Very many of us have fears right now. Being alone in those worries should not be one of them.
“In any crisis, it is commonplace for individuals to feel a level of stress and concern,” says Kara McGann, head of social policy at Ibec, the group that represents Irish business.
With coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, concerns include the fear that you or someone you love could become ill, as well as a fear of separation due to quarantine or social distancing. People may also be worried about losing employment and the financial implications of that.
There are inchoate feelings of powerlessness, given the rapidity at which the pandemic situation is evolving. Anxiety, boredom or loneliness can result from extended periods of isolation and, in the absence of certainty, the mind can get caught in an endless loop of ‘what ifs’.
Frontline workers in healthcare, food retail, manufacturing and transport carry additional concerns, including fears about their own safety and worries about passing the virus to their loved ones.
Such workers may also be struggling with increased demands at work, including longer hours, increased patient numbers or a lack of resources adequate to deal with changing circumstances. A lack of time for their own self care and social support takes a toll too.
On top of all these stresses is the almost constant diet of news about the pandemic, not all of which is reliable.
“Many of the fears and concerns people are experiencing have emerged from real dangers and challenges due to the pandemic. However, such concerns are not helped by the level of ‘fake news’ being circulated in WhatsApp groups and on social media,” says McGann.
These can fuel “extreme reactions, lead to feelings of helplessness and despair, and result in possible mistrust of information being provided, and anger at being ‘kept in the dark’,” she says.
Protecting personal wellbeing
There are a number of positive steps you can take to help. First, “acknowledge that it is normal to feel distressed, worried, anxious or angry during this crisis. This is your way of trying to make sense of the reality of the pandemic situation,” says McGann.
Keep up your social networks, through email, phone calls or social media. “While not as supportive as face to face contact it is essential for connectedness and reducing feelings of loneliness,” she says.
Next, ensure you check trusted sources of information to get the facts about your risk and the precautions you need to be taking. The HSE website, WHO website and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre are all useful locations for information.
“Remember there will always be ‘click-bait’ and untrustworthy sources of news circulating so it is important to maintain a healthy scepticism in this regard,” McGann says. If you are unsure of something, check the coronavirus mythbuster section of the WHO’s website.
By this stage we will all be familiar with cough etiquette and hygiene requirements, but be conscious of your media hygiene too.
Reducing the amount of time spent watching or listening to distressing coverage of events will help. Turn off automatic notifications and limit yourself to one source, or perhaps one specified programme, to keep up to date “without adding to the mental strain,” she advises.
“Maintain familiar routines in as much as possible with time for healthy activities, exercise, rest and connection which are important to maintaining wellbeing,” McGann adds. “Given there is so much of our normal routine that has been disrupted, restoring certainty and predictability where we can helps reduce the psychological impact of this situation.”
Ibec’s KeepWell programme
Ibec helps companies in Ireland embrace corporate wellness through its KeepWell programme.
The initiative focuses on key areas of workplace wellbeing including leadership, mental wellbeing and physical health. Participating companies receive the KeepWell Mark framework of standards which covers all aspects of workplace wellbeing, including tools to benchmark – and improve - their performance against best practice peers.
Members of the KeepWell can also participate in community events and clinics for best practice sharing and expert advice.
Protecting staff wellbeing
For organisations, good communications is key. “Keep communication clear, regular and accurate with as much information as is possible to answer questions but without fuelling further speculation,” says McGann.
“This is not a case of sugar coating messages but rather of saying what is known and unknown, with a commitment to answer the unknown as soon as it is possible.”
Employers can help staff by providing sources of quality information through links to trusted websites and sources of advice regarding personal and financial health, she says.
Internally, reassure employees about what the organisation is doing to be as prepared as possible for changes to how you do business, whether through the formation of crisis teams or a daily scheduled meeting of key personnel.
Where you have one in place, remind employees of your Employee Assistance Programme. These can be a key resource for employees on issues such as mental health, financial health, fitness and work concerns. Additionally, Ibec is launching National Workplace Wellbeing Day on 1st May, which offers an excellent opportunity for employers to show their commitment to their staff, especially at a challenging time.
“There can be significant challenges to our mental health and wellbeing when faced with a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which challenges not only our physical safety and that of those around us but also changes how we work and live,” explains McGann.
“The uncertainty and the unknown aspect of the situation does little to reduce the feelings of anxiety and lack of control in individuals. To address these concerns requires us to begin taking back control of the elements that we can have an impact on, and bringing back routines and structures into our days that balance our personal and work lives where possible.”
Take heart from good news, she suggests, such as the spirit of resilience, camaraderie and care being shown across the country. That includes all the instances where people are reaching out to support more vulnerable members of their communities. Drawing on those shared challenges helps improve solidarity in the face of a crisis.
Above all, accept that this is an evolving situation and one that will test our resilience, she says. “But by using the tools available to us, recognising what coping measures we are using, and trying to ensure they are positive ones, we can reassure ourselves of our ability to get through this difficult time.”