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How are you coping with COVID-19 stressors?

05 May 2020 Health Squared and Agility Employee Wellbeing

Feeling overwhelmed is a normal response to social distancing and restrictions

COVID-19 has shaken the security of our usual routines and presents a new, and therefore largely unknown, threat that is a source of significant stress and anxiety for many people. A potentially prolonged, gradual easing of national restrictions combined with the invisible and ever-present threat of the virus is causing a lingering sense of uncertainty for many South Africans.

“South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 threat has left the country in a pre-traumatic state characterised by high levels of uncertainty, a sense of diminished control and high levels of fear and helplessness,” says Health Squared’s consulting clinical psychologist Rucksana Christian.

“While this may feel overwhelming at times, it is an entirely normal reaction to the unfolding situation. Social distancing is a preventative measure in limiting the transmission of the virus, however it can also be isolating for many people.

“Lack of social support and the disruption to our daily lives can amplify fears about the virus and the unknowable consequences it may bring, to the point where these fears may become incapacitating,” she points out.

“Essential service personnel such as frontline health workers, security and supermarket staff, could potentially experience feelings of helplessness due to the possible exposure risks they face in the line of duty on a daily basis.

“A useful strategy for coping with these sources of stress is to focus one’s efforts on moving from a mental space of fear to one of a sense of control. When we take charge of the situation, we feel more empowered.”

Christian provides the following useful tips to help regain this sense of control:

• Create predictability in your own life, maintain a routine to help keep you focused;
• Equip yourself with the facts that come from reliable and validated sources only. Avoid social media and do not entertain rumours on the subject of COVID-19;
• Be aware of your response, acknowledge your emotions and engage the rational mind;
• Learn to control your emotional responses and to stay calm;
• Remain focused on your goals and purpose, accepting that these may now need to be attained in different ways;
• Be flexible, and consider how you may need to adapt your plans;
• Stay positive and trust the national processes in place;
• Use lockdown time to get closer to achieving your goals;
• Be mindful and focus on the present.

“Focusing your energy on aspects that are within your control and making the best of enforced time at home can reduce feelings of fear and helplessness about the situation. If you are having difficulty coping, reach out for support.”

Feeling overwhelmed? Reach out for support
For those who are struggling to cope, it is important to seek assistance before life becomes unmanageable. In addition to the public services available, employers who recognise the benefits of proactively managing human capital risk often provide access to more comprehensive support services through medical scheme benefits or employee wellbeing programmes.

Bianca Viljoen, spokesperson for Health Squared Medical Scheme, says that telephonic support services are proving particularly valuable at this time for employer groups enrolled on the scheme, who have access to legal, financial and psycho-social counselling via the complementary core Agility Employee Wellbeing Programme.

“The phased approach to easing lockdown means that most people will still be confined to their homes for some time to come, and stressors of all kinds are being amplified. While there is a gradual return of economic activity, the painful reality is many families are surviving on reduced income.

“Health Squared members and Agility clients have unlimited access to telephonic assistance with financial matters, psycho-social assistance and legal advice, which can provide helpful feedback to guide rational and reality-based decision making. In stressful times such as these, such services can assist individuals to better manage their response to the circumstances they are facing.”

Employer groups enrolled on Health Squared or making use of the Agility Corporate solution access these services through the free core Agility Employee Wellbeing Programme, which is available at affordable rates to all employer groups, while individual Health Squared members access the telephone assistance services through the Agility Rewards programme.

According to Viljoen, the benefit of this type of support in the current situation could make all the difference to the individual and their family, potentially for years to come.

“To illustrate just one of aspect these valuable employee wellbeing services, the financial assistance helpline offers individuals guidance to better manage their financial affairs. Many people may be tempted to take out loans or maximise their credit accounts, for example, without understanding the full implications such decisions could have for their future, and the helpline assists individuals to make more informed choices.

“Understanding how financial, legal and psychosocial difficulties may affect both mental and physical wellbeing, these telephonic assistance services offer practical and cost-effective support to remove sources of stress that might otherwise accumulate and grow. This is characteristic of the Agility Employee Wellbeing Programme, which is designed to not only identify, but also proactively manage human capital risk.

“The comprehensive support provided through this convenient entry-level solution offers an affordable means to proactively support and protect the mental wellbeing of staff members. As the lockdown is eased, this support will help to ensure the workforce is ready to function optimally, so that we can return to full productivity and contribute towards jump starting the economy as soon as possible,” Viljoen concluded.

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