Spill's ask-a-therapist feature has been receiving a lot of traffic since coronavirus has put everyone in disarray. How not to worry about the worrying news? How to stay motivated while working from home? How to stay connected while self-isolating? How to handle the uncertainty?
The health crisis, with a looming economic crisis on its wake, is understandably stirring a lot of difficult emotions. Here are some ideas for keeping a positive mindset while we weather the storm.
In the wake of a potential threat, some difficult emotions are inevitable - indeed, probably a good idea. Emotions, as Randolph Nesse puts it in Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, have likely evolved to keep us safe. Worrying might not be the funnest of feelings, but it does keep us alert. Anxiety can motivate us to take the necessary precautions to stay safe - and help others stay safe, too. Low mood can reign in an excess of optimism, with the cavalier attitude to risk that too much positive emotion usually entails. Frustration may spur creativity: during the Tube strike of 2014, Londoners had to find other ways of getting to work; 5% stuck to their new commute even after transport was back to normal. Finally, a lack of motivation might be the body's own way of keeping us at rest, so that energy can be refunnelled to our immune systems.
Of course, that's not to say difficult emotions are an unalloyed boon. The crucial thing, as always, is moderation. Some worrying, some anxiety, some frustration, some low mood, some lack of motivation. If these emotions are excessive or protracted, they may do more harm than good. It's a judgement call. That's why having the right expectations can be helpful.
The best advice is too often the most boring. Sleep well, eat well, exercise, drink plenty of water - we've all heard it before. What we may not hear as often is the boring - but true and helpful - advice for staying on top of our mental health: connect, take notice, keep learning, and give. Giving doesn't just mean donating to charity, but being generous with one's time and attention. For instance, paying enough attention to be able to compliment someone (which is harder than it sounds), or listening for 10min to someone else's emotions, putting ours aside. Learning is about expanding our horizon of possibilities, so we may discover new open windows where before we saw only closed doors. Taking notice is about remembering to spend more time in the present moment and less in reveries about future and past. We are not our history and we are not our plans: we are our way of looking at the world, here and now.
But chief among cures is staying connected. We are a social species wired for bonding. If you're lonely, odds are others will be too. If you're worrying, talk about it. Leave Skype open while cooking dinner, make 20 calls of 2 minutes each, rather than one call of 20 minutes. Reach out. Ask open-ended questions using what and how. Listen. Coronavirus might have caused some people to fight in supermarkets, but it's also led others - many many more - to applaud health professionals from their windows. This is no trite truism or cheesy cliche: in difficult times, people come together.
Finally, in the rest of this page we'll share some thoughts and tools for staying on top of nervousness, anxiety, and worry. Whether it's staying away from the endless dwelling of 24/7 news cycles, or coping with being cut off from familiar routines and loved ones, it's important to remember that there are always things we can do, no matter the challenge. If you're worrying a lot or feeling anxious, the first step might be to ground your body in the present moment. A little meditation exercise to help with this is this: find a quiet place, take a deep breath, then name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can here, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Once you feel more grounded, you might consider some cognitive-behaviour tools, as well. For instance, writing down every scenario that worries you, with the percentage probability of it occurring, as well as two or three things you might do if it that scenario occurred. Having specific contingency plans can help us feel calmer. The mental health charity Mind has more advice and we'll continue updating this page as questions come in. Finally, reach out to us.
Spill is here to help. We've opened our ask-a-therapist feature to the public, so you can send us your own question on Instagram, as described below. You can ask about how to look after your own feelings, as well as how to support others with theirs. We're also offering a free therapy session to anyone who's struggling with working from home and who would benefit from some mental health support. We're completely remote, so we'll be here throughout.
The anxiety you are feeling is a natural response to the uncertainty that many of us are feeling right now. These are very uncertain times with nobody really knowing what will happen next and the headlines are causing a lot of concern about something we have no control over. Unfortunately that lack of control is fuelling the anxiety even more. You could try setting yourself specific times to check the news and sticking to those times. Connecting with others can help transform worry into an opportunity to bond. Various mindfulness, breathing and CBT exercises can also help reduce anxiety and worry.
Not only can it be difficult to motivate at home generally, but with everything happening, the change in your routine and daily structure, a lack of motivation sounds to me like a normal reaction to the confusion and disruptions around you. A lack of motivation can be difficult because it is likely there are many factors contributing to it. The simplest way to get your motivation back is to do something you want to do. This may feel impossible when low on energy so we need to pinpoint what’s causing your lack of motivation and then to find ways you can trick yourself into getting it back. Regaining your motivation involves a combination of combatting the sources of its depletion and tricking yourself into taking the first step.
