As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world and many are isolated at home, we have all learned the actions required to stay physically safe. We wash our hands, keep our distance from others and wear masks. Yet, we aren’t hearing as much about what we can do to stay emotionally safe.
Many people are experiencing a range of possibly unfamiliar emotions such as stress, fear, anxiety, vulnerability and even grief. In my recent conversation with Lisa Desai and Bryan Kohl from the behavioral health company, MindWise Innovations, we discussed ways to address these often overwhelming emotions that are impacting our mental well-being during this extraordinary time.
What you can do
Knowing that you have control and can create your own sense of safety is key to dealing with the various emotions in play.
According to David Kessler, a leading expert on grief, “Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety.” Ms. Desai affirmed, “Emotional safety is what I turn to in healthy coping ways to help deal with my emotions.” Identify what helps you feel safe. It might be yoga, meditation, family dance parties, or going for a walk. Reducing exposure to media and social media can also help reduce your feelings of anxiety.
With the rapidly changing aspects of the pandemic unfolding around us, our sense of predictability has also been lost. Ms. Desai suggested, “Predictability is about routine, it is about rituals.” How we build and maintain our daily routines and rituals helps make the world seem less chaotic. Aim to do the same things you did before you were home-bound. For example, starting and ending work at the same time each day.
It feels like there are so many things out of our control right now. Ms. Desai explained, “Control is about finding ways we can collaborate on our decision-making.” Working with those in your household or work team, talk about your feelings, needs and interests. Work together to determine ways for each individual to feel a sense of control. Focus on strengths. What are you good at? What gives you a sense of mastery? Identify these things and do more of them.
What Employers Can Do
Employers must acknowledge the mental well-being needs of their workforce both now and in the future after this slow-motion trauma begins to subside.
The Latin root of the word vulnerable is ‘vulnus’ – to wound. That can be either physically or emotionally. Mr. Kohl stated, “… servant leadership – not being afraid to demonstrate that vulnerability in front of your team is critical – now more than ever.” Facilitating open, honest conversations and communications where employees are free to talk about emotions and feelings, will help to acknowledge and validate their experiences.
Trust is a foundational element to creating a psychologically safe workplace. (See previous article on this topic). Mr. Kohl shared, “Google’s Project Aristotle was a quest to identify what made teams work well. In the end, it was all about making sure that the environment was comprised of psychological safety.” At the core of psychological safety, team members listen to one another and show sensitivity to other’s feelings and needs. Now more than ever it is time for managers and employees to develop these skills.
Out in the Open
Creating a safe workplace where people feel they can openly share what’s on their mind will help remove the stigma often associated with mental well-being. Education, training and resources are also needed to support employees, whether that is through employee assistance programs, Mental Health First Aid, or screening tools such as those provided by MindWise Innovations.
We are all in this together. The best way we can help each other is by being aware of both our own and other’s mental well-being and doing our part to encourage our family, friends and colleagues.