Fight or flight… this is the name for our nervous system’s response to a stressful event. It prepares us to either stand and fight or to flee from danger. Heart rate increases, blood flow to our brain and muscles increases, blood sugar levels increase. Our palms sweat, our pupils dilate, and the hair on our arms stands up.
In the context of COVID-19, we feel the need to fight, yet we are faced with an invisible enemy. We feel the desire to flee, yet we are sheltering in place and have nowhere to run to.
Familiar routines are disrupted, and many of our familiar interactions are put on hold. For many of us, this means being thrust into a very new situation, despite the familiar surroundings of our homes. How do we handle being left with just ourselves and those under the same roof?
General Tips For Self-Care Under Quarantine…
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Plan healthy meals and snacks in advance.
- Eat three meals per day.
- When working from home, step away from work to have an uninterrupted and relaxing meal.
- Got to bed around the same time each night.
- Wake up at the same time each morning.
- Regulating sleep is important – consult with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping.
- Each day, try to find a place (preferably outdoors) to unplug from work and home for at least 15 minutes. Escape from your phone in this time. Alert others that you are in “unplugged mode” and that you will be back. Not to worry.
- Exercise. The “fight or flight” responses triggers a burst of energy and activity. Use it!
- Take a walk around the block, walk your dog, get outdoors, mow the lawn, sit in the back yard and enjoy the sunshine and a dose of Vitamin D.
- While we aren’t physically present with many of our colleagues and friends right now, use phone calls, texts, emails, and other methods to stay connected.
- Take time to meditate and unwind.
- Learn to be in the present… Not the past… Not the future. Are you alright in this moment?
- Above all… try to find the humor in something each day.
…And How to Take Care of Others
Ideally, we are all practicing Social Distancing. We must do what we can to help others, while observing our own limits. We are not superheroes. Don’t risk putting yourself in a vulnerable position by going to help someone in-person. If someone needs that kind of one-on-one help, please refer them to someone better equipped for the situation. Professional first responders and crisis responders are still working around the clock to meet that need.
What can we do when we aren’t well-equipped to help in-person? We can listen, offer support, offer hope, and refer people to community resources as needed (2-1-1 and local crisis services, among others).
The Importance of Employer-Employee Communication
It’s a challenging time for everyone, but the most important thing for companies to do right now is to take care of their employees. The top priority should be physically safeguarding workers, ensuring their health and safety, and then addressing their emotional and financial wellbeing. During a crisis, employers need to be communicating with empathy and compassion. When life is chaotic, people seek comfort and familiarity. Be sure to address their most common questions and fears, which will generally include the following:
- Navigating health benefits
- Safely accessing medical care
- Workplace safety and hygiene policies
- Paid time off and leave policies
- Financial worries
- Handling a possible shift to telecommuting
- Layoffs and furloughs
- How to file for unemployment benefits for those unable to work due to COVID-19
This list is not comprehensive, and every situation will be different but handling these big-picture issues with as much transparency as possible will help to minimize unnecessary stressors and allow employees to know where they stand.
How to Handle Telecommuting
Telecommuting can create issues for both employers and employees. Daily check-ins help the employer keep tabs on how their employees are doing. It also communicates that you care.
- Develop a clear plan and have processes in place to reach all employees with important updates.
- A company can have a dedicated line of communication or contact person for all questions related to COVID-19-related issues
- Provide ongoing assurance that the organization is working to safeguard everyone.
- Don’t trivialize or escalate an employee concerns and be sure to respond to all feedback from employees.
- When assigning tasks, be sure you are clear in your instructions, goals and objectives.
- Clearly communicate expectations, especially when employees are working from home.
- Ask for new ideas; see what creative ideas your employees can come up with during a crisis. Think outside the box.
- Coordinate meetings online so the group that “meet”
- Provide support and training as needed.
When Your Work Life Has Gone Topsy-Turvy
Whether you are working from home or in an augmented workplace, try to stick to a schedule built around the essentials of your job. Routines are extremely important no matter where you are working. When working from home, it helps to keep a similar routine to what you would be doing in the office. This includes taking time to communicate with co-workers, listening to music, and taking the occasional break to move around or read a short inspirational article.
If you are laid off due to a work closure, educate yourself on all the resources available to you, including unemployment benefits. Like when job-searching under more normal circumstances, it’s important to keep a daily routine and to not lose hope!
Reframing Our Challenges
At first glance, Social Distancing seems to jeopardize our social support system, which is a protective factor for our mental health. Despite that apparent loss and the radical changes to daily life many of us are experiencing, that support is not truly gone.
Circumstances and routines have changed, but if we can accept this new challenge, we can all find some amazing new ways to interact with our friends, family and colleagues. For now, digital communications are our “new normal.” Finding new ways to do what we’ve always done will help us get through the current pandemic, and maybe even improve our work and social lives going forward.
Get creative, problem solve, and support each other as you find your new normal.
Special thanks go to Nancy Elliot, Teresa McBride, and Jim Reynolds of Betty Hardwick Center. For additional reading that may be helpful, consider the following articles:
All You Need to Know About Coronavirus to Keep Your Team Safe, by Seraine Page (published March 16, 2020, on TotalWellnessHealth.com)
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, by Scott Berinato (published March 23, 2020, in Harvard Business Review)
- Anthony Burke, Public Information Officer, Betty Hardwick Center