The coronavirus affects different people in different ways. Some have lost loved ones and livelihoods. For the lucky ones it is an inconvenience. Billions are affected. Indeed not since the Second World War have so many people been traumatised at the same time. While it's easy to see the loss and hardship, other impacts of the pandemic are not yet fully evident. One of these will be a huge rise in global mental health illness, which, like the disease itself, will be felt on many different levels.
One of the issues workers will be facing is that of isolation, and the associated health problems this causes. Because, whilst we’ve all adapted to house parties (virtually of course), Zoom gatherings and WhatsApp conversations to help maintain some sense of connection, these tools can not replace aspects of social interactions that are vital to mental health.
The Importance of Social Interaction for Mental Health
Research tells us that the smallest social interactions (chats with the barista, laughs at the watercooler, greetings exchanged with colleagues) all boost ‘feel good’ hormones. Greetings exchanged with even vague acquaintances can have a surprisingly big impact on positive neurotransmitters.
For me it’s the man who has a news and coffee stall at the train station. He’s a Chelsea supporter and I’m a scouser. I know nothing about football but have a bit of banter with him, and pretend I'm an expert. It provides belonging and familiarity, which is good for wellbeing. Since changing the way we work at Laughology, I haven’t seen him at all and I miss this tiny regular interaction.
Technology does not bridge the social gap entirely. It doesn't allow for the handshake, the touch on the arm or the gentle pat that lets us know people care. These are all part of our human make-up. The little chats between those who arrive early for the meeting, or the knowing looking between conspirators sitting opposite each other. All these social interactions are vital for our mental health. They boost mood, strengthen relationships and, in the words of Blur, give us a sense of enormous wellbeing.
Tips for Positive Mental Health
So what do we do to compensate and stay positive? How do we have mood-boosting interactions in different ways and look at mental health virtually? Over the next few weeks, Laughology will be sharing more content on how to support positive mental health, prevent stress and anxiety and watch out for early signs of mental illness.
Here’s our top five tips to get you started:
If you are having a virtual meeting, let people know you’ll be in the virtual room 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after. This can allow for little chats and small talk and checking in on how people are. If you notice something that needs further time, you can then pick up 1:1 afterwards.
Just because conversations are virtual, doesn’t mean you have to be in one place to have them. Encourage people to take calls in parks and outside spaces, as long as it’s safe. It means you get a double social interaction because you see other people, doubling your mood boosting chemicals.
Make time for team chats that are not about work. Have a cake and tea day, encourage people to bake their own cakes or do something that creates a different conversation.
Be creative and try to find virtual alternatives for the team activities you would have done at work. If you are having a team meeting, have a dress up day or a wear-a-hat meeting. Make sure the people who are in the meeting are comfortable with your suggestion.
If you do get a chance to meet in a park, in person, in a safe way and everyone is happy with this, try doing it. At least once every other week. The benefits are huge, just being with other people in person will increase mood-boosting chemicals in the brain and lift your team immensely.