Many lives have changed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Our daily routines have been upended and our homes transformed into offices and schoolhouses; each day brings another development. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and anxiety we feel in times like these. We worry about our parents, spouses, friends and children, but do we take time to care for ourselves?
To learn more about how we can foster a healthier mind during trying times, we spoke with Erin Fisk, Founder & Principal Consultant of Fisk Solutions. Erin is a mental health educator who has spent over 19 years in social work in West Michigan. Through her work, she strives to make people feel less intimidated about the topic of mental health and focuses her work around strengthening mental health resources in the business community.
Social Interaction While Social Distancing
Social distancing is essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and “flattening the curve”, but it can be an emotionally difficult step to take. Individuals who are used to spending time with friends and family have experienced a major shift in their day-to-day life. An obvious tool we can use to engage with others is technology, but Erin says now is a time to utilize it in ways you normally wouldn’t. Texting is usually done alongside other activities like watching TV or cooking dinner. To really connect, however, Erin encourages giving your complete attention to communication: “Remove distractions from other things you may be doing before engaging with someone in meaningful conversation.”
To deepen the virtual connection, she recommends utilizing video over text or phone call. Erin’s favorite app, Marco Polo, allows you to create groups in which you can send short video messages and is built to be easily accessible for even your less tech-savvy friends.
For those who may be feeling isolated while practicing social distancing, Erin has simple but sage advice: “Take a deep breath and realize you aren’t alone in your loneliness.” To combat the negative feelings of isolation, she recommends calming activities such as meditation, taking walks outside or reading positive affirmations.
Making Yourself at Home in Your Home Office
Telecommuting has grown in popularity over the years, with many employees across a variety of industries creating an office in the home. For most, however, now is their first experience working from home for an extended period of time. There are some perks, such as staying in sweatpants all day or reducing your commute to a 20-second walk to the living room, but there are also challenges that can wear on you if you aren’t prepared.
How do we deal with our new coworkers? Kids, pets, spouses and roommates can be distracting additions to the workday. Even if you dearly love those you share a home with, sometimes you need your own space as well. “As my mom once said: even sunshine burns if you get too much,” laughs Erin, but I think we can all agree on the importance and sanctity of alone time.
Creating a routine can be helpful and emotionally healing, Erin continues. She also notes, however, that you don’t need to stress about creating the perfect work environment right away. “Maybe the way you work from home is different than how you work in an office, and that is okay. Allow yourself freedom to explore what routine works best.”
Coping with Stress as a Business Owner
For small businesses, this is an especially difficult time. Uncertainties around sustaining small business and the economy as a whole are weighing on the minds of many, including Erin. But she says that, if anything, now is a time for reflection and growth: “Remind yourself that this will pass, and you will have opportunities to reclaim, revisit and re-examine what your business will look like in the future.”
What can you do right now? Focus on relationships, says Erin. Have discussions with your bank or credit union to better understand the situation, and try to build a strong trust with someone within that organization who will work with you through this. In addition, take time to discuss challenges and best practices with other business owners to hear what creative ideas they’ve devised in an effort to pool resources.
Understanding What You Can and Cannot Control
A lack of feeling in control can be a major stressor to people in times of crisis. What it comes down to, according to Erin, is defining what you can and cannot control. It can be comforting to remember that you can only control your individual actions, such as your treatment of others, how much time you spend on social media and how well you practice social distancing.
For employers, Erin says giving your employees as many answers and reassurances as you can is key in stressful times: “Give them the peace of mind in saying that it’s okay if their pets and kids are on a video call, or it’s fine if they need to step away for a few hours to care for their families. It can make a world of difference if that is clearly expressed.”
In her final words of advice, Erin recounts a story from years ago where, after getting surgery, the wife of her former boss gifted her a rock with the yellow brick road and the following quote painted on it: “You had the power all along my dear.”
And we agree, you do.