How to protect your mental health when working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic
As many of you work from home, our psychology lecturers weigh in on what you can do to get through this difficult time.
In an effort to limit exposure and contain the spread of the coronavirus, many companies and employees – across both Singapore and the world – have been required to work from home. However, it is especially important to pay attention to your mental health while working remotely. If you feel extreme irritability and restlessness during this time, you might be experiencing cabin fever.
Ms Davinder Gill, Associate Lecturer in Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, explains, “When a person experiences cabin fever, this is expressed as a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations – these include restlessness, difficulty concentrating, sleep difficulties, lethargy, lack of patience or persistent sadness among others. If left unchecked, this could lead to more serious psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety.”
She adds, “Another important issue to look out for is that when there is a change in one’s routine/structure, unresolved or ongoing personal issues can come up to the surface. We often keep quite busy in our daily lives and sometimes use this as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling strong negative emotions – usually these would be feelings of grief/loss or past trauma. When life changes as drastically as it has during this time, the usual coping mechanisms are not available anymore. Therefore, difficult memories and emotions that were previously buried may start to come up and cause further psychological distress.”
“Working from home brings challenges in itself,” says Dr Alla Demutska, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore. “You don’t have people around to socialise with. You have to structure your day and set your own tasks more efficiently. You may find that your concentration level is worse at home, and that you’re more easily distracted and find setting daily goals more difficult.”
Dr Demutska suggests some actions you can take to get through this difficult time:
- Several times a day – stop, take 5 breaths, look around, notice what you can see, and hear. Ask yourself – what am I feeling right now? What do I need? Label your emotion. If you can name it, you can tame it. If you are feeling lonely and sad, maybe it’s time to connect with your friends. If you are feeling anxious, acknowledge this and see if you can help your body release anxiety through movement or exercise. Be gentle and kind with yourself.
- A well-balanced diet and regular exercise will make it easier for you to manage your feelings without going into excessive unhelpful coping.
- Maintain structure: Get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time. This can help you sleep better. Do not use technology before bed, as it will keep your brain active and make it more difficult to go to sleep. Try to do something calming and relaxing before bed instead.
- Get outside, visit parks: Research shows 2 hours a week in a green space is beneficial for both your mental and physical health, and can even improve your immune response. This also has the added benefit of providing vitamin D.
- If you feel you have a lot of time on your hands, consider learning that new skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Do it for enjoyment, whether it is learning simple cords on a guitar or how to mix colours.
- Move your body, listen to music, dance! Dancing is good for your brain and great for your mood. There are free classes online, you can learn simple routines and have a laugh at yourself at the same time.
- Connect with people: Call your friends. Make Zoom dinner dates. Organise a Zoom book club. Help others. Maybe you have elderly neighbours around you who could use your help to get them food.
- Take your time to be grateful: From having clean drinking water to your family’s health – acknowledge what you have now, whether it’s big or small.
- Carefully choose your sources of news: Be wary of fake news and limit your exposure to bad news.
- Set small goals and congratulate yourself with your achievements. Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself; do not set high expectations on yourself.
- Avoid drinking alcohol: It can intensify your emotions despite first providing a brief respite.
If you still find it difficult to cope and you notice that you are feeling persistently sad, highly anxious, irritable, and hopeless or experiencing a range of strong negative emotions/thoughts that won’t go away, please see a counsellor or psychologist for support during this difficult time. Most mental health professionals have responded swiftly to this crisis and set up online services so it is easier than ever to seek help quickly.
Find out more tips to stay connected with loved ones and family during this COVID-19 period here .