Amid the uncertainty during Covid-19 with many people laid-off, furloughed, or telecommuting, positive mental health can plummet, taking its toll on workers, families, as well as students. Students and teachers have had to transition to distance learning, almost overnight; laid-off workers are dealing with financial insecurity; essential workers experience more worries about their own health; and those working from home are dealing with the stress that comes from uncertainty, lack of social interaction and new technology-related demands. While there have also been positive elements of the quarantine, including more daily interaction with family, less stress from no commuting, and more time at home to pursue other interests, the sudden change in our lives has taken a toll on many people’s mental health.
“In most instances having structure and routine is very important for people’s mental health,” says Dr. Thomas Carollo, Assistant Chief of the Department of Mental Health and Wellness for Kaiser Permanente. “This was obviously a significant, abrupt change and one that was not planned for of course. So people were suddenly in this situation where they were asked to do their work very differently. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I really do think there is going to be a lot of innovation that is going to come out of this – it already has for our group – but the sudden change that dramatically changes people’s routine and how they do their work can be jarring and can certainly trigger stress and anxiety.”
One industry in which Dr. Carollo has seen a lot of recurring stress and anxiety issues since the shelter-in-place orders went into effect has been in the teaching professions. Almost overnight, teachers needed to completely change how their work was performed and how to use certain technology they may not have been familiar with, prior to the pandemic. While most found their footing over time, the abrupt change created a lot of initial strain and concern.
Another big change that has affected the mental health of some is the lack of social interaction, both at work and in their social lives.
“The other area that has affected mental health is personal contact and connection,” says Carollo. “With technology we are certainly able to remain in contact with each other by telephone, text, and Zoom, but I talked to a lot of people who really miss interpersonal connection and that contact. People do get that in an office and workplace setting and suddenly you’re in this place of relative isolation from your co-workers.”
To help combat mental health issues while quarantining, Dr. Carollo recommends similar activities as he would with most patients experiencing stress and anxiety, including ensuring adequate and consistent sleep, regular exercise and time for stress-relieving activities. In addition, find ways to connect with friends and family on a regular basis whether that’s through Zoom, or a phone call. When people experience sadness and depression they have a tendency to withdraw which is the worst thing to do when having those feelings. Thinking about small changes one can make daily or weekly can help individuals get out of a slump and motivate them to move on.
“Try to create some sort of routine or structure to your day so that you have an expectation of what is going to happen, what comes next and feel settled in that and in control,” says Carollo. “First and foremost, find a new normal, find that new routine and way of going about your day and going about your work.”