2020 was a tough year for most people across the globe. The world not only witnessed millions of deaths and economic slowdown, but also a sharp rise in the number of mental health issues including stress, anxiety, and depression. The COVID-19 pandemic, essentially, changed the way of living for everyone. With the lockdown and social distancing norms practiced by most countries, many people experienced feelings of isolation, fear, and loneliness.
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic affected each sphere of people’s lives – from their social life to professional life – to personal life. On one hand, many small and big companies went out of business after experiencing losses and laid off their employees, on the other, people who tested positive for the virus found themselves confused and scared with the uncertainty and fear revolving around the virus. There were also people who experienced extreme levels of anxiety, finding themselves confined within their homes with minimal or no social contact. Additionally, those who managed to sustain their jobs and businesses struggled with working remotely and communicating effectively without physical contact. Many people then experienced the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance as remote work, blurred the line between the two.
However, it is not just pandemics or epidemics like the novel coronavirus that affect our lives negatively. There are many other factors that contribute to the same.
Cause of negative impact
- Negative thought process: People who tend to have a negative thought process often lose hope quickly. They tend to perceive things negatively and are continuously plagued with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This ultimately impacts their physical and mental health, where they lose all motivation to do anything.
- Relationship troubles: It is common to experience troubles with relationships – be it one’s relationship with one’s friends, partners, family, or colleagues and bosses. Problems within relationships could be a result of various reasons such as conflict of interest or difference of opinion. Many people tend to feel restless, irritable, or sad when fights or troubles in relationships are unresolved. They continuously overthink about the issue, which prevents them from focusing on other things.
- Challenges at work: Challenges at work such as meeting deadlines, coping up with the new changes at work, preparing or delivering an import project, etc. can lead to stress and anxiety amongst people. While an optimal amount of nervousness helps people perform better, others might find themselves in a tough spot as they feel anxious and stressed out.
These challenges not only impact us negatively but also have various long-term and short-term effects on our health and well-being.
Effects on health and well-being
- Chronic ailments Prolonged stress compromises the immune system of the body, making the body vulnerable to a range of diseases and complications. People with poor mental health and wellbeing are more susceptible to chronic ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, etc.
- Burnout: Burnout refers to a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. People may feel overwhelmed, irritable, and tired. This impairs their ability to function and think properly as they experience loss of hope and motivation, emotional damage, disengagement, etc.
- Poor mental health: Adverse life events and challenges can take a toll on a person’s mental health. People experiencing major changes or life events may be more prone to developing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, personality disorders, etc.
How to tackle these effects
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: Following a healthy lifestyle includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Identifying and practicing healthy life choices helps people to function at an optimal level, keeping
- Prevent being overworked: When people overwork themselves, they push their bodies beyond their limits. This leads to exertion and burnout. Most people then experience stress, fatigue, irritability, etc. Knowing how much work one can manage also helps one to establish a work-life balance.
- Think positively: Adopting a positive attitude and channelling positive thoughts helps people to develop an optimistic worldview. This encourages people to take risks, try different approaches, and remain healthy. Positive thinking also leads to better coping mechanisms and improved mental health.
- Take frequent breaks: A study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom and Sianoja (2016) suggests that taking lunchtime breaks and disengaging from work can result in increased levels of energy at work and decreased exhaustion. Taking breaks when exhausted at work or otherwise can help refresh the mind and break the cycle of exhaustion and fatigue. This ultimately helps people to concentrate on work and perform better.
While these are measures that can be taken by people at their individual levels, the leadership can also help their employees at work to create a more inclusive and safe work environment that values the mental health and wellbeing of its employees.
How can leaders help their employees?
- Encourage open communication: Leaders must establish an open and honest communication channel with their employees. Everyone in the organization must be encouraged to talk about mental health without any hesitations. A culture of frequent check-ins can be introduced where employees can check in on each other, listen, and support each other. This will help in creating a warm, positive, and empathetic workspace that is mindful of the needs of its employees and their mental and physical well-being. Additionally, informing the team about future changes well in advance can help them prepare better for the situation, alleviating stress and anxiety.
- Show empathy: According to a study by the Management Research Group, empathy was found to be one of the top competencies of good leadership. Leaders who are empathetic make their employees feel heard and valued. It is important for leaders to understand when their employees need encouragement and reassurance, and provide them with the same. Leaders can also frequently check-in on their employees, boost their morale with acknowledgement and appreciation, and initiate conversations around well-being and mental health. This will then also reduce or remove the stigma attached to mental health in addition to provide social support.
- Facilitate & Train your employees: Conducting and facilitating workshops and sessions by inviting experts or hiring a counselor such as psychologists, therapists, mental health experts, and well-being specialists can help the workforce become more informed and aware. While the sessions will help employees to distinguish facts from myths, understand the importance of mental and physical well-being, and identify early signs and symptoms of distress, the workshops will provide them with an environment where they can relax and relieve stress. Moreover, through in-house sessions with HR or a counselor, the employees can understand the mental health policies and services available at their workplace such as counselling sessions.
People cannot prevent adverse life events, however, they can develop a positive attitude and not lose hope during tough times. While we can do our best at the individual level such as following a healthy regime and taking frequent breaks, professional intervention and help may be required if the situation deteriorates.