COVID-19 and all its ongoing impact has increased pressures on everyone, and we're seeing a rise in anxiety in many people.
We recently hosted a webinar featuring experts in the field of mindfulness and peak performance, to help you with practical tools to reduce anxiety.
Samantha Sutherland, who hosts WORK180's podcast Equality Talks, moderated a conversation offering tools and tips to reduce anxiety, with guests:
- Cameron Aggs, one of Australia's foremost mindfulness training specialists who has facilitated more than 200 professional mindfulness training programs in Australia and the UK. He is a Clinical Psychologist, an internationally published author on Mindfulness and is passionate about making mindfulness intuitive and easy to apply.
- Kerry O’Brien, a Volunteer Connector at Powerlink Queensland for MATES in Energy, a mental health and suicide prevention program for Energy Industry employees. Kerry is a Landholder Relations Advisor for Powerlink, she is active in local and global women in leadership and STEM initiatives, advocates for women in regional, rural and remote areas, and coaches women in community AFL drawing on Olympic level experiences.
- David Reid, a Forensic Mental Health Clinician who also runs a mental skills coaching consultancy for people and organizations striving for elite performance. He currently consults to a number of individual performers, athletes and coaches as well as corporate businesses and a number of sporting franchises including the Essendon Football Club, (AFL), Melbourne Stars (Big Bash) and the Chennai Superkings (Indian Premier League).
How People are Feeling
Cameron, you’re a clinical psychologist and specialist in corporate-focused mindfulness programs. What are you seeing in your clients and more generally at the moment in terms of increased anxiety and work-related stress?
“In my clinical practice I've been noticing an increase in distress, both in terms of anxiety and rates of depression. It seems nobody's escaping at the moment. It might be because of increased work or increased home pressures. And it certainly feels like there's also this global pressure - internationally, politically, geopolitically, there's all sorts of ways in which our sense of well-being and ease in the world is being constrained at the moment.”
Kerry, when we spoke prior to this webinar you mentioned that there is a lot of increased pressure right now, and people often have the tools but aren't looking after themselves. Can you talk a bit more about that?
“I think we're swimming in information and resources, but we don't always use them and we don't always remember to look after ourselves. We forget to set boundaries and limitations.
Many people have moved to a work from home scenario. I'm working from my kitchen table, there are people working in their lounge rooms, one of my colleagues is working from the tool bench in his shed it because that's the only space they've got. We've got to remember to care for others and care for ourselves.
I also think sometimes we're finding it difficult to separate the personal and professional sides of our lives because they're so intertwined. I think it's fundamental to make sure our nine to five doesn't turn into a five to nine.”
David, one of the things you have mentioned is the importance of normalizing what people are going through at the moment. We had 150 people sign up for this webinar so obviously it's affecting a lot of people, can you talk a bit about what you're seeing?
“[At the start of the webinar, we had] a lot of people reporting 8/10 in terms of their level of anxiety or distress. That's concerning enough. I think that being able to see that other people are having a shared experience is important for normalizing how people feel.
“There has been a lot of uncertainty and an acute adjustment phase. Now it's shifted a little bit, and I've noticed with people I'm consulting to being confined to our houses is starting to take its toll. I think it's really normal now to have a general malaise and to be struggling for motivation.
“I'm observing an emotional roller coaster of feeling stressed, confused, exhausted, irritable, difficulty sleeping, and certainly anxiety.”
Practical Tools and Tips
Scheduling and Planning
Kerry shared with us tips around scheduling and planning to get on top of the increased workload and additional pressures. Structuring her days enabled her to “embrace self-care” which is crucial for maintaining good mental health.
Block Your Calendar
Kerry introduced a morning routine to start her day well and uses her “calendar as a self-care tool. I used to just use it to keep tabs on my meetings. Now, I've created color-coded blocks of time.”
“I found I was accepting meetings left, right and center, and everything was turning into a jumbled mess. I had no routine, all I had was chaos.” Now only a portion of her calendar is available to people to book meetings, and she books time for walks and breaks.
“I perform and function much better doing big chunks of work in the morning.” Kerry then reflects on her routine daily, weekly and fortnightly to see how things went and how she felt.“I see what I've missed, what's coming up, and how can I react, change and adapt.”
Shut off at the End of the Day
Clearly demarking the end of her work day helps Kerry maintain boundaries.
“At night, I turned everything off, shut it all down, unplug it, and I go put it in another room. So, I've actually ‘commuted’ home from work.”
Maintain Personal Activities
Kerry coaches women's football, and they introduced virtual training sessions. “We set targets that provided motivation for those that were feeling isolated. We asked, What are we training for? We're now looking towards returned to train and return to play."
Focus on Self Care
I'm fortunate that at our work we have a strong focus on Fit for Life and mental wellbeing. But it does take a lot of dialog within your team and within yourself to understand the importance of self care. If you try it for a while you start to feel the benefits of stress relief and reaffirms this does work. So give it a go.
Watch out for our next post with practical tools from Cameron and David on common thinking traps people fall into, and how to emotionally self-sooth.
Subscribe to our fortnightly Women at Work email to find out about new stories, events and career building resources
About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on flexible working, parental support policies, PTO and their focus on pay equity, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.