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Fostering mental health and resilience during COVID-19 and beyond

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Fostering mental health and resilience during COVID-19 and beyond

It is no surprise that many of us feel anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the concerns for our physical health and that of our loved ones, many people are experiencing the challenges of working differently, rapidly changing work priorities, individual and family stress, and frequent exposure to traumatic news.

Fostering individual resilience is a shared responsibility; organisations need to work extra hard to protect the mental health of their employees, and individuals must put their own structures in place to cope with challenges.

The Nous Mental Health and Resilience Model is particularly relevant during this time of coronavirus. The Model distills mental health and resilience into four interconnected domains: Purpose, Mind, Energy and Environment. The Model, developed by psychologists, helps leaders and employees maintain performance and resilience in a rapidly changing work environment.

Nous Mental Health and Resilience Model

Purpose

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

A strong sense of purpose helps people cope with stress and trauma. To increase self-awareness and maximise a sense of purpose during uncertainty, people can act on several fronts:

Connection with self and spirit. Understanding personal values and priorities, and aligning them with areas of focus at work, will foster purpose. This is particularly important when people work in physical isolation and need to rely on themselves to keep engaged.

Motivation at work. People gain intellectual stimulation by reflecting on and aligning with the aspects of work that motivate them. Doing this regularly will keep people motivated and engaged, particularly if their work is altered.

Passion and focus. Purpose comes from all avenues of life – work, education, relationships, leisure and personal growth. Feelings of balance are linked to the right emphasis on each aspect.

Daily rituals. However small, daily rituals that shape the morning, afternoon and evening can provide meaningful structure to bring purpose to each day.

Practical tips:

  • List three elements of your role that keep you emotionally engaged; then assess your level of satisfaction with the current emphasis of each element in your work day.
  • Plan your day with a balance of ‘work’, ‘personal growth’ and ‘leisure’ chunks; try visualising your chunks as colours across your day and think about whether the colours look right.
  • Reflect on your current routines (morning, afternoon, evening). In current circumstances, you may be finding it harder to establish any routine, let alone a good routine! Think about how you can actively transition yourself from your ’work’ chunk to another.

Mind

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.Dr Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor

We all have a monologue in our heads, whether we admit it or not. Our mind can help – or hinder – us when we face challenges. Mental wellbeing is founded on four pillars:

Locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe they can influence events. People with an external locus of control blame external factors for their situation and may fall into a trap of learned helplessness – where they feel like no matter what effort they put in it will not lead to a desired outcome.

Mind talk. Being aware of how we talk to ourselves can expose our common thinking traps. Common traps that people are likely to be experiencing now include ‘catastrophising’ – thinking that the worst possible outcome will come true – or ‘shoulds, musts and oughts’ – the strict rules we give ourselves of how we should behave or what we should accomplish, and the failure we feel when we do not.

Dealing with stress. Capacity to manage stress is a strong determinant of mental health. How each person responds to stress varies. During challenging times, individuals are often also managing the stress of those around them, including partners, children, parents and colleagues.

Mental strength and agility. An individual’s ability to rationally approach activities regardless of what else is happening in their lives is a sign of mental strength. People with greater mental strength can step back from a challenging event and focus on the situation at hand, and not get caught up in their thoughts.

Practical tips:

  • Reflect on your current feelings of control. Focus on the aspects you can control (i.e. your response to the COVID19 pandemic) and influence (i.e. the healthy strategies that make you feel more in control) and try not to worry about the things you cannot control (i.e. the existence of the pandemic).
  • Challenge negative or off-track mind-talk; when you experience it, notice that thought, challenge it and consider any evidence that supports this thought. Continue to practise – it will take time and effort for these thoughts to lose their volume.

Energy

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” — Angela Duckworth

Physical and mental wellbeing are impacted by how you maintain your energy, including the combination of exercise, sleep and nutrition. Action on these is challenging due to social distancing arrangements, but there are ways to keep up a good routine and maintain energy:

Sleep and rest patterns. Sleep may be disrupted but maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is important, so avoid screens and stimulants in the hours before bed. Normalising your sleep routine will make a big difference to how you are feeling.

Physical movement and exercise. Exercise is good for the body and mind. Movement is both more important and more constrained. Remember that you are still able to leave the house for a run or walk. There are many online supports on offer – look out for gym, Pilates, yoga and exercises classes. Live classes or a virtual exercise buddy are particularly helpful to keep you accountable.

Nutrition and overall health. Overall health has a significant impact on the mind and body. For those at home, the fridge is easily accessed and for those working on the front-line, convenience is key. Proactive meal preparation is still important when you are confined to the house.

Humour and fun. Laughter is not only an effective form of stress relief but also a tool for forming connection with others. We should all take time out of our day to enjoy the things that make us happy.

Practical tips:

  • Experiment with the time you go to sleep, how long you sleep for (aiming for at least seven hours) and your pre-sleep routine (reading a book, calming music, essential oil sprays).
  • Set regular opportunities for laughter and fun; organise a virtual trivia night with friends, set up a ‘joke of the day’ email among colleagues.

Environment

“Part of being a person is about helping others.” — Regis Murayi

As we move to new ways of working, we must consider what influence we can have on our new working environment to ensure it is a support and not a burden to our resilience.

Support networks and community. Community will be critical in how we experience the constraints of COVID-19. We must continue to maximise relationships and social connection while practicing physical distancing.

Physical set up. Make sure your work environment is calming and ergonomically sound. This is particularly important when people are working from home. For non-office workers in busy environments, such as hospitals or supermarkets, consider how you can carve out a calm space.

Financial health. Many people and organisations will experience financial insecurity and potentially even job loss. People may wonder when will this end, will I keep my job and can I pay the rent or mortgage. Mindfulness strategies will help alleviate anxiety.

Supportive policies and processes. Supportive organisational policies and processes help individuals manage stress and focus on wellbeing. Draw on your manager, team, peer networks, trusted advisors, coaches or mentors or your organisation’s employee assistance program. Communicate if you need more clarity from your organisation and do not hesitate to reach out for support, no matter the size of your concern.

Practical tips:

  • Maintain your social connections – meet with your book club on a video call or host a virtual brunch with family. Set recurring reminders to check in on friends and colleagues.
  • If you are sharing a workspace, pack up all computers and work materials at the end of the week so you set boundaries. Communicate what you need to establish flow with others at home.
  • Use a household budget to create some certainty. Be critical of your spending; you will find expenses may have changed with new ways of working and living. Draw on government supports, negotiate with your bank, and speak with your employer about any concerns.

Mental health and wellbeing have drivers that go beyond the ones discussed here. Like every organisation, Nous is managing these individual and collective challenges. As we go, we are learning from what worked and what did not.

Remember, just because things could be worse for someone else right now, does not mean your concerns are not valid. Supporting yourself and others through this time will help all of us ride the wave of COVID-19.

Get in touch to discuss how the Nous mental health and resilience workshops (available virtually) can support your organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prepared with input from Deanna Paulin.

Anyone seeking support can contact Lifeline (Australia) on 13 11 44, Samaritans (UK) on 11 61 23 or Crisis Services Canada on 1 833 456 4566.

Published on 16 April 2020.