Welcome to the August edition of ‘Blogger of the Month’. This month’s guest blogger is our very own CEO, John Philp, writing from his home in Scotland.
In this edition, John acknowledges the challenges and impact which Covid-19 has presented to us, since its emergence in early 2020. His focus is on our collective global recovery and what we can all do to safeguard our mental health during these exceptional times.
He also attempts to answer the question what might the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic be for us and will things ever be the same again?’
Who would have believed as we said ‘goodbye’ to 2019 and ‘hello’ to 2020 that in only a few short months, our lives would change so drastically? Not since The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, which infected an estimated 500 million people, about one-third of the planet’s population, have we ever had to make such major personal sacrifices and changes in how we carry out our daily routines. Sacrifices and changes which have included: the abrupt ending of old habits; the immediate adoption of new ones; the embracing of new virtual meeting technologies and of course our need to engage with family and friends in a way that we have never had to do before. Learning how to communicate and stay connected with both our professional networks and our loved ones has never been more important than it is now.
Every world expert on the subject of COVID -19 has fundamentally the same prognosis – “We will get through this and in time, we will return to a more acceptable normal”. What is uncertain is how long this journey will take and what will the true cost be to human lives, private businesses, public services and possibly most importantly of all - personal relationships? As social distancing and the need to work from home for almost the last 18 months, has prevented us from being close to many of our work colleagues, close friends and family members, this has had compounding detrimental consequences on all our lives. Consequences which include the possible deterioration in our ‘mental health’. This is a subject that many cultures around the world have difficulty in discussing. Some people (wrongly) perceive that admitting their mental health is suffering is somehow an admission of weakness, or something that should never happen to them. The truth is, all of us have a mental health condition and that condition can and will vary depending on a number of circumstances.
On certain days, our mental health can be incredibly positive, we feel in control and feel that we are living our lives to the full. On other days, we feel out of control and that we are being lived by our lives with little or no control on what is happening to us – we feel as though we are victims and powerless. Both conditions are normal and it is important to acknowledge to yourself that it is OK to not feel OK.
As we progress on positively in the belief that ‘things will return to normal soon’, an important part of keeping fit and healthy for the future, is to take care of your own mental health. There are literally hundreds of on-line support forums to be found on the internet, which confirm many of the actions you can take to help maintain a healthy mental well-being. I have done a bit of research on this and list below my Top 10. Go on give them a go. You may just feel a whole lot better for doing so.
10 Top Tips for maintaining good mental well-being:
1. Get enough sleep:
Sleep is critically important for our physical and mental health. Sleep helps to regulate the chemicals in our brain that transmit information. These chemicals are essential in managing our moods and emotions. If we don't get enough sleep, this often leads to feelings of depression or anxiety. Plan on getting around 8 hours of sleep per night.
2. Eat a well-balanced diet:
Eating a balanced diet isn't just important for our bodies, but it's also important for our minds. Certain mineral deficiencies, such as iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, can give us a low mood. Try to eat a balanced diet. If you find you're a particularly stressed or anxious person, you should try to avoid drinking too many caffeine-based drinks after your evening meal.
3. Reduce consumption of alcohol and smoking:
Drinking and smoking can cause certain symptoms which impact on your mental health. When you've had a few drinks, you can feel more depressed and anxious the next day, and it can be harder to concentrate. Excessive drinking for prolonged periods can leave you with a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is important for our brain function and a deficiency can lead to severe memory problems, motor (coordination) problems, confusion and eye problems. If you smoke, between cigarettes your body and brain go into withdrawal which can make you irritable and anxious.
4. Get enough sunlight:
Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important vitamin for our bodies and our brains. It helps our brains to release chemicals which improve our mood, like endorphins and serotonin. Try to go out in the sun when you can, but make sure you keep your skin and eyes safe. 30 minutes to two hours a day of sunlight is ideal. During the winter, some people become depressed because they aren't getting enough sunlight - this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a very common ailment in Northern Europe and some people find using a special light-therapy lamp helps to alleviate the symptoms.
