What is the Covid effect when it come’s to our mental wellbeing?

We’ve been running refresher workshops for managers around how they can best support their people during what is a uniquely challenging period.  For the most part, we are revisiting our core mental health awareness and management content as most of what we teach is as relevant and valuable now as it was pre-Covid. 

However, we are also finding that understanding the additional and unique challenges that Covid-19 has brought and the impact on peoples wellbeing from a brain science perspective, is really equipping managers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to both look after themselves, and to provide management support to their team. 

What is the Covid Effect?

There are three additional considerations that Covid brings, which are having an impact on us all.

The first is ATTENTION

We are having to pay so much more attention now than we did before…
and to things that we didn’t have to pay attention to before.

We are paying attention to our hands:  remembering to wash them frequently, to use hand sanitiser often and especially as we enter office spaces, or shops.

We are paying attention to our face: avoiding touching it, making sure we have a mask with us whenever we leave the house… that it’s clean… and remembering to put it on when we enter a building which is not our home.

We are paying attention to our temperature: and when we’re not, other people are – checking it is normal as we enter buildings.

We are paying attention to not coughing:  even when we are outside, or clocking the person that’s coughing in the supermarket and keeping our distance… we are paying attention to checking in on track and trace apps, when we are allowed to go out.

We are paying attention to how we greet people:  standing apart from them… moving out of the way as people pass us.

We are paying attention to wiping down things we’ve touched:  like door handles and the mail when it arrives.

And, aside from all of that, just paying attention to and keeping up to date with what we can and can’t do as things have changed over time, and new restrictions, or measures, or research, or advice has been unveiled… working out what tier we are in, what tier someone else is in, where we can travel from and to, or through.

Understanding the different implications for different people that we know, based on their age, their ethnicity… and of course, their health.

These are all, in themselves, small things. Individually though, they contribute to the Covid effect:

They keep us on a small level of alert all the time and when they are combined, together, they create a hyper vigilance, which just keeps our brain in attention mode, checking that we are not creating hazards and actively seeking out threats… continually…

And this alert status is very taxing on the brain… it uses up energy that we are then not using for the things that perhaps would make us feel calmer, or more in control, and importantly, more able to focus on our wellbeing.

The second is ADAPTATION

We all had to adapt, didn’t we, to a new rhythm of life, unfamiliar methods of working and different ways of keeping in touch with people and initially, when we all went into lockdown, we did that well.

And that’s the thing.  Human beings are amazing.  Our ability to adapt is incredible and, for the most part, we’ve done a really great job of it, some of us coping better than others of course, depending on what that meant for us.

And then as the restrictions eased, we adapted again didn’t we….  we adapted to having a little more freedom and to having a sense of hope that things might be returning to normal.

And then as new measures were introduced, we adapted again…  we adapted to slightly different restrictions and to the reconciliation that perhaps things were not returning to normal as soon as we thought.

And then as a new lockdown was imposed, we adapted…. we adapted to staying at home again and it felt familiar, so we adapted well.

And then new tiers were introduced and we adapted… 

And then Christmas was a beacon of hope, and then it was taken away, and we adapted…

And then, we went into lockdown.

Each time, we’ve adapted and like I said, we are incredibly adaptable. 

However, if we remember that our brain interprets all change initially as a threat, and each time we’ve had to adapt to change, we’ve also had to deal with perceived threat and overcome that psychologically and emotionally… and as we’ve done that.. no sooner have we done that… and we’ve had to do it again….

This constant ADAPTATION contributes to the Covid effect: it is incredibly disruptive for our brain, and combined with the excessive ATTENTION, it has led to the third Covid-related consideration…

    The third is Anxiety and by that we mean increased ANXIETY

    Now, we already know that anxiety plays a big part in compromised mental health.  What we also know is that right now, with the level of restrictions and disruptions and changes and uncertainty, for many people, anxiety is heightened.

    That’s because there is genuinely more to worry about.

    It can feel like everything we care about is under threat.

    The news, social media – it’s all full of reasons to worry.

    And we’re all being affected in different ways.

    And that’s the Covid effect: many of us will be on alert now, even if we are not aware of it, for the next change, the next measures, the next restrictions… and that, in addition to the increased attention and need to adapt is very, very taxing on our brain – very.

    It’s no wonder we are seeing more signs in people of compromised wellbeing and it’s no wonder managers are seeking help with how to support them.

    Whilst the 3 Principles of Positivity are still valid, it’s HARDER to THINK positively when we are constantly presented with reasons not to.

    And when we feel less positive, it’s HARDER to take positive ACTION – we have to really think about doing it

    And our access to those we want to INTERACT with is limited to zoom, or outside… which make’s it much more CHALLENGING…

    A sound understanding of the additional and unique challenges that Covid-19 has brought and the impact on peoples wellbeing is vital for managers to be able to offer the right kind of support for their people.  And indeed for them to be able to look after their own mental wellbeing, to, in turn enable them to look after their team.

    To discuss how we can support your managers to support your people, get in touch.


    Visit the HSE website for current news about mental health.

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