It can be stressful adjusting to this shifting landscape, writes Sarah McIntosh. Now more than ever, it’s important to remember the power of human connections for boosting our wellbeing
With the coronavirus heightening stress and anxiety, particularly in the wake of new regulations around social distancing and self-isolation, it is a difficult time for all of us as we seek to support both our physical and mental health. The coronavirus pandemic has led us all to change our daily routines and created uncertainty about the future.
As individuals and as part of a community and workforce it can be stressful adjusting to this shifting landscape. Now more than ever, it is important to remember the power of human connections for boosting our wellbeing. Keeping in touch with friends, family and neighbours can lift our mood and remind us we have a support system around us.
We’re fortunate that video technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch and check in on our neighbours and loved ones, and the more creative we can be in using it, the better equipped we will be to manage in these new circumstances.
As we have seen across the world, a strong sense of community is vital to surviving and thriving in these difficult times. We know that nurturing human connections is so important in supporting the nation’s mental health and wellbeing as we come together to tackle the impact of this outbreak.
We have seen neighbours in Italy singing, playing musical instruments and dancing on their balconies to stay connected whilst self-isolating, and pictures of rainbows popping up in windows as a symbol of solidarity. We have also seen communities coming together to applaud our NHS workers as part of the #ClapForOurCarers movement.
It’s important to try different things and work out an approach that suits you and your community
We can all take inspiration from these special moments and find an approach in our community that supports us to stay connected. For example, you may find it useful to arrange a time every day or twice a week to have a Facetime or Skype call with your neighbours to check in in case anyone needs supplies but is unable to leave the house to get them. Or it might be a simple chat out the window or over the fence to say hello.
Many community helpers have already posted their details through vulnerable household’s letterboxes offering their help, but if you still want to implement a system perhaps you could take a similar approach to residents in North Yorkshire who set up a system where they either showed a red or green card in their front window to alert others if someone in their property needs help.
Alternatively if most of your community is on social media, WhatsApp and Facebook groups are a great way to organise support for the more vulnerable members of a community. It’s important at this time that we all actively reach out both asking for and offering support.
At Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England we have launched a new campaign called My Whole Self, which in its first phase will share resources to empower communities to stay connected in the face of heightened anxiety and social isolation. We’re also playing our part by encouraging our network of over 400,000 people we’ve trained in mental health awareness and skills to support the nation’s mental health – virtually even if not in person.
Overall we’ve upskilled 1 in 78 people in England across a wide range of sectors, from construction and finance to local government, to provide emotional support and signpost people to appropriate resources and services. We’ve also published new guidance on mental health when working from home to support people in adjusting to remote working.
Self-isolation and social distancing will be a challenge as the weeks wear on and fighting the creep of boredom will be key. Perhaps you could set up a ‘Fun Team’ forum on WhatsApp or Facebook to focus on positive news stories in the local area and share tips and ideas on how to stay entertained.
Could you play a board game online with neighbours or use a video call to play charades? Or even crowdsource people’s skills, asking them to host ‘discovery sessions’ where everyone can learn something new, be that cooking, a craft or a new form of exercise.
We recognise these are difficult times for everyone and while it is important to reach out to neighbours and the community, remember to save some energy for your own self-care. It’s a vital way for people to help protect their mental health. MHFA England’s website has a number of resources and tips to support you. From tools to create a healthier workplace, through to resources to help manage stress and maintain a productive, active routine.
As we adapt to this new normal, it is important to try different things and work out an approach that suits you and your community. And now more than ever, it’s our communities that can help us through the challenges we face.
Sarah McIntosh is the Director of People and Organisational Effectiveness at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England which offers expert workplace guidance and training to support mental health, giving people the tools to support themselves and each other