Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Work Transformed newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Kathryn is taking some well-deserved time off. For today’s newsletter, CNN Business’ Jeanne Sahadi is our guest writer.
When I heard a few weeks ago that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, my first thought was, “Just a month?! Mental health awareness should be top of mind this entire year.”
Overnight, life as we knew it was upended by a deadly pandemic, an economic crisis and a weird but necessary shift in social norms – like wearing a mask every time you leave your house, skipping hugs and handshakes, and staying six feet away from each other.
And bonus: Now simple things, like getting groceries, can be high-anxiety events.
It’s all taking a toll physically, psychologically and financially.
That should be a big concern for employers, because their employees’ mental health is being tested hourly. And how they cope can affect their work and engagement.
I spoke with people who advise managers and top leaders about how to alleviate team members’ mental health risks, and the first thing they said was don’t deny the obvious.
“Acknowledge this is tough and [let people know] it’s ok to say so. There’s resiliency in acknowledging the shared situation,” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a partner in health and benefits at Mercer Consulting.
If you’re a manager or executive, consider being frank about what you’ve been going through or share how you’re letting off steam – like sneaking away in the middle of the day for a walk. Even better, make a point of taking some days off and let everyone know so they can feel comfortable doing the same.
And remember, chronic stress makes people super forgetful. So there is no such thing as too often when it comes to reminding your team about the free resources the company makes available – like an Employee Assistance Program. EAPs not only can provide confidential therapy sessions with a psychologist, they also can provide professional help for addiction, and financial and legal counseling.
Because this strange period is hitting all our pressure points.
When your bank gives you help you don’t want
As if we don’t have enough stress in our lives already.
In the wake of Covid-19, some homeowners now find themselves in a tough spot, thanks to a provision in the CARES Act intended to help them. The provision lets some homeowners go into forbearance on their mortgages for up to a year – meaning they can skip or reduce their monthly mortgage payments if they need to.
But as CNN’s Anna Bahney found out, in some cases homeowners have been put into forbearance even though they didn’t ask to be and don’t want to be.
While forbearance can help if you’re financially pressed, it also can make it harder to refinance or take out new home loans.
And correcting the situation may cost you time and energy you can’t spare. “The stress of this situation has affected my physical and mental well-being, strained my personal relationships as well as the ability to do my job. I have spent hours on the phone, and writing letters … I wonder, how many others is this happening to?” one homeowner wrote in a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The physical price of overstressing
Worrying about everything all the time – and not getting enough rest because you can’t turn your mind off (see: pandemic, economic crisis) – can have very negative effects on your body.
Let’s start with cortisol, which helps maintain blood sugar levels and, in turn, helps your brain and muscles function well. Your cortisol level is supposed to rise in the morning and drop as the day goes on. But in today’s climate, it’s easy to maintain that morning spike for too long, and over time that increases inflammation in your body.
Then there’s the unhealthy quick-fix ways we try to cope – such as eating too much sugar, smoking and drinking.
Being in a heightened state of stress combined with bad habits and too little sleep can cause or exacerbate problems with your heart, lungs, brain, stomach and skin as CNN’s Sandee LaMotte reports. Think everything from allergies to ulcers, migraines to shortness of breath.
So do yourself a favor: Commit to tame the stress you feel through exercise, deep breathing and some of the other ways LaMotte shares here.
Qatar Airways goes all in on PPE
Hate the idea of having to wear a mask all day whenever you do return to your workplace? It could be worse. You could be a flight attendant who now has to dress like a hazmat worker.
Qatar Airways now requires its flight attendants to don not just masks and gloves, but safety goggles and full Personal Protective Equipment suits over their uniforms during flights, CNN’s Tamara Hardingham-Gill reports.
Other airlines are upping their virus-fighting workwear, too. At Philippine Airlines, uniforms reportedly will incorporate PPE as well. The new look was described this way by the aviation publication Simple Flying: “a PPE gown accessorized with disposable latex gloves, and a face shield like your dentist might wear.”
But back to you: You not only may be required to wear a mask at work, you’ll likely be expected to wear one when you fly too. Whether you’ll be denied boarding if you refuse is up to the individual airlines.
It’s vacation season. Good luck with that
We’re coming up on Memorial Day, the traditional start to summer and vacation season for working stiffs.
While Americans are notoriously bad about taking all their paid time off, we highly recommend you take all of yours this year to rest.
Of course, you may not be keen on staycationing when you’ve already been staying – and working – at home for two months.
But the question of where to go is, um, complex.
Domestically and abroad, a lot of places now require or request travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days before taking in local culture, CNN’s Stacey Lastoe found.
So unless your employer is happy to give you four straight weeks off and you can afford it, holing up for 14 days in a hotel doing nothing is probably not an option.
The best advice: Don’t do too much trip planning until you’ve checked out local government rules for summer travelers. And even if you’re not asked to self-isolate, find out how many of the businesses that normally cater to travelers are up and running.
Here’s where you can learn more about the countries and states placing restrictions on visitors.
Speaking of mental health, my dog – who’s part scent hound – has helped preserve mine over the past two months. When I start to feel upset about something, for example, she often will sit on my foot or otherwise lean into me.
That won’t surprise anyone who knows dogs. They literally can smell when something isn’t right. Researchers in the UK are now testing whether dogs can sniff out which travelers at airports are carrying Covid-19, just as they can smell other diseases like cancer and malaria, CNN’s Samantha Tapfumaneyi and Francesca Street report.
The sniffer team consists of six dogs known as “The Super Six.” If they’re successful, researchers believe it might eliminate the need for all air travelers to quarantine upon arrival. Learn more about their efforts here.