Time to talk

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Lone or remote working is something that many of us have experienced over the past year, while a great many more have been working alone for a while now.

Whether it’s something you or your staff are used to, or it’s something new to you, looking after your mental health and that of those around you is absolutely vital. Not only is it part of many people’s social contract with their employer to make sure their safety and wellbeing is paramount, looking after your staff is one of the best ways to make sure they’re performing effectively and wanting to stay with your organisation.

For someone who is having a hard time with their mental health, talking to a counsellor about what has happened, and the impact it has had on them and their family, can be of real benefit. Photograph: iStock

There is no doubt we have been living through challenging times since early last year, with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been tough for us all to adjust to a new way of life, and it’s feeling tough again to start thinking about adjusting back to the way things were before (or in that general direction).

This change and uncertainty can cause our levels of stress and anxiety to rise, or lead to low mood and depression. This might be even more acute if you’re working from home, alone or remotely. You don’t have the companionship and camaraderie of the office, or the presence of your manager to pick up
on any small cues that you’re not feeling yourself, and call you into the office for a chat and to discuss what your worries are. These are all real benefits for people who work with others – for example, in an office or on a site.

For someone who is having a hard time with their mental health, talking to a counsellor about what has happened, and the impact it has had on them and their family, can be of real benefit. We know that holding on to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings tends to increase the risk of longer-term mental health difficulties. Speaking to a professional could not only help the person to cope better in the short term, but can also act as a preventative measure against the onset of future problems.

Symptoms of anxiety and depression

Some of the symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety.

Some of the symptoms of depression are:

  • Low mood, feeling sad, irritable, or angry
  • Having less energy to do certain things
  • Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
  • Loss of concentration
  • Becoming tired more easily
  • Disturbed sleep and losing your appetite
  • Feeling less good about yourself (loss of self-confidence)
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Feeling more agitated
  • Losing interest in sex
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Photograph: iStock

A good therapist will give the person the opportunity to express how they feel, help them untangle complex thoughts and teach them coping mechanisms to help them through each day until their confidence and resilience improve again.

Tips for reducing anxiety

The good news is that there are some simple things anyone can start doing for themselves, right now, to help calm their nerves or improve their mood. You can use these tips yourself at any time, or pass them on to your staff to encourage them to care for themselves.

To decrease anxiety and feel calmer:

  • Take time out. Listen to music, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
  • Eat regular well-balanced meals.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily. Even just some gentle exercise, like walking is known to provide benefits for your mental health.
  • Practice ‘Box Breathing’. Inhale to the count of four, then hold your breath for another four seconds. Exhale slowly to the count of four, then rest for four, before repeating.
  • Welcome humour. A good laugh goes a long way.
  • Be realistic and balanced in your thoughts. Try to balance negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify?
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed and let them know how they can help you.

To improve your mood:

  • Listen to music
  • Have a good laugh
  • Allow yourself to vent
  • Spend more time with sympathetic friends and relatives
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew, keep tasks and goals realistic and manageable
  • Do more of the things you normally enjoy, even if they no longer seem appealing
  • Get out of the house, even if only to buy milk or walk in the park
  • Be patient with yourself
  • Avoid making or acting upon big decisions
  • Get as much sleep as you can
  • Enlist the advice and support of your doctor – perhaps ask your doctor for counselling and take things from there
  • Decide who to call in an emergency should you feel overwhelmed by negative or suicidal thoughts. This may be a relative or friend, your doctor, or a helpline (for example, the Samaritans). Think of a back-up in case your preferred option is unreachable. Save their contact numbers into your phone so that they are always at hand.

There are also some great apps that provide information about mental health, trackers to record how you’re feeling, and relaxation techniques. You can download many of them onto your phone free of charge.

Whatever you do, please don’t struggle in silence, and encourage your staff to talk about their mental health; there’s a lot of help and support out there to help us get through these difficult times.

How to find a counsellor

If you want to be able to choose a counsellor, and/or the NHS waiting list in your area is long, the National Counselling Society has a register of qualified, insured, supervised counsellors. You can view their profiles and contact them directly through the website directory at: nationalcounsellingsociety.org

Lone working webinar

Being Well Together, the programme from the British Safety Council designed to help employers improve the health and wellbeing of their staff, is hosting a free webinar on 5 July in partnership with the National Counselling Society on supporting the mental health of lone and hybrid workers. Register here

Meg Moss is CEO of The National Counselling Society


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