How to Take Care of Your Health and Well-Being in the Time of Coronavirus
By Ted Meissner
Recent developments in our global community have shown just how small the world has become. Just last week, the World Health Organization designated the COVID-19 infection as a pandemic (1). Countries update their response daily, and the Center for Disease Control has issued informational fact pages about the virus (2). And unfortunately, misinformation is also making the rounds (3), as well-intentioned people share what they've heard without critical thinking and fact-checking.
The result is that many people find themselves practicing social distancing (4) whenever possible as one of many measures to dampen the spread of illness, along with other measures. But human beings are social creatures, and for many, this can be a difficult experience on many levels. Here are a few things to consider during a time of segregation from in-person contact with others.
Over many years in the corporate world, I've worked in the office and remotely, and have been able to find the benefits, challenges, and efficiencies of both. As an IT professional, much of my work is with geographically disbursed teams, and as a mindfulness mentor, I've had the wonderful experience of teaching and partnering with people from all over the world -- while still being an effective leader.
Take Care of Your Health and Well-Being
There is good information available about how to take care of yourself and others' physical health, and while there are important facts to know about COVID-19 and practices to implement, it's also important to take care of your mental and emotional health.
- Get your information from reliable sources about healthcare, like the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization. Our well-meaning friends and family members may not always be the best sources of what to do, so check with trained medical professionals to be more confident you have the best information available.
- Nourish your mental and emotional health, too. Check-in with yourself throughout the day, avoiding overwhelm by taking appropriate breaks from work and social media. Consider listening to a guided meditation if that's helpful to you, reading a book, or reaching out to a family member, friend, or colleague to simply catch up with one another.
- Reach out to a mental health professional just as you would to a physical health professional when not feeling particularly well. One of the most unhelpful aspects of seeking therapy isn't about getting it -- that can be very helpful -- but the stigma attached to even seeking it. Allow yourself to reach out for this helping hand.
Managing Self and Others
You may be encouraged to work from home for the time being, and if you're not accustomed to that environment it can be disorienting at first. Here are a few ideas for those new to having a home office:
- Do your best to be in a location as distraction-free as possible. It doesn't mean there won't be sounds and activities in your environment that call your attention, but you can choose whether or not to follow them.
- Set an agenda for yourself and follow it, if you don't already have a day of activities and meetings planned. That structure can help keep you on track in this different working space, especially if it's where you usually set work aside and relax.
- Take a few moments and consider what would be most helpful to you from your leadership, making a few notes about that, and see what you might be able to do for those you lead either in work or in your personal life. What do you do as a leader in a difficult time? How do you model that for others?
Virtual Does Not Mean Disconnected
I've had the wonderful experience to work both in-person in office settings, and remotely from home or (while traveling) wherever I hung my hat. Certainly, they are different, and working from a home office does require some attention. Here's how to foster connecting with others online more than just digitally:
- Foster relationships by real-time chat instead of email, and even better, video instead of chat.
- When meeting online, whenever possible use audio and video. Much of human communication is non-verbal (5), and being able to see your colleagues’ faces and them being able to see yours is an indispensable aspect of better contact.
- When you do interact with others, ask about them genuinely. And listen to what they have to say. Think about the last time you were really listened to, not just heard, but listened to. Or perhaps the last time you were not; you were not even heard, you were ignored, interrupted, or the other person insisted on trying to "fix" what was going on in your life -- with their solutions, not really caring about what was best for you. Which do you find most helpful, most nurturing of trust and stronger connection?
- Don't forget to disconnect from the digital environment every so often and connect with your immediate and internal environment. Set aside the computer, the phone, the TV, and connect with yourself.
Remember, it can be beneficial to just check-in with yourself and see how you're doing. When you notice stress is higher when on social media, for example, give yourself permission to set that aside for a while. Nourishing your heart and mind is part of living a life of well-being, too!
Ted Meissner created the UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness MBSR live online program, is a Certified MBSR Teacher, and has been teaching mindfulness for over twenty years. He is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science, has been published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Mindful, and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He mentors MBSR teachers, holds a Masterclass for Oxford Mindfulness Centre on live online mindfulness program delivery, and is the Executive Director of Mindfulness Practice Center.