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We’re not just WFH. The idea of working from home suggests some kind of security, a place of safety from, which employees are seeking to carry on business as usual (for those fortunate enough to still have paid employment). Except things are far from normal, and the prospect of normal seems distant and obscure. 

The Shock and Challenges of Covid-19
The Covid-19 lockdown has been a traumatic event – worse still, this has come with astounding uncertainties, which affect us all. We are left with none of the usual consolations around of when and how events will reach their conclusion. The stress, fear, anxiety and shock experienced, although very natural reactions, are extremely disturbing and can potentially overwhelm our ability to cope. This can harm us physically, emotionally or psychologically, impacting our mental health, as well leading to difficulties in every day functioning at home and at work.

Our ability to manage and overcome the impact of the Covid-19 period will depend on how well we understand its impact, along with our ability to respond adequately and constructively.

Is this Normal? – What to Expect
Symptoms such as; problems with concentration, sleeping, anger, irritability, loss of appetite and mood swings are all a normal response to an unusual occurrence. In order to recover, people require time to process the experience, to work through, manage and make sense of what has happened. This enables them to feel better and return to their previous state. At the end of the crisis most people will usually see a decrease in these symptoms over a space of two to four weeks. 

However, for some people, the on-going impact and severe far reaching effects of this crisis can lead to extended difficulties. Strong symptoms for more than four weeks, following this crisis, could indicate the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is likely to require a longer recovery time, clinical intervention or professional support.

How to Support Your Employees
For employees looking for guidance and some sense of reassurance, employers and managers need to recognise and understand the human impact of Covid-19 lockdown. They should remain alert to factors such as; low mood, expressions of anger and irritability, communication failures, avoidance, time off and reduced work performance due to difficulties with stress, memory or concentration 

In order to provide appropriate support employers and managers can seek to:

> Ask open questions, show empathy and understanding for those affected: listen without judgement and avoid making assumptions
> Differentiate between what needs immediate attention and what is important. 
> Initiate a plan and clear steps to address urgent issues.
> Wherever possible maintain as a routine and structure, making reasonable allowances for those impacted by this event.
> Seek advice and support from other teams and departments in their organisation, such as occupational health, human resources or EAP provider, as well as from government and health organisations.

Coping with Crisis
Positive steps that individuals can take, in helping them cope with the present crisis include:

Building Resilience by engaging in daily activities. These can include a mixture of relaxation and distraction (e.g. games and hobbies), as well as physical exercise. Spending quality time with family members. Check in regularly on loved ones, neighbours and close friends, in order to foster a stronger sense of community.

Self-Care by looking after your mental health, along with those around you through monitoring changes in mood, stress and mental health status. Be aware of when you are pushing yourself past your limits and take regular breaks and time off

Connecting and Communicating by establishing regular communication between team members with remote chats and meetings, sharing ideas and team building. Getting support when needed by talking and connecting with people and professionals who can support you to deal positively with your mental health and concerns. 

Cultivating being Constructive by considering all the ways you can learn from your lockdown experiences. Remain grounded and recognise that crises pass. 

Limiting Exposure to Media and avoid continually consuming news or talking about the crisis.

Sticking to a Plan and maintaining a regular daily structure and routine. Set clear boundaries and realistic expectations, which help you stay focused and limit disappointment.

Caroline Ribeiro-Nelson, Executive board member of EAPA UK, Head of Free Choices: Mental Health & Well-being Consultant, Psychotherapist, Coach & Trainer, www.eapa.org.uk

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