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How to keep your head above water

People simply do not talk about their emotions enough. They focus a lot on practical matters, and the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the economy at large, yet do not divulge how it is affecting their own bottom line or their mental health. True, these are private matters, and people are proud.

“It is however important to share feelings and anxieties within your small circle, for instance with the rest of your management team,” says Wellington-based industrial psychologist and human resource specialist Anneke Strauss.

She provides advice to producers and managers to help them cope in these trying times:

  • Don’t think about Covid-19 24/7. Don’t turn your office into a cave from which you only appear once all possible problems have been solved. Take a break when you can. Step away from your computer and out of the office. If you can go on leave, take it.
  • It’s not a solo job. You do not have to solve the whole corona crisis on your own. You have a team around you to help make plans as things develop. Remember to involve your workforce and worker committees, as they also often have great, practical solutions.
  • Get enough rest and sleep.
  • Exercise, even if it is a 15-minute walk outside.
  • Take a break. Indulge in an activity that you truly love and that can totally take your mind off things for an hour or two.
  • Switch screens. You don’t have to read everything out there or everyone’s comments on social media about Covid-19. Once a day on a news site is quite enough. Make sure you get your information from trusted sites.
  • Don’t bottle up. Do not keep your anxieties to yourself. At least voice your concern to your management team or a confidant.
  • Check yourself. Are you constantly feeling anxious, fearful, distressed, and worried, and have there been changes in your sleeping patterns? If things start feeling out of control, try taking a break. At least talk to a friend, or seek professional help.


What are the signs that you or one of your co-workers or employees are not coping to well, and actually need additional support? Prof Alida Herbst of Northwest University says the following indicators could provide clues to the levels of mental stress that people are experiencing:

– Constant anxious behaviour

– Constantly having a “bad day” and making frequent mistakes

– Difficulty concentrating or focussing on a task that he or she normally would do easily, and struggling to complete tasks

– Being forgetful

– Frequent being absent with non-specific symptoms or conditions

– Being irritable, creating conflict with others and having a greater tendency towards temper tantrums

– Mood swings and erratic behaviour that is noticed by more than one person

– Drastic weight loss

– Struggling to sleep, or with oversleeping

– Fatigue and loss of interest in activities that would otherwise be pleasant

– Avoiding social activities or connecting with others


Prof Herbst says employers should also be on the lookout for signs of physical abuse.

“Currently we are seeing extreme cases of gender-based violence in all sectors and layers of society,” she mentions.

She says there is a myriad of ways in which employers can support the mental health of their employees. These include:

Being prepared. Assist in managing health risks, by providing adequate screening and PPEs. It reduces people’s sense of risk.

Communicating. Regularly and clearly set out how roles and responsibilities have changed because of the COVID situation, and be realistic about what you expect from your staff.

Being flexible. Set up and maintain a realistic work routine in a changing time (for instance whenever lockdown levels or school schedules change). Those using public transport might arrive later than usual. Make use of flexihours, rotate staff, and stagger their return where needed.

Connections. If workers are separated from their families for a long time, ensure that they can remain in contact by providing internet access or extra data bundles.

Relaxation. Create opportunities for healthy leisure time or specific activities during breaks.

Refer. Be at the ready to refer employees to staff wellness programmes, or services offered by the Department of Social Development or the Department of Health.

  • A recent webinar was presented to British farmers on the topic “Exploring Mental Health in Agriculture’. Although they do not share the same landscape, there might be some food for thought to some. To listen to it, click here.
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