Stand up and take a few steps back. Now lift your leg. It’s broken. You can no longer use it. Now, try to step back to where you were. A little more challenging, right? Hopping on one foot isn’t as easy as walking with both legs. You may fall. Stumble. Be forced to crawl. Or give up.

This situation is easy for us to understand, evaluate the issue and come up with the solution. You have a broken leg. Go to a doctor, get your leg fixed, and you’ll have your normal standard of mobility back. Some people may just have a sprained ankle that needs an ice pack and a wrap; others may have a critical broken femur that requires surgery and months of recovery.

When there’s a previous physical injury that is not being addressed, it can make everyday tasks in your life more cumbersome. The same goes for mental health. Daily there are stressors, relationship conflicts, emotional lows and changes in our lives that can leave a mark. Just as you would seek help for a broken leg, we need to empower each other to reach out to mental health professionals in the same way.

Since the first few months of 2020, most American offices (if able) have switched to remote workspaces. Having the resources to do so is a privilege and has saved thousands of companies. But now, there’s a notable, prolonged distance between our colleagues like we’ve never experienced before. 

What makes working from home so difficult? 

People need people. It’s a saying in my family that is casually said as a reason for an action or an explanation for making plans. Changing COVID-19 best practices can wear down the motivation to make or rearrange plans rather than cancel.

Since the pandemic began, more than 40% of people who work from home have reported experiencing burnout, and 37% say they've been working longer hours than usual. And according to the CDC, more than 40% of Americans admitted to wrestling with mental health or substance abuse this year. If we’re honest, these numbers are probably not that surprising. 

But physical distancing for health does not mean social distancing from relationships in your life. We may be more physically distant than ever, but that doesn't mean your connections should erode. 

So what can we do for our mental health as well as our team’s? 

Step one: Look out for yourself

I love the team I work with. And I’m a part of that team — so if I’m not healthy, the team is not healthy either. The first step to improving the overall mental health of the community you are in is to get healthy yourself. 

Under the smoke of stressors unique to 2020 there are previous years of emotional trauma, relational conflicts, self critiques, and anxieties people are living with. For me, this time of the year is marked with the seasonal blues. Days get shorter and the sun huddles in a blanket of gray as the weather dips to a bitter cold. The good news is... knowledge is the first step and being self aware will greatly improve your quality of life.

This can look different for everybody, but I think it’s a great idea to talk to a counselor or therapist. Sometimes you need a trusted friend or mentor to hold you accountable for actually attending that therapy session, too. Similar to asking a friend to keep you accountable to going to the gym, a trusted friend can help you find the last-minute motivation to attend your sessions when you’re feeling down.

Dr. Renee Lertzman made a great point about finding support from like-minded people:

“You want to connect with people who can accept you and handle your feelings no matter what you’re feeling. A counselor, a therapist, a spiritual teacher, an old friend. People who are safe for you to connect with. We need to really not feel alone.”

Step two: Look out for your colleagues 

People need people. You spend on average 40 hours a week working beside your coworkers (even if it's digital connections bridging between multiple timezones). We have great lines of communication — let’s use them.

Create a space to just be you with your team and intentionally build those working relationships. Have a quick impromptu conversation about a project question on a video chat rather than an email. Suggest a virtual happy hour or game for the team. Encourage brain breaks. Better yet, who doesn't love a challenge? Find a fantasy football league or workout challenge and invite your team to do the challenge together. (Just watch out for the Kevin Comer “Waist Management” Challenge of 2019.)

The Ample team working out during the "Waist Management” Challenge

At Ample, we use Slack channels for daily chatter in the office including: #noms (for the foodies), #good-listens-only (for the playlists), #ample-ladies (lots of reality show talk), and #quarantine-fun (a hodgepodge of fun things).

#noms Slack channel

Building a community will not only help with you and your teammates’ mental health, but will also make you aware when someone is struggling. Your work bud seems off? Check in and see if they are ok. Being genuine and caring for those around you always pays off. 

Step three: Infuse social time into your routine 

Don’t be afraid to get creative. I have a standing Zoom call with a few close friends at 9pm on Tuesdays — we call it our Squad Huddle. Sometimes one of us can't make it, but putting it on the calendar and making it a part of my routine helped build a habit of social interaction. 

I also am a part of a book club that started on Facebook and is simply tied to the city I live in. The book of the month is posted, whoever can read and then a chat thread is started. Try searching your city, your interests, or your favorite book genre into Facebook with the keyword “book club.” There are tons of virtual ones that are open to new members.

Setting a regular time for a virtual coffee or a walking date with a friend. With the weather changing I have moved my walks with a friend to an indoor track where we can respect health protocols and still catch up. (Bonus: 45 min of walking can help decrease depression).

At this point in 2020, we are all  a feeling mental fatigue from a tumultuous year. As we head into 2021, let’s start making intentional efforts to reboot, reach out, and recharge.

Contact Mental Health America to find resources closest to you or call 1-800-273-8255, a 24 hour crisis center. Need to reach out? Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Or contact Mental Health America to find resources closest to you or call 1-800-273-8255, a 24 hour crisis center.

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