COVID-19: Dealing With Prolonged Isolation & Stress

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Stress and isolation are not new phenomena in the modern workplace. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer of depth to this pre-existing challenge in the lives of employees across the globe.

Even before the pandemic caused such drastic changes to office life, social isolation and feelings of loneliness prevailed across corporates in all the major continents of the world. These mental health challenges were so prevalent, in fact, that they have been classified as a “behavioural epidemic” by some medical health researchers. The ongoing pandemic has only served to worsen feelings of isolation and loneliness with the mandatory restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of the virus.

Impacts of COVID-related Stress and Isolation on the Workforce

In a report by Ginger, nearly 70% of working professionals report that this feels like the most stressful time in their career. 62% of all professionals say that they lose at least an hour of productive work, while 32% report a productivity loss of 2 hours or more when working remotely, due to the solitary nature of working without team members nearby.

According to a report published by McKinsey & Company, 3 out of 5 (60%) employees are facing symptoms of depression and anxiety, while 8 out of 10 (80%) working professionals are facing moderate to severe levels of stress.

Tips to Manage Stress and Isolation

Now that we have seen the tremendous impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of corporate professionals everywhere, it is important for employers and employees alike to keep in mind some strategies that may help alleviate the negative feelings created by such a crisis.

For Working Professionals

Self-care - The well-known adage, "Health is wealth", cannot be overstated in times where we have seen such a drastic hit to productivity and organisational effectiveness due to a health-related crisis. Hence, it is important for employees to maintain a healthy bedtime, a healthy routine, and stay as physically fit as possible. This could be through

  • Yoga
  • Calisthenics
  • Brisk walks in protected neighbourhoods
  • Any activity that gets the heart pumping

A healthy body is a key component of a healthy mind, and even more so in times when feelings of lethargy and listlessness can impact mental health more severely.

Mental Wellness - Removing or reducing triggers for stress is of the utmost importance. This could be done by

  • Reducing the amount of news you consume,
  • Keeping yourself occupied with hobbies and other activities
  • Making an effort to remember the good things about life
  • Practising meditation techniques
  • Following a regular routine that helps keep you busy and productive

Social Contact - Isolation sets in when you don't find enough chances to connect with your family, peers and close friends. Human beings are social animals, and modern technology makes it all the more easier to connect with your loved ones at the touch of a button. To combat feelings of isolation, you could

  • Talk to your friends, family and colleagues through video calling apps
  • Maintain regular communication channels through text or social media
  • Have a scheduled mental wellness check-in with your regular contacts

For Employers

Proactively supporting team members and helping them avail additional resources to improve their mental health is now more important than ever. Some strategies that may help are:

  • Improving team communication - While effective communication is a valuable tool in the best of times, it becomes even more crucial during times of crisis. Managing employee expectations, addressing grievances and more open communication with teams across departments is of utmost importance when remote work is the norm.
  • Increasing awareness - Interactive webinars on mental and physical health conducted by the company’s health partner will help employees feel at ease and improve their knowledge on the dos and don’ts while dealing with the second wave of COVID-19.
  • Addressing the impact on teams - Support for the vaccination of employees and their families, access to necessary medical supplies, special relief packages for affected employees and creating a detailed plan for dealing with the varied problems faced by employees in these uncertain times helps employees feel valued by the company.

These steps will go a long way in alleviating some of the common stress points for employees, and may also reduce feelings of loneliness brought on by social isolation.

 

In Closing

While the tips mentioned above are helpful when coping with loneliness and stress brought on by crises, it is a good idea to understand the difference between "normal" reactions to stressful triggers and reactions that may warrant professional help. With the advent of tele-consultations and wellness apps, seeking medical attention for mental health concerns will also help keep you healthy and fit in these difficult times. As the pandemic continues, it will become more and more imperative that you continue the strategies mentioned above to help keep mental health problems at bay.

More strategies to help employees avoid loneliness and isolation


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