Global menu

Our global pages

Close

A pandemic within a pandemic-well being strategies and guidance on coping with COVID-19 anxiety for General Counsel

A pandemic within a pandemic-well being strategies and guidance on coping with COVID-19 anxiety for General Counsel
  • United Kingdom
  • Coronavirus - Workforce issues
  • Industrials

09-04-2020

Pandemic: ‘(of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world’

Fear: ‘an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm’

Management: ‘the process of dealing with or controlling things or people’

Crisis: ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’

The current world situation encompasses a phrase we are hearing a lot – ‘unprecedented’ and leaves many General Counsel of global industrial companies with disrupted supply chains, halted productivity and remote working workforce, making sentences out of the 4 words we opened with.

Our job as leaders in managing risk is clear; we need strong management of the pandemic to stop the fear felt by our stakeholders becoming a crisis. None of us have ever experienced anything of the magnitude or extent of the current situation and, to some extent, we need to get through it together.

Globally, in-house legal teams and their wider workforce are either working remotely for an enforced long period or suddenly idle; whether there is a legal responsibility to help employees with work-related mental health issues or simply a moral obligation, a ‘pandemic’ of poor mental health may be a seemingly unavoidable result of physical isolation.

Rather than add to the weighty matters which occupy General Counsel, we wanted to offer some pointers that will help manage rather than react; to help your team as society is locked down to minimize the virus’ spread.

Wellbeing strategies

2019 saw many organizations starting to engage in a far more meaningful way with employee wellbeing and good mental health. Much thinking was given to peer to peer support, mental health first aid and centrally accessible support functions. In these straitened times, more thought may need to be given to individual coping strategies with less paternalistic face to face support to create long-term, sustainable coping mechanisms.

Our clients report that many people (employees and their families and customers) are becoming increasingly worried about the growing response to coronavirus, triggering anxiety and acts of obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Typical out of character behaviors include:

  • Frenzied updates from the news and on social media;
  • Worries about friends and family and those categorized as vulnerable;
  • OCD and a change or lack of usual routines;
  • Loneliness during self-isolation; and
  • Schools, childcare and children’s wellbeing fears

20 Strategies” to manage COVID19 anxiety

The fear pandemic is something that each of us must manage – anxiety loves the words ‘what if’ – so how can you manage your head and overcome your feelings when they are overwhelming and how can you help others who may be struggling too in your legal team?

