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by Kaitlin McManus | October 26, 2020

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frustrated woman on laptop

Humans can acclimate to almost anything. That’s how, eight months into a pandemic, life is still happening. And it doesn’t feel normal, but we’re still pushing on as best we can. Even so, perhaps one of the most pervasive effects of a global pandemic is the accompanying mental health fallout. According to this survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 percent of adults have reported that stress and worrying over the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Increased stress has also led to an increased consumption of drugs and alcohol, poor eating habits, and interrupted sleep in some people. In short: If you’re struggling, you’re far from alone. And that’s why it’s important that we check in with the people around us—so we can connect as well as support one another. And while it’s sometimes considered rude to probe into your colleagues’ personal lives, I think that it’s perfectly appropriate to see how your co-workers are faring during tough times. So here’s some advice on how to make sure the people you work with are doing alright without overstepping boundaries.

Schedule Regular Update Meetings.

Meeting with your co-workers regularly is always important, and especially so now. Not only does it help to ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page regarding projects, deliverables, etc., but it’s also helpful to check in on what everyone’s workload is. If your workload feels a little light, you can learn which of your teammates can use your eyes and hands on their projects. The pandemic is already stressful enough—making sure that no one is also overwhelmed by work can be a huge step in relieving the stress of this cultural moment. These meetings can go a long way for your mental health, too—if you’re completely overwhelmed, it might be easier to have a regular designated time with your supervisor or team where you can alert them to any issues you may be having.

Check in Casually on a Regular Basis.

Even if you can’t meet with your co-workers over a Zoom call regularly, just saying “hi” on Slack or through text can be a great way to keep energies up and a connection strong. When work has got you pulling your hair out, there’s nothing like a quick chat with a work friend to perk you back up and put your feet on the ground. So make sure you reach out to your work friends—ask if they’ve seen that movie you guys were talking about a few weeks ago, what they thought of the book they read, or if their virtual game night yesterday was fun. It doesn’t have to be serious—but you might be surprised on how readily your co-workers open up to you when you show an interest in their lives.

Share Your Own Situation Too.

This is a tip usually aimed at leaders, but I find it works equally well for everyone on the team. Sharing your struggle makes you seem more human. It helps you to connect with the people around you. Not because misery loves company, but because humans bond over common experiences—and no one has it easy right now. So be sure to open up about the things that have become difficult for you too, whether getting the kids through remote school has been a nightmare, or if living on your own has been driving you a little insane. This can help your colleagues to feel more comfortable in opening up to you as well. That said, trust me when I say it’s better to be interested rather than interesting—so be sure to listen as well as share.

Mental health is a real and serious concern when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Eight months is a long time for anything, but it’s especially a long time to deal with fear and anxiety, to be stuck at home, and to be separated from just about everything that makes life feel “normal.” So in these times, it’s important to be kind and patient with those around us—including the people we work with. Stay strong out there, everyone.

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