept and adapt to change and focus on how to best manage it
- Communicate. Learn to talk, to reach out and ask for help.
If you need help or someone to talk to, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14
If you have any questions or want to know more, click here and get in touch. Or check out the services page to see what’s on offer. Alternatively, head over and follow us on Instagram and see what’s happening with us daily!