Staying connected in lockdown: how to avoid losing your mind
Lockdown has presented many challenges to our way of life, from changes to how often we can see our families, to limitations as to where and how we work. With so much change it’s little wonder that our collective mental health has been challenged.
Adjusting to a new working environment is one of the many challenges of life under lockdown. For Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to Will Allen-Mersh at virtual therapy platform Spill, on how to feel connected when working in isolation.
Growing a business is hard at the best of times. Growing a business in this strange time of social distancing, isolation, and uncertainty can be even harder. But the work still needs to get done, the KPIs still need to be hit, and the dreams still need to be chased, so we’ve compiled a few tips (with the help of our Spill therapists) on how to stay mentally strong whilst the world remains a bit, well, weird.
1. Avoid team bust-ups by making praise written and criticism verbal
Now that more of our communication ends up being via Slack or email, it’s so much easier to misinterpret things; we don’t have the helpful cues of body language or tone to add context and meaning. When we get a Slack message from a colleague saying “have you finished the slides yet?”, your mind naturally reads into it: does it sound passive-aggressive? Accusatory? Belittling? It’s probably none of those, but it’s easy to infer them. This makes us more likely to feel slighted or left out, making rifts in the team more common. Try to keep constructive criticism one-on-one and over the phone, so you can have more control over tone and delivery, and you can hear if it’s being misinterpreted. Conversely, praise is best public, so it gives people the added emotional payoff of feeling respected and recognised by others as well as the person giving the praise. Recognising good work is one of the best things any of us can do for team morale at the moment: Dan Ariely showed that a compliment from a coworker can make them feel better than the social impact of the project they’re working on. Hustle doesn’t pay off if everyone’s falling out.
2. Talk to colleagues more often, but for less time
Humans naturally tend to communicate in small bits throughout the day — especially in offices. When we have a question, we ask a colleague, or when something exciting happens we tell someone nearby. Trying to cram the whole day’s talking into a 30-minute morning Zoom call may feel efficient in the short term, but it makes us feel more disconnected — and hence less productive — in the longer term. So try going for more calls, but keep each of them shorter. It’s a misunderstanding that a phone call needs to last even 5 minutes. Or go a step further and try sending voice notes to colleagues instead of Slack messages. Our brains appreciate the sound of real human voices.
3. Fool your brain into thinking it’s somewhere buzzy
Much of what people miss during lockdown isn’t necessarily the purposeful socialising time, as we can still do this via one-on-one phone calls or group Zoom quizzes. What we often hear at Spill is that people miss being in the presence of other people rather than necessarily talking to them. Jostling through a busy Saturday market, reading a book in a cafe, walking around a gallery. Humans like being around each other as much as they like actually interacting with each other. Coffitivity, a free online resource, lets you choose from various background sounds — including a cafe or a co-working space — so that you feel less alone while working. If you live alone, like I do, or you tend to spend most of the day alone in a study or bedroom, these sounds can make you feel like you’re amongst the energy of other people again, making hustling that much easier.
4. Have a routine, but also appreciate variance
Humans are creatures of habit. The Circadian rhythm was shown by the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine to have a massive impact on regulating our mood and feelings. Humans love daily rituals, working weeks and weekends, seasonal festivals, restful Sundays… A lot of our previous habits have been knocked off kilter by coronavirus, and it’s important to create a new sense of routine that can help give you structure. But coronavirus has also taken away a sense of chance and variance from our days: random things happen less when we’re always at home, and days start to seem very similar to each other. When people who have been through extended periods of isolation — prisoner of war survivors, submarine captains, hostages — are asked how they stayed mentally strong, one of the common things mentioned is bringing awareness and appreciation towards any small changes. For them it might be a glimpse through a crack in the window at a new view, or a slightly different meal one day; for those of us working from home it might be a rare supermarket home delivery slot or going to the shop for an ice cream on a baking hot day. These things are capable of making the weight of our isolation and our worries lift for a while, helping us to focus better when we return to work — if only we have enough appreciation to let them.
Author: Will Allen-Mersh, Partner at Spill, a London-based mental health startup that lets employees book video therapy sessions through Slack. This post is written for Mental Health Awareness Week.