AAG continues to address concerns of individuals, employers, and organizations in the continuing and unpredictable COVID-19 era. For essential workers, those working from home, and others being called back to their worksite, questions loom about how we are staying healthy—physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. When it comes to health, the conversations primarily are about physical health—how to recognize COVID symptoms, self-protective measures including face masks, social distancing, wearing gloves at the grocery store, and washing groceries. Recent articles, however, are also discussing mental health and behaviors that may signal a decrease in emotional balance and mental wellness.
Mental Health Self-Awareness
There is a saying—“there is no health without mental health”, a reminder of the need to consider the intersection of physical and mental health. The article, “The Mental Health Crisis Generated By COVID-19: Why It’s Critical And How You Can Retain Your Sanity” (Bower, 2020) specified the types of emotions individuals may be experiencing. These include feeling more irritable, sadness, and emotional exhaustion. Bower cited a recent global study by Qualtrics indicating that individuals expressed a general decline in their mental health. This is further evidenced by procrastination, difficulty in thinking, and a general decrease in their productivity. When your work routine is altered without anticipation and your familiar lifestyle is altered, your sense of control and competency will understandably decrease—you will feel off-balance. Establishing new routines for yourself, colleagues you Zoom with virtually, and family members in your home space over the last two months has likely not gone smoothly. If you are in a part of the country where seasonal affective disorder (SAD) tendencies prevail without COVID-19 in the picture, you may be feeling even more off kilter.
Threats to Emotional Balance: Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow’s (1943) five-tier pyramid model of the Hierarchy of Needs is relevant to the discussion about threats to emotional balance. The foundation of the pyramid is referred to as “basic needs”. At the baseline these are physiological needs for food, water, and warmth, and rest and safety needs for security and safety. Economic stressors are causing food insecurities for individuals and families and worries about paying the rent or mortgage. Racism toward Asians and other groups increases a threat to safety and security. There are visible examples of physical assaults on persons of Asian heritage in public spaces, many who are healthcare workers or other professionals and colleagues. How safe can they feel? With regard to our mental health, survival in the midst of a rampant illness also highlights a basic need to feel safe (McLeod, 2020).
The third and fourth tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy represent psychological needs. Our socio-emotional needs speak to a sense of belonging and love with friends and through intimate relations. In this time of uncertainty, social and emotional relations may become a greater priority. We all want to feel connected to others and feel that we matter; this supports emotional balance. People also have esteem needs often associated with their work identity and psychological well-being. These esteem needs are grounded in one’s sense of competency, prestige, and of being needed. When your employer furloughs you or reduces your work hours and salary, you may wonder about your importance to the organization even though logically you recognize that the business is not doing well. Having self-doubts about the future of your profession or work will also engender emotional imbalance.
At the top of the hierarchy of needs are self-fulfillment needs. Theoretically, individuals may experience their “full potential” based on what they have accomplished. However, it is unlikely that during the COVID-19 era self-fulfillment is being experienced. The likelihood is that the majority of us are preoccupied with physiological and psychological needs and struggling to keep emotionally balanced day-to-day—the first four tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Holistic Health Considerations
Health and wellness enthusiasts, daily meditators, and mental health advocates are sectors of the population that may be finding the need to attend to all parts of their being. By this we mean, attending to holistic health—mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual. American Indian people have long used the Medicine Wheel to provide lessons about different life stages—birth to old age and death, as well as holistic health. The Medicine Wheel may symbolize the self in its entirely—spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental. “If an individual lacks one aspect of the wheel, or one section is sick or lagging, the Medicine Wheel will remain unbalanced, and the self will not be whole” (Jean, 2003, May 15).
Ancient healing traditions from China, India, and American and South American Indians are often incorporated in practices that seem familiar to many. For example, yoga. The historic practice of yoga from India brings together the mind, spirit, and body through a focus on breathing, shutting out extraneous thoughts, and in Buddhism, “shamatha” means tranquil abiding, internally and in all parts of our being. Music for tranquility and healing from different traditions can be found on YouTube, Spotify, or other media channels.
