How to manage your mental wellbeing during COVID-19

COVID-19 has compounded the stress of being an entrepreneur but it's in times like this that you need to prioritise your mental wellbeing.
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“Hey fam! We’re on a break from tomorrow for the national lockdown, and aren’t sure when we’ll be back. But we hope you’ll stay safe and indoors during this time.”

This sort of text might be familiar to you from the days leading up to the national lockdown. You might have sent this SMS on behalf of your business, or you might have received them from your favourite take-out spots and retailers. It was a sign of what was to come. Across the country, thousands of small businesses closed their doors – some perhaps permanently – and this has left a mark on the mental wellbeing of everyone in the country. 

“We are dealing with two contagions — the virus itself and the emotions it generates. Negative emotions are every bit as contagious as the virus, and they’re also toxic."

*Emily Pine and Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business Review

Collective grief

The incoherence that COVID-19 has brought to daily life is overwhelming. It is scary. As we enter the 21-day national lockdown, the unsettling feelings creep in. Collectively, our minds race with questions:

What does this mean for me, my family and business? What will the future hold? How will we recover? When will it end? 

The questions prompting these feelings are grief, according to David Kessler, an expert in recognising and coping with grief in its many forms. COVID-19 has shifted our mindset about the world, about health and our bodies – and forced us to reckon with our own mortality, and that of our loved ones. It has caused a deep impact in our imagined futures. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to soothe these emotions, and only you are best equipped to decide how you will cope with it. Here are our recommendations for understanding and looking after your mental wellbeing. 

Wellbeing or productivity? Prioritise your health

First, don’t force yourself to jump straight into planning, re-strategising and scheduling one Zoom meeting after the other. As with any major shock, you need time to process your feelings and response, as well as time to care for your loved ones. You may even find that time and space give you better clarity for decision making and creativity

Second, if you have a family at home to take care of, putting pressure on yourself to work, and maintain your usual levels of productivity will exhaust you.  

Right now, your physical and mental wellbeing are of utmost importance. 

Nic Haralambous, one of the keynote speakers at the Yoco Exchange has written extensively about the misconception that to be an entrepreneur it means work must come first. 

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the world around you and we need to minimise how it compounds the stress of being an entrepreneur. 

We are all in this together. 

Physical distancing, emotional closeness

The lockdown has separated us from friends and family, and removed the comforts that we might turn to in times of stress like spending time outdoors, going to restaurants, or exercising. But human beings are nothing if inventive, and there are no shortage of ways to stay connected with each other. 

WhatsApp, SMS communication and calling friends and family help reduce the disconnect we’re experiencing. Houseparty, is a video chat app that allows you to hang out with your friends, and Instagram launched a new media feature, which allows multiple people to browse feeds together. And then there’s a wealth of online social media platforms at our fingertips to find content that delights, inspires, and makes us laugh

But there is also something to be said for logging off when you’re feeling inundated by family group WhatsApps, or an endless stream of information about COVID-19 on Twitter. 

During this time practice regular on– and offline time to find the right balance. 

Stay up to date, but not inundated

Keep up to date with official news from the National Department of Health on WhatsApp by sending “Hi” to 060 012 3456, and get World Health Organisation health alerts here

The National Institute of Communicable Disease’s Twitter account also provides up-to-date and accurate information about the on-going spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Aside from these official sources, do your best to control the amount of media around COVID-19 you consume. Too much of it and you may find your days overtaken with panic and worry.

Get the endorphins flowing

With gyms closed and physical activity outside the house prohibited, it’s easy to forget to move your body. Anxiety and distressing emotions cause our bodies to tense up, and some good old-fashioned blood-pumping exercise can help keep your mind healthy too. 

Many people are moving to app-based fitness routines, or trainers. There are even a number of teachers who are moving their classes online. From weight-lifting to yoga, find some free-to-use apps here

Youtube is also a great place to find fitness routines, exercises and more.

Otherwise, get active by playing games as a family. Chasing after a toddler will probably give you just as much of a workout as a Zumba class. Either way, exercise is a great way to keep your physical and mental wellbeing in balance

Cultivate a calm mind

Mindfulness is more than a fad – it’s an essential way of grounding yourself, especially in these overwhelming times. Weathering the Storm, a free-to-use section of the Headspace app, was created especially for users during the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers sleep, meditation and movement exercises to help you out. 

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group have recently launched an online toolkit for dealing with COVID-19, as well as offering WhatsApp and telephonic counselling services. 

If you struggle with mindfulness and meditation, you can always simply make time every day for a little peace and quiet with your favourite book or a cup of tea

Cultivating calm is about finding something that puts you at ease, and dedicating 10 to 30 minutes a day practicing it. 

These are just a few of the ways to take care of your mental wellbeing in the time of COVID-19.

For more ideas, take a look at this blog from Heavy Chef. #StaySafe

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