As COVID restrictions are lifting, hopefully for good, the prospect of getting back to normal is something to look forward to. Things we took so much for granted prior to 2020, such as holidays, going shopping, eating out, going to the theatre or sporting events and simply just hugging our families and friends are now the subject of such excitement for us all.
After a year of lockdowns, adapting to new ways of doing business and working from home, the future looks rosy. However, for those who have been significantly impacted during the pandemic, either by bereavement, illness or business and financial difficulties, the transition ‘back to normal’ may not be so easy.
Everyone’s experience will be different and that’s okay
Going back to familiar places for the first time, things may not look or feel the same. Connecting with groups of people and going back into the workplace can all generate feelings of anxiety that may take us by surprise.
There will be rational anxieties such as those relating to the safety of mixing with other people again, commuting on public transport and workplace arrangements, particularly for those who have been shielding. The vaccine may bring comfort to some, but others may not be so reassured.
On the other hand, people may experience anxieties that don’t appear to be rational, feeling anxious or uncomfortable doing things or going into situations that they haven’t for a long time.
During the pandemic, we were told to “stay home, save lives”, which is a very strong emotional statement. As restrictions are lifting, we are told, “it’s okay, you can do it now”, so it’s not surprising that many people will have some difficulty in adjusting.
Self-care and looking after yourself
Whilst it is tempting to focus solely on getting your business back on track, business owners often need reminding to prioritise their own self-care.
The approaching summer and easing of restrictions is a perfect opportunity to make the most of the outdoors. We know that daylight is particularly important in boosting mood and there are many activities that can be nourishing for individuals.
Ecotherapy is based on the idea that people are connected to and impacted by the natural environment. A growing body of research supports the benefit of connecting with nature and the mental health charity Mind endorses the importance of ecotherapies.
Outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, running, cycling and other sports are all good examples. At the other end of the spectrum, activities such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga can be very mentally nourishing and can often be enjoyed outdoors with a real connection to nature.
FSB Care share advice for looking after your mental health and where you can go if you need support.
How can I support my employees as a business owner?
Everyone has been impacted differently over the last 12 months or so, both physically and emotionally, so it is important that you make sure that you don’t view the concerns of employees through your own lens but accept that their anxieties are real for them.
As a business owner, you should take the time to talk to your staff and most importantly listen properly. An employee who feels listened to and understood is much more likely to be comfortable in disclosing their concerns and suggesting what may help them.
Areas for consideration could include:
- Commuting – what changes could be made such as flexible start and finish times, continued home working or a mixture?
- Workplace arrangements – what measures can be put in place beyond what is legally required that would make employees feel more comfortable, such as additional desk screening?
- Employee understanding – it’s important that there is clear communication to employees so that they know the detail of the workplace arrangements, frequency of cleaning, what to expect on day one, could they be involved in designing measures?
- Support for caring responsibilities – for many people, changes will have occurred during the pandemic, so there may be new issues to contend with, perhaps requiring flexibility in working location or hours.
Download our checklist from FSB Care on how you can support the mental health of your employees during COVID-19.
Spotting the signs of mental ill health
It’s important not to over-medicalise normal human reactions to a very difficult situation, as much of the anxieties felt over the last year or so and as we go through this transition will pass naturally. This is not mental illness, however, for some people, persistent and severe anxiety or low mood is mental ill health and requires professional help.
Signs to look out for are:
- Knowing your people as individuals – what is normal for them?
- Notice unusual behaviour – are they unusually slow to respond, uncharacteristically aggressive or subdued?
- Notice physical symptoms – have you noticed sweating, shaking or being withdrawn?
- Are they taking excessive time off or do they have poor timekeeping?
- Are you aware of the overuse of alcohol or drugs?
If you notice some signs, tell them you’ve noticed and ask if they are OK. You may need to ask more than once. Suggest they speak to a friend, family member and definitely their GP. You could also mention charities like Samaritans and Mind and in an emergency – don’t hesitate to contact their GP or Crisis team, request a welfare check from the police, or call an ambulance.
We’re here for you
Whilst self-care is an important source of help, such as the tips suggested above, external professional help is also sometimes necessary. Your GP should be your first port of call when persistent feelings of low mood, stress or anxiety are recognised.
FSB Care is available free of charge to members and provides long-term access to a registered mental health nurse for professional advice, guidance and support, as well as help sourcing the most appropriate form of therapy.