At conferences, it is not unusual for meditation or guided imagery exercises to be used as part of the program opening. My AAG colleague, Dr. Norman Anderson, will lead exercises in mindfulness inviting conference participants to become centered and “in the moment”. Some businesses have also introduced prayer/meditation at retreats or weekly meetings, a means to create cognitive and emotional balance.
Self-care through Holistic Health practices
Working virtually may introduce unique ways to create social connectedness. Dr. Gigi Secuban, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio University has brought novel interventions to faculty, staff, and students at the university. Since the pandemic began in mid-March, she has hosted weekly cooking workshops. Recently she demonstrated how to prepare a steak chimichurri bowl, posting the ingredients for the steak marinade, chimichurri sauce, and homemade ranch dressing. Another intervention she hosts is a 5-minute yoga, meditation, and aerobic dance routine to get people out of their chairs.
Virtual meetings also seem to affirm social connectedness more than before. I personally notice on phone or Zoom calls that all meetings begin with a check-in about participants on the call. The virtual “happy hour” has also become a means to meet, decompress, and shift one’s energy in the company of others. With these simple practices, greater consideration and care is communicated.
In a recent interview I was asked to share some tips for self-care in the COVID-19 era. I reviewed the various holistic health practices I engage in and here is what I suggested:
- For nutrition: Eat three meals a day starting with a nourishing breakfast. Working from home is a perfect opportunity to begin the three-meals-a-day routine.
- Vitamins: There are multivitamins and others for specific purposes targeting the immune system. Vitamins C, D, and Calcium are on my daily list.
- Physical and mental nourishment comes by sleeping 8 hours a day. A well-rested body enhances the immune system and other parts of our holistic self.
- Initiate or maintain physical exercise. Though going out in extreme weather conditions is a challenge, in-home routines can be applied. Lifting small weights, stretching, and even walking around your house or apartment for a set number of minutes can relieve stress and improve breathing.
- More physical exercise: Tai-chi, yoga, zumba and other exercise routines are available online. I have friends who engage in the same yoga class daily through the internet though they are not together physically.
- Spiritual health: Meditation is a practice generally done in a quiet space to clear the mind through deep-breathing and increased focus. Meditation can be supported by listening to classical music, readings, or guided imagery practices.
- Movement from chair to chair and space to space can alleviate discomfort. Therapists and other professionals talk about the inordinate amount of sitting they do for meetings. Too much sitting will compromise the body. This can be interrupted deliberately by taking stretch breaks, moving around between meetings, changing positions, moving to another chair, and standing if you are not on camera.
- Zoom or other online meetings are now prevalent. Beginning meetings with conversation to promote social connections is encouraged. It may be characterized as “small talk” but it is conversation that can have meaning with colleagues and peers. Then, the business of the meeting goes on.
- Groups for meditation and prayer may also be formed online. The list of reasons to meet for social connections and non-work matters is endless.
- Cultivating a practice of scheduled meaningful activities at home can make passing time more worthwhile, produce growth, and increase feelings of accomplishment. There are many websites (https://www.edgarcayce.org/the-readings/health-and-wellness/holistic-health-database/; https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com) that provide guidance to the application of holistic health practices. Nothing is prescriptive but suggestions of practices—for greater balance.
Your Holistic Health Practices
AAG welcomes hearing about your practices for physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Just post in the AAG comment box and will compile your additional practices and share in the next blog. To your continued good health.
Brower, Tracy. “The Mental Health Crisis Generated By COVID-19: Why It’s Critical And How You Can Retain Your Sanity.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 Apr. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2020/04/14/the-mental-health-crisis-generated-by-covid-19-why-its-critical-and-how-you-can-retain-your-sanity/.
Jean, Terri. 365 Days Of Walking The Red Road: the Native American Path to Leading a Spiritual Life Every Day. F+W Media, 2003.
Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Contributions from Kayla Bird.