Under normal circumstances, opportunities to feel pressure within the public relations industry are not uncommon – balancing multiple client and program needs, staying on top of the news cycle, and achieving the results expected can be a lot to juggle at once. Throw in a global pandemic and you’ve got yourself quite the stress-filled cocktail.
Like many of us, working from home has shown me how much I value the emotional support that comes from being around colleagues in the office – a quick lighthearted conversation in passing, taking a break to eat together, or even visibly sharing frustrations when hitting a mental wall are all comforting aspects that make long or tough days more manageable. While there are productivity positives that come with working from home, working within the challenging climate that is COVID-19 while away from your workplace support system can trigger stress and anxiety in even the best of us.
As some industries get clearer on their return-to-work next steps, PR’s plan is still a bit murky – meaning the importance of learning to manage your mental health while continuing to work from home has never been more important.
While I can’t provide the expertise of a mental health professional, I have been paying close attention to the things that can help or hurt any anxiety I feel while working at home. Some may seem relatively intuitive, but hopefully at least one can be of use to other practitioners:
Being a professional communicator doesn’t always mean that the skill translates personally. For many of us, speaking up when overwhelmed or feeling ‘off’ can feel like admitting defeat, but it’s quite the opposite. Everyone has physical and emotional limitations and speaking to teammates about when these are nearing is a way to prevent deliverables from being missed or quality of work from being impacted, both of which can further stress down the road. Nine times out of ten, your team will be able to pick up where need be and give you some breathing room to focus on getting back to your “A game”.
2. If need be, forcibly shut yourself down
There is endless work to do in a news cycle that changes by the minute but attending to it all the time would mean that the workday is also endless. Powering down and mentally checking out from work is not negligent, it’s necessary. As someone who normally has difficulty doing this, I’ve seen the difference it can make while working from home. Physically closing my laptop at the end of the workday, even if I don’t feel completely ready, has often made the difference between feeling refreshed the following morning or more mentally tired than I would like. Using this time to get outside, go for a drive, or completely tune out while watching mindless TV are just a few ways to take a breath after a long day.
3. Practice some self compassion
While working in quarantine, I’ve stumbled upon the concept of self-compassion, which looks to teach you to offer yourself the emotional support that you’d expect from or give to others who are feeling stressed, anxious, or at times, a bit defeated. As mentioned, it’s often the shared moments or conversations with colleagues that can calm uneasy feelings, so being without that almost makes this practice more important than ever. When feeling the pressure of impending deadlines or quick client requests, there’s a few key pillars of self-compassion that may help you guide yourself through it while physically alone at home:
- i. You’re not actually alone – you’re definitely not the first person to experience frustrations or challenges while working through the pandemic and you won’t be the last. Reminding yourself of this the next time a pitch goes unanswered or you hit writer’s block can make figuring out the next steps a bit easier.
- ii. Try mindfulness vs. over-identification – perceiving something as a potential failure does not mean that you, as a professional, are a failure. Avoid over-identifying with thoughts and feelings in a moment of stress and try to incorporate mindful thinking, which a non-judgemental way to observe thoughts without taking them on.
- iii. Try to be a bit kinder to yourself – it may seem unnatural at first, but instead of automatically exhibiting self-judgment when faced with workplace stress, be as understanding towards your situation as you would be if it belonged to a colleague. Easing yourself into a state of clear, calm thinking to tackle the next steps is much quicker when you’re being nice to you.
As our industry continues working through the pandemic, with a news cycle that’s busier than ever, it’s crucial to keep yourself mentally healthy and in check. There will always be a new challenge, project, or pitch on the horizon, but the only way to take them on effectively is with a clear mind.