  1. Scale how you feel from 1-10 – with ‘1’ being the worst you have ever felt, and ‘10’ being the best you’ve ever felt. What number are you right now? It is a subjective measure, but it is a useful one. Whatever number you are, how can you increase it by 1? What do you need to do, and who can help you? We are all on an emotional ‘rollercoaster’ – re-set your head every day, with rational information – avoid going down the rabbit hole for long. It is ok to be uncertain and feel sad for a short time, but then you need to ‘act’ to improve your mood.
  2. Accept the advice we are being given – acceptance can be hard, and we are frightened. Rebelling against it will prolong the time need to practice social distancing and isolation. Being separated is not our natural response and so the more accountable we can be, and the more responsible we are by making good choices, the better. 
  3. Manage your self-talk – how are you talking to yourself in your head? Would you talk to anyone else like that? If you wouldn’t, then be kinder to yourself, even if you change how you are speaking to yourself just once a day (you don’t have to believe it!) it will make a difference to how you feel. 
  4. Recognize what you can control and influence – you have control over you and can influence the people around you in your physical household and any vulnerable persons who depend on you, the rest falls in to the ‘circle of concern’ which is a reactive and less positive place to be and causes anxiety and panic. It is important to recognize what you can choose to let go of.
  5. Ask for help – we recognize that the General Counsel function and wider legal team are under great pressure from your internal stakeholders, particularly your HR and customer facing functions. Are you good at asking for help or do you avoid it? Think about who can help you, and who you can help. We are in this together, and if we don’t help one another, then the tougher this will be.
  6. Take time out - Manage social media and news access – our brains are not meant to function 24 hours a day. Decide on your trusted news provider and check in with that source only. There is a mass push by law firms to provide clients with useful information, with many producing “Hubs”, try to schedule periodic visits to these to get a roundup of the key points – here is ours.
  7. Avoid your head catastrophizing – when we catastrophize, we look to the worst-case scenario. Now, the worst case is being ill and dying, or losing someone we love. The balance of evidence to this, is that if we follow the advice, we are minimizing the chances greatly. 
  8. Manage your time - either plan together, with the household – can you have a shared timetable? Take breaks together even if home-schooling. We are all in the same boat and there needs to be boundaries in place but be mindful of your energy levels and work/be active when they are high, so you are effective (don’t be too hard on yourself if energy levels dip!).
  9. Access therapy – the power of having a safe space to talk, cannot be underestimated to help you to be well. You might not be able to see someone face to face, but feedback Fortis Therapy is getting from clients, who are using the different technologies on offer (phone, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime) has been really positive, saying that it is as good as sitting in a room with their therapist.
  10. Stay in touch – keep contact with each other (Social media apps). Writing letters, have virtual coffee breaks with family, friends and colleagues, anything that keeps you connected. We are having regular virtual coffee meetings with clients, and our internal teams.
  11. Have a purpose – if you are working from home, keep to your routines, our heads like routine and being organized! If you are not working, decide what you would like to do, see the time as an opportunity, are there jobs or interests that you have not had time to do that you can use this time to explore? Look at online courses.
  12. Look at your finances - Whilst there either is, or will be financial hardship, there is a lot of information out there that is free and can help to navigate through what is available. Ask for help, pick up the phone and negotiate what you need.
  13. Clear your space - your environment can reflect how your head is! Clear the clutter, feel in control of your space. As the Scunthorpe United manager Nigel Adkins famously said ‘we have to control the controllables’ - in a time when there are things we can’t control, taking control of what you can is important.
  14. Exercise - whatever that means to you. Walking (whilst distancing), a HIIT session, weights (if you have them), cycling…. whatever – expand your lung capacity and increase your heart rate. It is possible that you could be healthier and more fit at the end of this time, than at the beginning!
  15. Avoid self-medicating - using alcohol, substances, smoking, food, etc. as a coping mechanism, is counter -productive for your mental and physical health. Do something more positive!
  16. Be creative - being creative can be really therapeutic. If your first response to this is ‘I’m not creative at all’, think again! Creativity can take many different guises. This could be anything from drawing, coloring, writing, gardening, cooking, doing a jigsaw, playing with Lego, starting an on-line community group – again, whatever works for you.
  17. Humor - we are British! Humor is our birth right – so use it Having worked in mental health services for years and being the mum to three children, I know I use humor (I have to!) – it’s a great way of lifting our mood and feeling more perspective.
  18. Buffer children - children and young people have access to all sort of information now. Be mindful of the conversations you have with them and in front of them. They need us as adults, to make sense of what is happening in an age appropriate way. They will remember how we dealt with this and it will inform their learned responses in the future.
  19. Rest well, eat well - this has been the basic advice for many years for a reason. It is imperative that we fuel ourselves in the right way and give ourselves a chance for recovery.
  20. Be grateful - this sounds like a really counsellory thing to say, but it’s true. Being grateful for what and who we have in our lives, and our current health situation, grounds us and helps us to focus less on what we feel we don’t have - it’s a great antidote to fear and anxiety.

Let’s talk

When the pandemic is over, let’s hope all our staff feel we have managed the crisis rather than succumbed to fear. Here are some new words for the next period: hope; support; contact and risk assessment. Let’s work at introducing them into the conversation. Feel free to share this article with your stakeholders or use the information within it as a springboard for conversations within your legal team on what they can do to stay well.

Paul Verrico is a lawyer, solicitor-advocate and partner in the EHS and Crisis Management team at global law firm Eversheds Sutherland: Alexis Powell-Howard is the Managing Director of Fortis Therapy, national small business of the year 2019; she is a qualified psychotherapist and TEDx speaker.