As a species we are social beings and isolation is extremely detrimental to our mental health. PT and performance coach Susy Natal looks at four behaviours to help us stay on track.
THE QUICK READ
- Routines are psychologically comforting, so, when isolated at home, it can be helpful to create a daily schedule similar to the one you had when you were working in the gym or studio
- Just as you schedule work responsibilities, it is important to arrange regular times for calls, video calls and other forms of virtual interaction with family and loved ones
- There are a number of free and government-supported services available if you want to connect with a mental health professional
- If you are missing your usual sense of purpose, you may want to explore other ways in which you can contribute to the wellbeing of your local community
- To avoid emotional burnout, it is vital that you prioritise self-care.
The start of this decade has been a very difficult time. In Australia we had only just started breathing clear air after the bushfires before we were confronted with a global pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways none of us have previously experienced, and could never have expected.
It’s true what they say: we’re all in this together. Everyone is impacted, albeit to varying degrees. So many people are without work and worried for the health of loved ones, particularly the elderly, as well as being concerned for their own wellbeing. While we are all affected in our own ways, it is becoming increasingly clear, as the weeks and months of ‘business as unusual’ wear on, that we must address the issue of mental health.
As gyms closed, so did the doors to the ‘happy place’ for hundreds of thousands of Australians who don’t just go to the gym because they need to work out, but because they love doing so. Social distancing has left many feeling that they have lost access to their support network. Many fitness professionals and clients alike are facing financial hardship and the very real concern of entire businesses going under.
Those who have successfully created, or already had, an online option for their clients may have been able to reduce the impact of losing the ability to train clients face-to-face. While they may be envied by those not in such a position, they still face the daily challenge of supporting clients who are going through these same challenges, which is no easy task.
However you may have been personally impacted, you might want to consider the following points as you navigate the days, weeks and months ahead.
Routines are extremely comforting psychologically, but also create flow to our days. Having those guiding tracks kicked out from under your feet can create a great deal of overwhelm. It may seem counter-intuitive, but many people will find that, despite having significantly more spare time than previously, they are struggling to achieve much. The ongoing feeling that you simply cannot get much done anymore can induce stress. This could be due, in part, to a lack of routine.
There is a limit to how many decisions we can make in a day before we start to experience fatigue, and making on-the-fly decisions about when to do each thing may be causing you a lot of mental strain.
Creating a schedule similar to the one you had when you were working in the gym or studio could be a saving grace here. Have a set time that you get up, eat meal times, do your workouts, check and send emails, make work-related calls, work on programming and undertake any other responsibilities and duty of care to clients you currently have.
By doing this, you need only make the decision about when you dedicate time to these tasks once – when you set up your schedule. From that point on, allow it to tell you what is next in the flow of your day. This seemingly simple process can leave your mind fresher, so you can expend that mental energy on the actual tasks that you need to work on. Your schedule should not be limited to work, however: also schedule self-care activities such as meditation, time in the sun, baths or whatever helps you feel more relaxed and refreshed.
While we may not be able to go out and spend time with others in the way that we normally would, it is vital to find ways to remain connected to those who are important to you. While some people require more social interaction, and others less, as a species we are social beings and complete isolation is extremely detrimental to our mental health. Just as you might schedule your day-to-day work responsibilities (as per above), arrange regular times for calls, video calls and other forms of virtual interaction with your loved ones.
There may be instances where the connection you seek is with a mental health professional: such support is more important than ever and is still available to you. Many psychologists and other mental health professionals are currently offering socially distanced face-to-face appointments or virtual appointments for those who feel safer remaining at home. Importantly, virtual appointments may not fall under the Medicare mental health care plan, or your current financial situation might not lend itself to seeing a psychologist.
These links provide more information about accessing free online and phone support.
Everyone has days when they don’t feel like working, studying or doing whatever life admin tasks are on their to-do lists. However tiresome our responsibilities might feel on such days, these are the things that bring our lives meaning. For fitness professionals, the purpose of getting up every day to help others is an enormous part of our identity, and something that has been stripped away. To have purpose taken away can greatly impact feelings of self-worth, with some rather serious knock-on effects to general mental health.
While for some it may be practical to move to an online business model and continue being of service to others in that way, for others this is not a viable option. If this is you, and you miss the ability to help others, then it may be worth exploring other ways in which you can contribute in your wider community while you are unable to return to business as usual. This could mean helping older neighbours by doing their grocery runs for them, or organising phone calls with others who may be experiencing extreme isolation and need somebody to talk to. Many people have been dedicating their spare time to making fabric masks for members of their community who might otherwise not have access to them. If you are healthy, donating blood right now is more important than ever, as the need for it never stops, but supply is down with so many people staying home. You can find out more at donateblood.com.au
Emotional burnout is a very real state, and as people who work to support the wellbeing of others, it’s something that we need to keep an eye out for in ourselves. While it is important to look after each other at a time when everybody is struggling, it is vital that you prioritise self-care to preserve your mental health.
In addition to the actions outlined above, this means setting healthy boundaries to ensure that you are not giving away so much of yourself that you are left feeling emotionally worn out. One way of doing this is to set specific times or protocols for making yourself available to your clients, so that you are not permanently on-call. You could make it clear that you are available to be contacted via phone between certain hours only, but that they may also contact you regarding non-urgent matters via email or messaging.
While we are well placed to assist clients in developing growth mindsets and help them focus on adopting positive behaviours, we must also know our limits: rather than stepping beyond our scope of practice we must recognise when to refer clients who are struggling most to mental health professionals. Attempting to solve the deeper mental challenges of others without possessing the qualifications and skills to do so will not do us or them any favours.
It is also important to set healthy boundaries around what and how much media you consume each day, particularly with regards news. While things are changing all the time, there is a limit to how beneficial it really is to find out every little detail. Beyond a certain point, it just becomes an onslaught of negative messages that can lead to feelings of fear, panic and overwhelm. Make clear decisions about how often and when you will consume this media, and prioritise the consumption of positive information and entertainment.
We are not just work machines – having some downtime, playtime, and regeneration time is going to be incredibly important to help us take the best possible care of our mental health and get through the next few months.
Susy is a Sydney-based performance coach, personal trainer, wellness writer and convention presenter. With a background in psychology and a focus on strength training for females, her integrated approach to training helps clients, ranging from beginners to athletes, achieve strength of body and mind.