COVID-19 tips: How to stay mentally healthy while working virtually


I had a fascinating chat with psychologist Rachel Clements, Co-Founder and Director of the Centre for Corporate Health about what we should be doing right now to stay connected and keep mentally fit.

Many of us are working virtually, some are in self isolation and in some countries whole populations are in complete lockdown. The more time we spend working virtually the greater the danger we face of falling victim to serious mental health issues but there are ways for leaders and employees to avoid these.

To remain physically and mentally well over the next few uncertain weeks and months, Rachel advises we use our energy wisely and especially in the areas over which we have direct personal control.

Here are four tips for taking control of your mental health during COVID-19

1. Stay away from the ‘what if’

As Rachel says:

“You have no control over these, instead be present on the things about which you do have control like social distancing, your work set up at home, how you help your team, your clients, your neighbours, your personal hygiene. The key is to think about what you can do at this moment, not what may come around the corner.”

As humans we don’t like uncertainty; we like control and the situation we find ourselves in today is destabilising to the way we like to operate. There is no roadmap and we are making it up as we go. If we had an end point that would help but we don’t, and this leads to fear, anxiety and stress.

2. Challenge our and others’ thinking

Ask yourself and others how you are using your mind right now? If it’s filled with negative thoughts, turn that around by saying things like – I don’t like what’s happening right now but what I can do is…or reframe your thinking by asking things like:

How do I turn this into a positive? Where is the opportunity in this? What can I do to make a difference?

3. Build confidence by resetting

If you keep resetting your mindset out of the negative, you build and maintain your confidence and of those around you. Fear and anxiety are contagious, and we physically need to give ourselves and our teams time out to recalibrate and reset. This requires diligence and focus and if you can’t do it alone get a buddy, a friend, a family member and help each other reset.

4. Commit to action

Mental fitness is about transferring knowing into doing. It could be something as small as deciding to go for a walk. You know you should be getting out for a walk, but you find reasons not to go. Every little thing requires action and in times like this more than ever we need to action our commitment to our psychological wellbeing.

Finally, it’s OK to be vulnerable – trying to pretend you know everything especially if you are a leader won’t wash so don’t do it. Instead get the involvement of others in certain decisions. Being vulnerable is not a weakness, quite the opposite, it’s OK to ask for help.

5. You also need stopping cues

Make sure you put in place stopping cues i.e. How much media and which media you watch, read or listen to; and probably most critically, have set times you will shut down your laptop and then put it away.

As Rachel points out: “The laptop is a reminder of two things. First, I have more work to do, or, I have too little work and I feel guilty so I should be on it checking emails or doing something.”

Both are your worst enemy when working from home, so you need to create boundaries. Rachel even suggests having a buddy at work or someone at home who becomes your conscience and checks on you at the end of the day to make sure you are shutting down.

Rachel emphasised the importance of this by saying: “By not stopping you merely spike your anxiety response. The longer we operate in a mood of anxiety the more we reduce our immune system.”

Early warning signs of mental health issues

There are numerous studies which have linked social isolation with depression, poor sleep, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity.

You should try communicate visually and as often as possible because the first signs of mental health issues manifest themselves physically.

There will be people who cope better and those who don’t so it is important for leaders and colleagues to look out for the classic warning signs which could be the start of mental health issues. Rachel says the signs to look out for include looking fatigued or dishevelled, complaints about migraines or stomach complaints. Anyone or a combination of these could be an early warning sign of mental stress.

During these unusual times it is OK to preface or end meetings with a discussion on how people are feeling, what they are doing and what they are struggling with.

Other coping tips include:

  • Using family time to reconnect. Sit down and have dinner. Talk, play board games, learn a new skill, tidy the home, paint a room together, etc.
  • Connecting with nature. Nature is a very powerful antidote. Get out into the fresh air and sunshine, mindful of course of crowded places and social distance.
  • Coming up with creative ways of seeing friends e.g. watch a movie or sports game together in the privacy of your separate homes but use technology to experience the event together. Set up a virtual cheese and wine night or even a book club.

A final piece of advice from Rachel is to be kind to one another and stay connected. We can only come through this if we do it together.

The Centre for Corporate Health has several COVID-19 resources and services available which can be sourced here.

We also have a  bullet point summary of how to look after their physical and mental health while working virtually

Ps. Remember if you need help on a personal level, here are a few numbers: 

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 80

Confidential Helpline: 1800 737 732

Mensline: 1300 78 99 78

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277 

Hang in there.


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