Published May 13, 2020
Coping with coronavirus can mean dealing with increased daily stress and anxiety, managing information overload, financial stress and tolerating uncertainty, along with a range of emotions brought on by circumstances that often feel beyond our control.
As members of the UB community reconcile a new normal linked to COVID-19, familiar boundaries we expect to exist between work and other aspects of life may seem to disappear.
Concerns about personal and family health; what to do if you have to self-quarantine; fears of a job loss; balancing a home office with a home classroom; and the priority of staying in touch with family and friends can raise anxiety levels precipitated by the crisis.
“The open-endedness of this crisis puts more of a strain on people,” says Amy Myszka, director of benefits and work/life balance. “We don’t know what is going to happen next week, let alone next month.”
It is difficult for many workers today to maintain work/life balance in normal times, Myszka says, and almost impossible under the type of circumstances presented by COVID-19.
“We have a shared anxiety about all that is going on now, and this makes it more important to focus on what we can control,” she says.
“We would encourage people to reach out. Our Employee Assistance Program staff can offer guidance to help you re-set your thoughts and emotions, and regain your balance.
“Help can come in the form of talking with someone who can assist in prioritizing challenges or identifying a solution to a seemingly intractable problem,” she says.
“Working through the stress of a decision you may be facing, for example, by balancing a list of pros and cons against your priorities can reveal options that may be available to you more clearly.”
UB’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides information, assessment, problem-solving and referral services for all university faculty, staff, their families and retirees on any work-life concern.
EAP services are free, voluntary and confidential.
“We have more employees reaching out now, in this current environment,” Myszka says.
“Wellness and work/life balance are increasingly overlapping more than ever before. What works for each individual person is unique.”
More information on programs and services can be found on the Wellness and Work/Life Balance website.
Catherine Cook-Cottone, a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education, says a self-care plan can help you focus, work effectively and stay healthy.
“Self-care is associated with positive physical health, emotional well-being and mental health, says Cook-Cottone, a professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology whose areas of expertise include mind and body interventions, and mental health and wellness. “Mindful self-care is seen as the foundational work required for physical and emotional well-being. It is important to look after yourself, as a foundation for effectively supporting others.”
Mindful self-care integrates mindfulness and self-care. “At its core, mindfulness is a practice of focusing on the present moment.
“Often used as a therapeutic technique, it is a way of deepening your awareness, paying attention with curiosity and a loving kindness ─ without judgement ─ and letting go,” she says.
The practice of mindful self-care, says Cook-Cottone, adds certainty in a time of uncertainty: “You are not in control of events, but you can control how you respond to them. It is the nature of your awareness that matters. Self-regulation without judgement is effective for this reason.”
Cook-Cottone, who is also a yoga teacher and trainer, emphasizes that the human body reacts to the stress response.
“If you develop a practice that you integrate into each day ─ slowing down with long, deep breaths, for example ─ your body can count on these predictable experiences of breathing and associated down-regulation of the nervous system” she says.
“Take at least three full breaths, counting slowly with the inhale and counting slowly with the exhale. That begins to calm down the nervous system, grounding yourself by breathing in and out slowly in a rhythmic pattern.
“Mindfulness is a stress-mitigation practice that is there for you so when it gets tough, you know how to respond,” says Cook-Cottone.
We are all in great need of mindfulness techniques, she adds, which can help to attend to our bodies and emotions in a focused way.
A Mindful Self-Care Scale, created and validated by Cook-Cottone’s team at UB to assist people in planning out self-care, is accessible on the GSE web page.
The 33-item scale measures the self-reported frequency of behaviors that measure self-care behavior. There is no charge to take the assessment.
Regular exercise is a key component of the Mindful Self-Care Scale, as well as the benefits counseling offered by Wellness and Work/Life Balance.
“The World Health Organization views health holistically as ‘a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being,’” says Sharon Sanford, associate athletic director. “Recreation serves to engage the physical aspect of wellness.”
Sanford says physical activity ─ including participating in virtual activities ─ can improve individual resilience, along with coping mechanisms, in managing day-to-day stress brought on by COVID-19.
“We have established valuable partnerships with Wellness and Work/Life Balance, and across campus,” she says. “We support others in the UB community in their journey to achieve and maintain well-being.
“There are important connections between exercise and mental health and wellness. These connections are especially beneficial for all of us as we move forward together through this difficult time,” says Sanford.
A schedule of online fitness resources from UB Recreation Group Fitness can be found on the UB Recreation website.
“We need to practice self-care,” says Myszka, “to focus on what we can control.
“It is easy to become addicted to what is going on. Remind yourself to go back to self-care and activities you enjoy, and away from stressing yourself out.”