How to cope with stress and be productive at work
The COVID-19 pandemic that’s been raging for more than a year now has raised stress and anxiety levels. The WHO reports fear and stress as the primary reactions to the global threat. And studies indicate a steep rise in cases of psychological distress (34.43–38 percent) and stress (8.1–81.9 percent).
A passionate mental health practitioner, teacher and supervisor, Aarathi Selvan tells us how to understand the signs of mental distress, ways to handle it, and managing productivity at work.
Accenture: The world is grappling with a pandemic that refuses to subside. What is your view on how the mental health of individuals has been impacted by this?
Aarathi Selvan: As rightly reported, mental health issues are at their peak thanks to the pandemic. It’s not just one’s own stress, but also a collective sense of grief of so many lives lost and the tough times we are going through now that’s worsening mental health conditions.
Moreover, only a small part of the population is privileged to work from home while others have to report to work physically, thereby putting them at more risk. Those at home may be going through a lot—domestic abuse, lack of employment, even lack of motivation. All this increases mental stress or even suicidal thoughts. In my opinion, even after the pandemic ends, people will still be grappling with new methods of coping within the new world.
A: Have you seen an increase in mental well-being issues among professionals at work? What are the common areas of concern here?
AS: Mental health has always been a topic that has been a part of people’s unconscious minds but was hardly spoken about. While we have been dealing with mental health conditions and working on removing the stigma attached to them even before the pandemic, we see an upswing in more individuals or organizations reaching out to us mostly for short-term assistance on how to process and manage the stress arising from this pandemic.
They want us to conduct workshops to assist people in handling a situation that we had never imagined. And it makes sense that we reach out to them and talk to them at their convenience since everyone has a home to manage besides their work; they have children or elders to take care of at home.
A: One of the various repercussions of the pandemic is how work has suffered at large. How do you think this impacts the mental well-being of employees?
AS: I think hypervigilance and anxiety have increased among all of us. A perfect example of this are people panicking that they may be COVID positive the moment they have minor symptoms like a sore throat or chest congestion. This anxiety has a cascading effect on their work as well.
We are also seeing the rise of high levels of depression, anxiety and stress among
women. What’s contributing to it is that a major part of the household chores rests on their shoulders, leading to severe burnout and irritability.
A: Mental health is a topic that’s often been shoved under the carpet, especially in a country like India. With not much awareness about mental well-being, what are the signs that an individual can watch out for?
AS: One of the most common forms of any mental condition is an elevated level of anxiety, which mostly manifests in the form of severe breathlessness. Now, this is also a symptom of COVID-19 thus making us hyper-focused about our body, which somewhere gets intricately connected with our psyche. Herein lies the connection between physical well-being and mental well-being.
To give an example here, if a person has a family member who is affected with the COVID-19 virus, they are so traumatized and grief-stricken that they fail to deliver their basic responsibilities, leading themselves into a spiral. They experience heightened anxiety, which is primarily catapulted by the situation at hand. This further leads to physiological effects like reduced sleep, reduced appetite, irritable bowel, etc.
A: What are some tips for working professionals to cope with pandemic-induced stress levels and focus better at work?
AS: I would say negotiate at work by drawing definite boundaries for work and home. Take breaks between your schedules. Bifurcate work hours and home hours to ensure no conflict arises. Volunteer for community work. Make time for it.
Some see physical activity, exercise or meditation as a great option to unwind while some resort to games and online shows. I would say choose what works best for you. But add intent to the activities and make them sustainable.