In ways both large and small, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how we go about daily life. There are the expected ways—like working from home or gearing up for work on site with extra precaution, managing care for vulnerable loved ones and adjusting to remote learning—and the unexpected ways—like an uptick in screen hours or an increased feeling of isolation. We’ve had to stop and reorder our priorities, including paying attention to things we may have neglected before the pandemic.
Mental health is one of those issues that has garnered increased awareness over the last year, and rightly so. With compounding stressors, increased distance, and a general feeling of uncertainty, mental health is a key matter of well-being, maybe now more than ever.
We caught up with a few of our associates to ask them how they are taking care of their mental well-being and promoting self-care during this season. Meet Jeremy Graham, vice president of human resources based in the United Kingdom; Dave Brothers, business applications developer from the U.S.; and Andrea Gray, digital marketing manager for Westex by Milliken based in the U.S.
How have you changed your outlook on or prioritized self-care? What does self-care look like to you?
Jeremy Graham: I’ve certainly changed how I prioritize self-care. I now make sure I take time to relax and recharge when I can—paying attention to my diet and exercise regime and keeping an eye on my working hours. I listen to my body clock more, taking a nap if I’m tired and have time to do so. Finally, we walk a lot more as well—rain or shine—just to get out during lockdown where we can.
Dave Brothers: I was horrible at self-care long before COVID-19, and the first couple of weeks home, I was at my absolute lifetime worst. I put on a happy face and called myself “productive,” but I wasn’t. I was sitting at a computer for 10+ hours a day, much of it wasted. It was all too easy to do because my work was always right there in my space. It offered an easy answer to someone who was depressed and quietly searching for a distraction. So, I took a week off mid-July and spent that time deliberately examining and being honest about how my behaviors were damaging to myself and my relationships. Part of what I accepted was our mental health truly follows the "pay yourself first" model—if you don't invest in yourself, you have no emotional capital to invest in others. Sure, I'd heard that a thousand times, but coming to understand it was something different.
Andrea Gray: I am remaining positive throughout this whole ordeal. At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost two loved ones within 24 hours of each other. After getting furloughed, my cousin was killed in a home invasion. Dealing with grief in the midst of having to be socially distant from people was rough. There were times where I just laid on the couch crying. Then one day, I decided to place my energy elsewhere. I started working on my lawn. Whenever I got upset, I would cut my grass. Whenever I wanted to cry, I planted some flowers. My yard has since shaped up nicely, and I get compliments all the time. Self-care, to me, looks like doing something that makes you happy and brings joy to your life.
How are you investing in your mental well-being?
JG: I invested in some new music equipment and bought some favourite old vinyl records to listen to, reminisce, and relax. I also spent a lot more time in my garden. It’s small, but I am lucky to have one to utilise during lockdown. I enjoy spending time working in it to take my mind off other worries.
Some friends of mine have set up ‘keeping in touch’ What’s App groups, including one where we are sharing music and building a pandemic playlist—currently over 300 songs and still going. This has helped me stay in touch with the people who are important to me. We also started a virtual family quiz every Saturday night. Lastly, I have been monitoring my news consumption, as it was hard to deal with the pandemic all day and sit and watch it at night. This includes limiting my social media usage.
DB: I've identified and prioritized things that give me joy and fulfillment. That involved me making an actual list on paper. It helps me visualize and affirm my priorities and avoid the convenient destructive distractions.
As a result, I have more compassion and love for myself, more energy for my family and friends, and I'm honestly more productive at work. These sound like simple, common things, and they are. The trick for me was understanding that it’s not the things that matter so much as using them as tools to be accountable to oneself. I am working on making and sticking to life priorities and being mindful about why they’re important.
AG: I take “me” time and do something for myself each week. I also limit the news and social media. When I am on social media, my preference is Pinterest and YouTube, so I can try new recipes and techniques for my lawn.
What are you doing differently as part of your “new normal”?
JG: With lockdown easing, we are getting out and about more. We’re lucky to have a VW camper van, and we get away most weekends if we can. I’m also getting up earlier, taking time to exercise now our gyms are open, enjoy a cup of coffee, and read the paper before starting work.
DB: I enjoy being outside, so I walk my neighborhood every day after I eat lunch. Bonus: this makes me take a lunch break! Music is a big part of my life and deeply impacts my mood, so I set aside time to practice every day, and I'm listening to a lot more "relax"-type playlists on Spotify. I use https://mynoise.net/ during the workday to cultivate a chilled-out atmosphere at home. The hardest thing for me was that I really do love my job and get to do exciting stuff every day; I had to draw a hard line and cut myself off from a destructive amount of immersion. You can have too much of a good thing.
AG: I watch less television, and I check in with people more on FaceTime or Zoom. Caring for my flowers each morning has been very relaxing.
Caring for your mental health is an important part of everyone’s day. Visit MentalHealth.gov for leading resources and advice if you need help prioritizing your mental health.