Corona and mental health

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Can you believe it’s June already? It really seems only yesterday that I wrote WhatsApp messages and emails to the team at Artefact, notifying them that from that moment on we’ll be working from home because of the corona situation in the Netherlands. We are now many weeks later, and a lot has changed. At Artefact, the company I work for, the corona situation asked of me to tackle HR topics differently than before. In this article, I’d like to share an example of this in relation to the topic of Corona and mental health.

Corona officer at Artefact

At the beginning of the year, I was busy with recruitment, organizing a pension scheme, working on fun little initiatives such as the ‘day of compliments’, and international pancake days. As an agile HR fan, I’d like to chop my time into smaller parts, in various ways. One of the ways I did this beginning of this year, was introducing a ‘theme of the quarter’. In the first 3 months, the theme was wellbeing. Providing information, having conversations – little did we know that almost at the end of the quarter, the learnings provided essential.

Early in March, I was looking forward to a vacation to Finland, but the night before I was supposed to leave, it got canceled. The advice of our government changed from ‘pay caution’ to ‘only essential travel’. That was quite a bummer. The day after, my boss called, and we dove into action mode. Prepping the first draft of how we deal with the corona situation. After two weeks, my fellow management team members officially ‘voted’ for me (unanimously, thanks guys) to be the official head of corona communication and safety measures.

A weekly newsletter: the Corona Current

Being ‘promoted’ to Chief Corona Communication Policy officer (aka C3PO – yes, I’m finally a Star Wars character now!), it became my duty/honor to think and communicate about the effects of the corona situation at Artefact. 

Amongst many fun and serious initiatives – I started writing the Corona Current. A weekly newsletter to update the team on the business situation, to share articles/exercises on improving Work from Home (#WFH) skills, to share fun things like memes and pictures, and tips & tricks on ‘what to do now everything is closed’. It’s been a great way in connecting business to traditional “people/hr things”. A great tool to keep the spirit high, to be transparent with the team, to share happiness and worries. 

A few weeks ago, the tenth edition went live. And with that milestone, I wanted to make the edition a little different than usual. I decided to open the tabooed conversation on mental health in times of corona by writing an article about it. The writing of Corona and mental health wasn’t so easy; I wanted it to be relatable, personal, serious yet not depressing, and to be seen as a first step in many to come (hello agility). 

After sending it, I’ve received positive feedback and had beautiful conversations already with team members. We’ve even started a 30-day challenge on (kind of down to earth) mindfulness! It takes some courage to write about it, and even more to talk about it. So I’m hoping that by sharing the article with you, you might feel inspired to do so as well.

So, here we go!

Corona and mental health

Confession time: since the beginning of the intelligent lockdown, I’ve had moments in which I was struggling with the new situation, and I’m guessing (hoping, assuming) that I wasn’t alone in this. Worrying about everybody’s health, missing my colleagues, and worrying about my job. Even missing the semi-ok coffee at the office, I was struggling to find a new way of balancing work/life. And sometimes even delving into a ‘why-me’ kind of feeling. 

Although I could always put it into perspective (thinking about people that have much much more on their plate), and found benefits too in this WFH situation (take away lunch, listening to music without headphones, having the TGIF drinks on the balcony) – it wasn’t easy and sometimes still isn’t.

Corona and stress

During the corona crisis, the typical day-to-day can be intense, and new stressors arise. The COVID-19 situation challenged me to modify how I deal with change and stress. It changed the rules on how to connect with people. Altering how I go through a working day. It made me struggle with setting priorities. Modifying the way of feeling accomplished after a hard day of work. And limited the freedoms I have (unconsciously) enjoyed before. 

Bottom line; the corona crisis forces you to accept that things change outside of your span of control and it makes you deal with its consequences. 

Agility and coping mechanisms

Now, before things become too dramatic, there is an optimistic side to this: no matter what, we can control how we respond to the new situation. We can adapt and try out new coping mechanisms (some people might even call that enhancing your agility). Even in pursuit of that, we have to allow ourselves to not finding this easy, to make mistakes, or to be upset about it. To accept, and then reset again.

I think it’s necessary for us to talk about this because many weeks ago, our world suddenly and fundamentally changed. And it’s becoming clear that it will be many, many more weeks before any sense of true ‘normalcy’ is re-established. And with that, we’re all realizing that simply ‘soldiering on’ isn’t going to be the way of coping. So we need to explore different ways in which we can create a new normal. Mental health has been a topic before at Artefact. Found in between the lines of the articles, conversations, in the Employee Handbook, and ergonomics sessions that are being shared. Wellbeing on the work floor isn’t just about physical health, tuning into your intrinsic motivation, putting in efforts in helping your client succeed, working together, and learning. It is also about your emotional wellbeing, and being able to share the broad spectrum of it. 

The new normal?

From the first of June, the intelligent lockdown will relax a bit, slowly reopening all kinds of places. We cannot know what lies ahead. Maybe there will be a setback, and we have to take a step back. Perhaps, you’ll feel anxious getting back to the office or joining public transport. It could be that you’re struggling with your motivation to work, or feeling that there’s too much on your plate. 

Changes keep happening, and all of us need to keep readapting. So what might have worked for you in the first week(s) of the quarantine, might not be as effective anymore. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to what is needed when facing this new situation. It is, in the end, you who has to create a new way of dealing with the new normal that really works for you. In the end, it is up to you to find a way of dealing with Corona and mental health.

How to continue

Having said all of that, we’re in this situation together. We can support each other, by talking about it, sharing experiences, tips, and tricks. We’ve done that on some occasions already, and I invite you to do this more.

Artefact can also play a role in this. I really want to hear from you. How you’ve experienced the lockdown so far, what you expect from the next phase, and what it is you need in terms of support. Therefore, we’ve created a questionnaire (I removed the link here for this article). And it would be super if you can take a bit of time to fill it out. With the input via the questionnaire, you’re helping me shape new initiatives and guidelines. That’ll help all of us deal with the new normal.

Next to that, I’d like to start a little mindfulness experiment, from the first/second of June. This 30-days challenge is created by the makers of Headspace, a meditation app. I would like to try this challenge with those who are interested. This challenge seems particularly nicely suited to us. It invites you to try out mindfulness without too much effort, and with an offline focus. Let me know if you’re interested in joining, so that we can share the experiences via a Chat channel. Looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

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