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The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious threat, not just in terms of the virus itself but the broader implications to mental health from prolonged isolation. Collectively, we are experiencing something unprecedented in living memory. Uncertainty and rapid change tend to drive anxiety and fear, and the current situation is no exception.
Kanish Chugh, Co-Head of Sales at ETF Securities, hosts a special edition of the ETF Partner Series to discuss How to survive isolation with Ian Shakespeare, Chief Executive Officer at SMG Health.
Mental health, COVID-19 and isolation
While China has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic since the start of the year, for the rest of the world, the situation really escalated from the start of March. In a short period of time, there has been dramatic changes to the way we live and work, and our freedoms massively curtailed.
“The impact has turned people’s world upside down,” says Mr Shakespeare.
Change is challenging at the best of times. Combined with a serious health threat and the inability to seek comfort physically from others due to social isolation, it also poses a threat to our mental health and wellbeing.
Mr Shakespeare says, “social connectedness is so important for health and wellbeing”, commenting on how distancing is likely to drive an increase in depression and anxiety, particularly for those who may already have limited social networks. Some agencies are already seeing this increase, with Lifeline having reported a 25% increase in calls to its crisis hotline in March .
In the uncertainty, Mr Shakespeare has also found that people become “information junkies” feeding off the 24/7 cycle of reporting which only serves to increase their stress levels and fears.
Finding the best way to cope
“Wouldn’t it be good if there was a one-size fits all solution?” says Mr Shakespeare.
“For a moment, I would ask people to forget the top ten tips of managing the coronavirus… these types of things…what we need to acknowledge from the outset, is that there is no panacea in terms of how one copes with these types of extremely unprecedented challenges that we’re all facing.”
Instead, Mr Shakespeare recommends taking a more personalised approach, daily or even more frequently, to work out what strategy might best suit you.
“In coping with these things, what we must acknowledge is how’s it impacting me, when does it impact me, when do I get upset during the course of the day if I do get upset… try and log into those inner feelings and then that assists in what strategies each of us uses to cope with those things,” he says.
Finding the right strategy
People can consider a variety of strategies to help them manage these unusual times, depending on what resonates with them, how they feel at a particular time and what they enjoy.
Those struggling with working from home might try to structure their home work day in a similar way to if they had needed to go into the office. They might get up at the same time, wear their normal work attire, follow a similar daily routine to help normalise the situation for them.
Others might find different ways to do the things they normally enjoy but can’t currently do.
Mr Shakespeare shares two examples of how people might do this.
“People into arts and culture can find virtual tours of museums and galleries,” he says.
Or some of his clients have used the Houseparty app to hold their Friday drinks, with colleagues, friends or family, to maintain social connections.
Approaching colleagues and clients
Changing ways of working also mean we are needing to find new ways to communicate with colleagues and clients alike.
Mr Shakespeare suggests it can help to remember that your clients and customers are dealing with the same things as you, but how they feel about them and what they need might be different. This can give you an empathetic approach without forcing it.
He recommends asking them how they would like to engage with you, how long they would like to meet and how they would like to structure time with you. He has found some clients have just wanted emails from time to time, while others have specified weekly video interaction – you won’t know until you ask.
Using this approach now may have benefits beyond helping you, your colleagues and clients communicate and cope with the here and now.
“When we’re through this… we may actually have a higher quality level of engagement with our family, friends, colleagues and clients,” Mr Shakespeare says.
Taking some perspective to change your outlook
Mr Shakespeare believes having some perspective on the situation can change your outlook.
“In many countries of the world, they do not have the luxury of self-isolating. They have 20-30 people in a house in some parts of India, Manila, these sorts of places. We actually have the luxury of self-isolating and protecting ourselves and our family, and in many respects continuing to be able to work and make decisions,” he says.
This sort of perspective can assist with driving a more positive view. Taking this a step further, Mr Shakespeare believes there is one activity all people should try.
“All of us, in one way can, at least once a day, think what can I be grateful for, because that leads to a more optimistic and positive outlook than a negative one, which tends to feed on itself and lead to fear and anxiety,” he says.
If you are struggling with the current situation, you may find support through:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Mensline 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Beyondblue 1300 224 636