covid in the business workplace lehigh valleyOne of the biggest challenges during the pandemic is mental health. Everyone across the world struggles to some degree with navigating the effects of COVID-19. For this reason, the Executive Forum of the Lehigh Valley invited guest speaker Linda Brownback, M.A., an Allentown-based psychologist with 40+ years experience at Brownback, Mason and Associates. The topic was timely because many individuals struggle through the pandemic and battle feelings of depression, anxiety, and lack of control. Specifically for the Executive Forum, Linda was asked to speak to Lehigh Valley employers to help them understand and address issues that plague their workforce.

Linda opened the presentation with some background about her practices and the fact that she prides herself in a holistic approach, engaging the individual’s brain, body, and spirit. Under normal circumstances, about a third of Americans struggle with anxiety. COVID-19 has exacerbated that by creating food and job insecurity, the stress of parenting, social isolation, and loneliness. All these factors together create physiological effects on the brain, resulting in a tremendously negative impact on health. Additional mental stress includes burnout fatigue, election anxiety, fear of getting COVID-19, and mask anxiety. All this leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and depression.

 

Linda’s personal approach to the situation is that she intentionally decided to not let COVID-19 control her life. Operating out of a state of fear causes neurological implications that inhibit rational decision-making. Fear-induced cognition takes place in the amygdala section of the brain, that diverts mental activity from the prefrontal cortex, the logical area where people reason. The longer one operates in fear using the amygdala, the more connections and stimulations are made in that part of the brain, resulting in a higher likelihood of continuing to use the irrational amygdala. Like most bad habits, the longer a negative pattern persists, the harder it is to break. Linda encouraged the audience to operate from the prefrontal cortex and start making good, logical decisions, even if one must start small. Her tips include the following:

  • Limit news and social media. Linda pointed out that social media is the highest contributing factor to suicide in young adults.
  • Exercise the prefrontal cortex — every good decision that is made strengthens it.
  • Consider the sensationalism of the coronavirus and the motives of the media and others to cover it incessantly. With an air of sensitivity, Linda stated that any death as a result of COVID-19 was one too many. Considering this, she pointed to the statistical irrationality of the virus fears: the Lehigh County death rate is .01%. There is a 99.9% chance of survival!
  • Drink more water — hydration is vital to the brain. Prefrontal cortex capabilities diminish with decreased water intake, because the brain is significantly composed of water.
  • Linda stressed that the #1 killer of anxiety and depression is exercise.
  • Be intentional about appreciation and gratitude. This includes daily practices of prayer and meditation.
  • Safely limit mask use with frequent breaks. Masks impact water and oxygen intake, which results in diminished brain function, including cognitive and emotional faculties.
  • Practice deep breathing, even by doing something fun, like blowing bubbles.
  • Learn new things — this strengthens the prefrontal cortex.
  • Be intentional about adding fun, joy, and humor to your life. A hearty laugh does the body good.

Linda also encouraged managers to disseminate the above information in their workplace to improve the quality of work-and-life balance, in addition to listening to their employees' needs. This includes intangible benefits, like greater sensitivity and understanding, as well as meeting tangible needs, purchasing ergonomic home office equipment for those working at home. “Knowing that your boss and employer care about you is one of the best and easiest ways to put a mind at ease,” shares Linda.

Pursuing the above strategies will help provide individuals with greater internal control, which produces more joy and less feelings of helplessness and anxiety.

Linda challenged the audience to confront these issues and lead well at home and in the workplace. Her parting wisdom was this exhortation from Winston Churchill: “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”

Linda gave her presentation on Wednesday, October 21st, when the Executive Forum of the Lehigh Valley convened once again at the Steel Club in Hellertown. For more information about Linda Brownback and Brownback, Mason and Associates, visit brownbackmason.com.