Sir Cary Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, shares his top ten tips for academic staff on how they can take care of their mental health and wellbeing, and look out for their colleagues, families and students.
(1) Establish a work routine
Plan your working day and formulate a clear cut routine. Changing seasons and ever-changing national restrictions can disrupt your existing routine. Go back to the basics, and recalibrate your routine if necessary. Create a consistent structure for your working days, built around the workload you need to manage and taking care of yourself.
(2) Stay connected with your colleagues
It is important to stay connected with all your colleagues, especially those who may be more vulnerable at this time, including those who struggle with existing mental and physical health conditions. If you are a manager, you can’t communicate enough at this time – speak openly, honestly and regularly with your team. Try to avoid just sending an email, instead be a familiar, friendly face. A short face-to-face meeting or video call on Skype, Teams or Zoom can make all the difference, and is the best way to stay genuinely socially connected and support each other.
(3) Maintain relationships with your students
Make sure to regularly check-in with those who work more independently and are at greater risk of loneliness and isolation, such as PhD students and any student who is self-isolating. Some PhD and masters students may be worried about no longer being able collect vital data for their work, and may be experiencing stress as a result. Keep in touch regularly with your students and make sure they know that you are there to listen to their concerns and they are not alone.
(4) Spend time with your family
If you live with family, a partner or friends, make sure you prioritise preserving a healthy relationship with them whilst you work from home. Ensure you make time to spend with your children and those close to you to benefit your mental wellbeing. Setting aside this quality time will keep you grounded and reinforce your sense of identity during this uncertain time. Spending time with and thinking about others will also take your mind away from any of your own worries and stresses.
(5) Don’t overwork yourself
Many of us have now been working from home for longer than we would have initially anticipated, so it is important to take a fresh look at your work-life balance. Be wary of the rising tendency of presenteeism and feeling the pressure to work more than you need to. Do you find yourself regularly working, emailing and sat in meetings outside of your normal hours? Ask yourself, is it really necessary. If you’re working more, be aware of what you are giving up. Set boundaries and switch off to take care of your wellbeing.
(6) Keep regular sleeping hours
A good night-time routine is just as important as your daytime one. Reduce screen time in the evenings, plan time to wind down and relax at the end of the working day. Your pattern of sleep has the power to impact your energy levels, mood, relationships and your performance at work. Protect your sleep schedule and establish a good routine before bed.
(7) Reach out for support
A recent ONS survey conducted earlier this year found almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety also sharply increasing at this time. If you are feeling low, lonely, anxious or depressed, speak to your line manager, a trusted colleague, or your University’s Wellbeing services. Lots of help is available in the form of online counselling, resources and wider support networks.
(8) Get outside
Try to get out of the house once a day for to move your body, and expose yourself to full spectrum light. Our bodies need vitamin D3, provided to us by natural light. During short daylight hours in winter, we can’t rely on getting our fix after the working day. Try to get outside for some exercise and day light at lunchtime and build this into your routine. Getting a daily dose of vitamin D3 will not only benefit your mental health and help to combat symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but can also help strengthen your immune system to fight illness or COVID symptoms.
(9) Plan for the long-term
We will be living with the impacts of COVID-19, good and bad, for a long time into the future. We need to adapt our mind-set, to cope with the reality that we will be working from home for a while, and to structure our lives in the long-term. Take this time to reflect on your life, your priorities, your career, and to reconnect with both your partner and your children. What positive changes to your priorities and perspectives has the last six months brought to your life, and how can you implement these into your long term goals and plans. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
(10) Take a break
In the future, when any national and local restrictions ease, try and plan to have a break and get away for a short period of time. Holidays are important for our mental wellbeing and it helps to have a change of environment. When permitted, this could be as simple as one or two nights away, and taking the chance to connect with your wider family or a place that means something to you.