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Emotional Health in the Coronavirus era

4 min read

As the Coronavirus has reached Romania, all of us are starting to follow in the media the growing numbers of cases and the precaution measures taken by the authorities. The same goes for companies. Multinational companies and small businesses alike are starting to prepare for the implications that the spreading of the virus can have on their productivity and businesses, by implementing work at home programs or by limiting business travel.

But how about the people? When dealing with an epidemic, one of the most difficult things to control is not necessarily the practical aspects of it – work at home, limit meetings, and business travel – but the personal factor. When people are stressed and preoccupied they tend to procrastinate more, lose sleep, develop anxiety and generally function harder.

What can you do as a company to help your people manage their emotional distress during these events and promote their mental wellbeing:

  1. Expect worry.

Even though not all employees are affected directly by the virus, it is normal that the news of the spreading and of growing cases affect them. Following the media coverage on this, talking with others about the virus can have a direct effect on their concentration. The emotional process that allows this is called empathy – the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes. Empathy allows the mind to accommodate to the news, to prepare mentally and emotionally.

But it also gives way to negative scenarios that can easily become all that employees can think about, especially because the effects of the spreading of the virus can have big personal and economic expenses.

This is absolutely normal, as the epidemic of Coronavirus has affected negatively the countries in which it has appeared. We as a nation haven’t confronted ourselves with events with this magnitude, so the novelty of the situation creates a wave of worry and uncertainty.

2. … but do not discount worry

It may be tempting to discount the worry and the constant conversations on the topic that people may have in this period. However, it would be a mistake because it would create the sense that the company is not taking this situation seriously and that you don’t trust your people to make critical thinking decisions.

Rather than penalize or ignore the constant conversations or the measures that some people feel that they need to take in order to stay safe, make an effort to understand and accommodate them. Trust your employees that they have the best interests of their peers, the company and their family at heart. Your responsibility as a company is to create a safe environment and take all the reasonable precautions for your business and employees.

3. Stay informed and deliver facts

In uncertain topics, the panic can be worse than the virus itself. If people are invaded with false news, hypothesis and presuppositions then the worry will likely transform into anxiety and panic. That is why relying upon credible accredited sources to take your recommendations from is essential.

It is important that you stay away from spreading sensational news or news that is based on biases and people’s personal stories. These can be gravely misinterpreted and create more harm than good. For example, consider the fact that although the virus is highly transmissible, in order to prevent it, the same hygiene measures used to contain any virus spreading in the flu season is used.

Also, encourage reasonable precaution measures. Stay home if you are sick, wash your hands regularly and cover your nose and your mouth with your elbow if you sneeze or cough are all elementary rules that can prevent the spreading of any virus including Coronavirus. Besides being concrete these actions help people stay safe and they also give employees a sense of what they can do to navigate this period.

4. Look for un-adaptive thinking traps

If you start to see that people are talking only about this, are watching the media constantly and that the concentration on other tasks is diminished, this might be a sign that people are starting to fall to irrational thinking traps. These are alarmist thinking patterns such as catastrophizing and fortune-telling. Catastrophizing means interpreting a situation as being the worst thing that could happen and failing to see alternative solutions or resolutions. Fortune-telling means seeing only one possible scenario of the spreading of the virus and focusing on the negative aspects of it, ignoring any other possible facts. Catastrophising and fortune-telling are the most common thinking traps that create anxiety and panic.

Tackling this situation may mean taking more concrete actions to dispute such beliefs – putting programs in place to address worst-case scenarios and create solutions to them. Ignoring this is not a good strategy, especially because these thinking traps can degenerate really quickly into full-blown anxiety.

Getting help from an outside counselor to address identifying and disputing these beliefs is another helpful method. This may mean workshops on emotional health during times of stress or even individual sessions to address irrational thinking.

Navigating a difficult and uncertain topic such as the spreading of the Coronavirus can put a toll on any company. However, using all critical thinking tools as well as a healthy dose of empathy and care for your employees can help you pass through this with more ease. It is normal to struggle with misinformation and mixed facts, but creating a culture of responsibility and mindful actions will eventually strengthen your company and employees.

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