Resilience and Wellbeing

Staying safe and sane during the pandemic: 5 Practical Tips to Preserve Your Mental Health & Wellbeing

As we enter our third year of the pandemic, it’s important to recognise the strain we’re experiencing from a mental health perspective - and take proactive steps to care for our wellbeing and that of our teams.


Here are five practical tips to stay emotionally connected and balanced, whether you’re working remotely, managing a return to the office, or worried about your colleagues during the pandemic.


Know you’re not alone

The law was a demanding profession well before COVID came along. A recent survey conducted by Hamilton Locke lawyer Amelia Schubach reported lawyers are experiencing an average well being rating 3.82 out of 10, down from 5.25 from the same time the previous year. Almost all of the 440 lawyers surveyed around Australia - 93% - noted they had struggled to focus more than usual, driving average productivity to 40% of usual levels.

“Maintaining boundaries between work and non-work life is the biggest challenge,” Amelia told the Law Society Journal. “Both pressures intrinsic to the legal profession and the COVID-19 induced working circumstances have blurred the temporal, spatial and psychological separation between work and non-work life, generating prolonged periods of stress with little or no reprieve. This has an insidious effect on our cognitive abilities and bodies and this is the ‘shadow pandemic’ many are experiencing.”

Acknowledging the reality of this ‘shadow pandemic’ is an important first step to practical efforts in reclaiming your sense of balance and well being.

Set clear tasks for the day

With work boundaries blurring, it can be easy to slip into cycles of procrastination and avoidance. To break this pattern, try setting clear tasks for each day. Limit your list to three key decisions or activities, alongside ongoing tasks.

Establish a ‘WEB list’. W - what you want to achieve - E - what you expect to achieve - and B what you had Better achieve. Doing so helps you prioritise and focus.

Try to keep to a clear schedule, particularly a time when you ‘leave’ work. Shut down your computer, pack your desk, and separate the space (where possible) from where you relax. You might find it helpful to go for a walk at the same time every day, to mark the end of a day.

Maintain informal conversations

Small talk, and the casual collisions that come from being in a shared place of work, was one of the first casualties of the hybrid/remote work model. However, many organisations have found ways to re-establish small talk as a mainstay of pandemic office life, so as to foster more incidental collaboration and emotional connection.

Consider building in a 5-10min buffer at the start of every meeting so attendees can say hello, check in, and get to know each other beyond work. It also starts meetings on a more positive note.

Some teams have created ‘virtual lounges’ in Teams or Slack, a place to host virtual coffees, happy hours, or online games. The benefits to wellbeing are significant, with a recent INSEAD study of 500+ professionals revealing thriving teams connected by virtual quizzes, shared playlists, and film, TV and book clubs.

Ventures like Spark Collaboration push collaboration through games like ‘Office Video Chat Roulette’ to pair up employees who often don’t have a chance to connect.

As one Spark client at a global law firm told Harvard Business Review, “During the pandemic it was important to us to make sure employees were still making the random connections you might find in a shared office space to help with innovation, building networks, and collaboration. It has been invaluable for relationship building.”


Make a plan - and don’t forget to rest


If you are returning to the office, try to plan out the first few weeks. Acknowledge it will be a significant transition, and build in rewards to help you get back into the swing of things. Pack headphones to manage the commute with a pump-up playlist or podcast. Organise to walk in the door with a friendly colleague, or plan lunch. Where possible, you may want to discuss flexible work or starting earlier/later to avoid crowds during the commute.

Check in with yourself, too. What excites you about returning to the office? What creature comforts or activities are you keen to indulge? Conversely, what feels challenging? Take stock of what has gone well throughout the day, and what has been tough.

Don’t forget to rest. Returning to a commute and work surrounded by people will require much adjustment. Take the time to unwind. It’s normal to feel tired, so keep your evenings and weekends free to do things that nourish you.


Look out for your friends and colleagues


It’s just as important to monitor how your colleagues and friends are faring. If you don’t feel fully equipped to navigate mental health conversations, consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course. The College of Law’s Mental Health First Aid course for legal professionals can help you recognise the signs and symptoms of mental distress, how to talk to your colleagues, and provide help and resources. Ensuring several people within a firm or organisation are qualified as ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ can provide a strong foundation for a mentally healthy workplace, which is a legal obligation borne by employers.

Creating mentally healthy workplaces might be easier said than done. Start with strategies to manage your own stress and wellbeing, so you are in a better position to facilitate a psychologically healthy work environment for those you manage or work alongside. 

As the pandemic persists, finding practical ways to take care of yourself and your mental health are more important than ever. We hope you’ve found these five practical tips helpful.