With so much uncertainty right now its not surprising things are feeling kind of manic, its hard to make plans when we can’t predict what is going to happen next and I suspect you aren’t the only person at your company that feels that way. With the meetings, it’s important to reflect on why you feel left out As you said yourself things are a bit manic so may feel very unusual. Perhaps recognising that you not being involved isn’t about you personally will help you accept the situation a bit better and ease that feeling of being left out.
While things are so “up in the air” for all of us right now its really important to get into a routine that resembles your usual one as much as possible. If you are working from home try to work the same hours, take breaks & lunches at the usual times and if there are colleagues you would normally chat to, continue to do so on the phone or online. If you have self-isolated and usually socialise, join some online networks. Or if you go to the gym find an alternative online - there are loads of videos available. Sticking to your normal structure as much as possible may make things feel less different which could help to stop you feeling overwhelmed.
The first thing to do is ask yourself why you feel the need to prove you are working to your manager and whether you have ever given them a reason to distrust you. The fact this is making you feel anxious could be impacting your ability to work to your full potential. Perhaps talking to your manager about how you feel and finding out their expectations will make you feel less anxious.
I guess the first thing to do is ask yourself why you feel guilty about having to travel. Not everything can be done remotely. Many of us have to leave home to work, and at this time public transport systems are still running which means there is nothing wrong with travelling when we need to. The unique situation we have found ourselves in is causing many of us to experience emotions that don’t necessarily make sense. Maybe reminding yourself you are travelling because you have to and aren’t doing anything wrong will help alleviate that feeling of guilt.
While it may be necessary to send some emails, perhaps before you start to write the next one you could ask yourself if it would be quicker to pick up the phone or video call the person. That way you save time and also get an immediate response, so there is no waiting around. If it’s an email to multiple recipients maybe schedule a conference call or video conference. In fact, scheduling phone or video conferences at set times throughout the day could not only improve communication, but may help everyone feel less isolated and more motivated too.
When we’re at work, we ask people questions as and when they pop into our heads, and intermittently check in with how they’re doing. Phone calls don’t need to be long. A simple question that could usually be asked over Slack is OK to ask over a phone call during COVID-19: people will be pleased with the distraction.
It’s all too easy for time to blur when you’re working from home, and to realise it’s 3pm and you’re still in your pyjamas, having only eaten some toast. Stick to a schedule to make yourself feel more in control and stave off anxiety. Get dressed into real clothes, have a proper breakfast, be ‘at your desk’ on time.
If you’re working on parts of a project that require asking intermittent questions, if you usually work closely with a few people, or if you just have a favourite colleague who you miss being around, leave a call on in the background for a few hours while you work. Even if neither of you say much, it’s just nice to know someone’s there.
This is an easy way to feel connected to the people you work with without having constant contact. Nominate a different person to be in charge of creating a shared playlist each day, and encourage everyone to listen. Learn more about your colleagues’ music tastes as you work, and message them if you like a song.
Working alone can be fine, but eating alone can often feel a bit weird. Schedule a lunch break with a colleague via calendar invite. Leave your laptop open on a video call while you both prepare a meal in your respective kitchens, and then sit down to eat it ‘together’.
What’s often a shock about working from home is how quiet it is. Sending and listening to voice notes helps keep the sound of chatter going every now and then, and hearing the voices of loved ones can make you feel less isolated without the commitment of a phone call.
Being at home doesn’t mean you need to be antisocial. In fact, it’s an opportunity to meet new people without having to spend money on drinks! Join the Working from Home Party an open Zoom call for anyone to hang out on anytime, or celebrate WFH Happy Hour at 5pm.
Finding a hobby that lets you get into a state of ‘flow’ — where you lose track of time and are completely engrossed — provides a huge boost to wellbeing. Try these interactive online tools for learning the piano, guitar or chess at your own pace.
Making progress towards a goal is one of the best ways to feel less ‘stuck’ and improve your mood while at home. Learn a language in 200 hours or learn to code in a month. You could even try this introduction to negotiation: 17% of people got a pay rise or promotion soon after finishing it.
Try Workout Sesh for free online HIIT workouts you can do at home, or Yoga With Adriene for a range of follow-along practices between 5 and 45 minutes. For something more intense, get a free one-week trial of Gold Medal Bodies, a renowned strength and mobility programme.