5. Manage pressure and stress:
Pressure in life is good, it helps to motivate us to perform well, however, when our ability to cope is hindered by our over-commitment to tasks and acceptance of responsibilities, then very often we enter the whole arena of stress. Stress is not good, stress is both physically and psychologically damaging and if left unchallenged, it can be a killer. Knowing what triggers your stress and knowing how to cope is key to maintaining good mental health. Try to manage your responsibilities and tasks by making a list or a schedule of when you can resolve each issue. Often if you break down your responsibilities and tasks and write them down, you realise that they are manageable. Try to avoid burying your head in the sand, and tackle problems face on. Learn to say no, positively and assertively. If you find you are having trouble sleeping or are waking up thinking about all of the things that are stressing you out, write them down, park them and reassure yourself that you can deal with them in the morning.
6. Get sufficient physical activity and exercise:
Activity and exercise are essential in maintaining good mental health. Being active not only gives you a sense of achievement, but it boosts the chemicals in your brain that help put you in a good mood. Exercising can help eliminate low mood, anxiety, stress and feeling tired and lazy. It is also linked to living a longer life. You don't need to run a marathon or play 90 minutes of football; a short walk or some another gentle activity might do the trick.
7. Do something which makes you feel happy:
Try to make time for doing the fun things you enjoy. If you like going for a walk, painting, listening to music or catching up on a specific TV show, try to set aside time for these pursuits. If you don't invest sufficient time in yourself, spending time doing the things you enjoy, then you will inevitably become irritable and unhappy.
8. Make time to contact those who are important in your life and be sociable:
Try to maintain good relationships and talk to people whenever you get the chance. Having friends is important not just for your self-esteem, but also for providing support when you're not feeling too great. Research has found that talking to others for just ten minutes can improve self-esteem and provide a greater sense of purpose when dealing with challenging times.
9. Be kind to others:
Helping others isn't just good for the people you're helping; it's good for you too. Helping someone can help with your self-esteem and make you feel good about your place in the world. Feeling as though you're part of a community is an important element in achieving positive mental health. Try volunteering for a local charity, or just being neighbourly. In simple terms, be kind. Things look a lot better when kindness prevails
10. Ask for help:
One of the most important ways to keep yourself mentally healthy is to recognise when you're not feeling good, and to know when to ask for help. There's no shame in asking someone for support if you're feeling low or stressed. Everyone goes through patches where they don't feel as good as they would like to. You can try speaking to your friends or family, or if you think your mental health is getting on top of you then you can speak to your GP.
So, “what might the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic be for us and will things ever be the same again”? The simple answer is we just don’t know. However, one thing is certain, these dark days will pass and when they do, we will all have acquired new ways of working and cooperating with our fellow humans.
Let us be more appreciative of those around us, who, up until now we may have taken for granted. Let’s focus on what’s really most important, such as the kindness and compassion we are giving to and receiving from our neighbours, friends, colleagues and family members.
I am fortunate to have a very supportive professional network of colleagues, associates, clients and friends in the business. These are people with whom I have worked with over many years and it has been inspiring to see how so many have risen to the challenge, keeping communication lines open, through weekly virtual coffee catch ups on ZOOM, or just the occasional call out of the blue, or the WhatsApp message or email asking how I am doing? I know how good these have made me feel, so I try to reciprocate as often as possible.
I know from the many conversations that I’ve had recently; we now have a better understanding and appreciation of who and what is really important to ensuring the quality of our lives. We now know that the ‘essential workers’ are really those ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors, care workers, shop staff, lorry drivers, parcel delivery drivers and all those on the front line of this pandemic, those who work tirelessly to ensure we are still living a reasonably comfortable life right now and that we can look forward positively for better days ahead.
I wish for you that the better days ahead will soon to be here. Stay safe and well..