It’s been over one year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us work and play. Even as we glimpse the reopening of cities, states, and countries around the world, we are reminded that some areas are still struggling to get the pandemic under control. In addition to upending our routines and schedules, the pandemic has created mental health concerns for people of all ages. As we slowly start to reopen, it will be important to continue being mindful of our mental health.
In fact, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and thankfully mental health is becoming a more common topic in the national news, across social media, and at the dinner table or Zoom happy hour amongst friends. Mental health challenges are definitely not new. What is different now, is that the public consciousness finally recognizes how our mental health and personal challenges impact our lives. Whether it’s the effect on our personal relationships, work performance, physical fitness, or general health. Plus, add on the global pandemic which has only created more stress, pressure, and uncertainty. It is critical that we are discussing mental health in society and doing so in an open and supportive manner.
Since March 2020, there have been warnings about how our mental health will be affected by the pandemic and ensuing financial crisis, but now we are starting to see the actual data. According to the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. have reported recent symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. This is a large increase from the previously 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January 1 to June 30, 2019. If you have recently experienced feelings of sadness, isolation, or stress — you are not alone. In fact, even as vaccinations allow for areas to begin reopening, you may not find that these feelings switch off right away. Reopening in your personal and professional life will be a process and understandably you may decide to ease into it.
Our own Issuu team was fortunate to be able to transform into a remote workforce for the past year, but like many of our users, we are tied to our laptop and screens located somewhere in our home. The remote work lifestyle was popular pre-pandemic, probably because prior to 2020, it felt like a perk or a privilege. Now feelings about remote work might not be so optimistic, because the workplace and home have blended into one. In fact, you have most likely seen on social media, heard the anecdotes, or felt so yourself — remote workers are feeling frustrated because they don’t ever “shut off” from work. Every day starts to blend together. Finally, many of the tools we depend on to connect with the workplace such as Slack, Zoom, Google Docs, and more, are creating their own challenges in daily life too.
Video conference calls were already a common workplace activity, but until March 2020, there just wasn’t too much attention being paid to this medium and how it affects our work life. This was also before the word “Zoom” was put in front of many of our favorite activities — ”Zoom Happy Hour,” “Zoom Festival,” “Zoom Wedding” — and before we had experienced “Zoom fatigue.” In the first peer-reviewed article that deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms. And no it’s not just you that is feeling additionally exhausted or emotionally drained after back-to-back Zoom meetings — it’s most of us!
The article by Professor Jeremy Bailenson also provided some key takeaways to reduce “Zoom fatigue” that are worth noting. For example, when you join a video call, select “Audio Only” when possible, or another option is to select “Hide Self View” in larger meetings (remember, you don’t normally get to look at yourself during a meeting in-person). Plus consider the room or space you are video conferencing from. Are there ways to increase the space between yourself and the monitor, or allow yourself to stand, walk around and move? The post-pandemic world will still include Zoom, Webex, and other video conference platforms, so we must figure out how to improve our mental health while using these types of tools.
Beyond “Zoom fatigue,” many remote working employees are expressing general feelings of exhaustion and increased stress. These types of feelings along with anxiety and isolation can also increase the chance that you are experiencing burnout. This helpful article in Happiful magazine written by Katheryn Wheeler identifies 12 symptoms that you may not realize indicate burnout. As explained in the article, this concept of “burnout” was first identified in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Fruedenberger and is a mental health condition that can occur following long-term stress, leading to both physical and mental exhaustion. Symptoms include reluctance to get out of bed in the morning, increased procrastination to start projects, feeling irritable in your work environment, and having a hard time making small decisions to name a few. After the year we have just experienced in which our home and workplace are one and the same, a challenging global economy and limited physical contact with others — it’s very reasonable to be feeling stressed, anxious, or even completely burned out. Taking the step to recognize these feelings is an important start.
Many corporations and organizations are recognizing that their employee’s mental well-being is at a breaking point right now. Thankfully they are also trying to do something about it. Last year, the Mental Health and Well-being team at the United Nations, which is focused on the workplace mental health of the United Nations System personnel globally, put out a call for their employees to submit poetry that addresses mental health. The result is Sauti: Poems of Healing, a compilation of poems received from around the world that helps raise awareness about mental health and hopes to de-stigmatize these challenges. These poems are a wonderful reminder to anyone that words can be healing and you are not the only one going through these challenging times. In addition to producing mental health-focused content, there has been a huge increase in companies including mental health services as part of their employee benefits. Companies have expanded benefits to address mental health including access to meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace, plus physical fitness apps as well. Here at Issuu, the US-based team also gathers once a week for a “Lightning Talk,” which features one employee sharing a topic they are passionate about but is completely separate from work. Recently Catherine Chan, Lifecycle Marketing Manager introduced Issuu colleagues to the topic: “Hong Kong: a Thriving City of Wonder,” which was a much-needed break from a typical zoom meeting, the constant slack messages, and busy project deadlines. By offering tools, building mental health breaks into the workday and other efforts focused on the mental health of their employees, large corporations are focused on reducing burnout and keeping employee engagement. All of these examples are exciting to see and should contribute towards reducing many of the mental health stigmas.
Do some of these mental health challenges we have described sound familiar to you? Let’s discuss ways that all of us can help ourselves when experiencing increased stress, anxiety, or burnout. A special “Mental Health At Work'' edition from Public Management Magazine offers advice in the article “Eight Ways to Boost Mental Health”. The article outlines steps such as “Breathe,” “Moving Your Body,” taking a “Two-Minute Holiday” by stepping outside, and more. These actions may seem simple, but they can start to help you address the negative, stressed, and other challenging feelings. Of course, practicing all, or only one of the eight steps won't necessarily resolve all of your stress immediately. If you can start to incorporate them into your daily habits and make time for yourself — they can make a difference. Issuu is another great source for mental health content and we’ve recently curated a list of Issuu publishers who are producing timely and relevant content and information to support mental health that you can explore.
The increased awareness of mental health by the larger public and especially employers is very important along with just knowing that you are not alone. If you are experiencing your own mental health struggles, we recommend that you talk with someone, whether it’s a family member, colleague, roommate or healthcare professional. Your employer may also offer a list of resources or even have benefits in place to support you. In the U.S., if you are dealing with a mental health crisis and are in immediate danger, please call 911, or you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Line or the Text Crisis Line.
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