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Five ways to tackle the stress of uncertainty in real estate

Extended lockdowns and the stress of uncertainty has negatively impacted the mental health of many Australians, including those in the real estate industry.

Challenging work conditions and not knowing exactly what the future holds has also significantly impacted the mental health of the wider real estate industry.

After gathering advice from the Black Dog Institute and industry leaders, here are five recommendations and strategies you can employ now to ensure you are able to maintain a healthy professional and personal life.

The time is now – reflect on how well you did last year and don’t dwell on the future

Nobody can deny real estate is a fast-paced industry. Especially amid the current property market boom, agents often don’t have time to celebrate their successes.

We can often forget to recognise our accomplishments and ‘wins’, both in our professional and personal life, according to the Black Dog Institute.

A ‘win’ can be something small. If you were tired or feeling low but still motivated yourself to go outside for a walk yesterday or called a friend on the phone that’s a ‘win’.

The Institute also noted it was common for people in lockdown to try ignore the present. Instead, people get caught up dwelling on what they may or may not be able to do in the future.

The Agency Chief Executive Officer Matt Lahood previously explained it’s not helpful to focus on things we can’t control, like lockdowns or the future of the property market.

“I just control what I can control and I also say that to all the agents – you control the controllables,” Mr Lahood said.

Instead of focusing on what you can’t control in the future, ask yourself: What am I doing today, tomorrow or on the weekend? Keep your view small and comfortable.

And don’t forget to focus on the silver linings. Working from home, for example, is difficult but it can also have some benefits.

The Black Dog Institute said working from home can improve productivity, reduce distractions, improve work satisfaction and lower commuting costs (or even give you some time out from challenging colleagues).

Set up routine and create boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’

If you are working from home or reducing outside contact, the Institute recommends you set up a structure or routine similar to what you would do if you were going into the office.

Creating a regular start and finish time, with scheduled breaks, is essential.

The Institute noted this will allow you to maintain a boundary between your work and home life (even if it is all happening in the same place).

It recommended creating cues, like get changed into fresh clothes before you start work.

Rent Roll Starter founder Ellen Bathgate also previously recommended setting boundaries for yourself and those you work with, whether that be colleagues, landlords, prospective buyers or others.

“Consider the hours you ‘officially’ work versus the hours you’re in contact with your clients,” Ms Bathgate said.

To avoid 1am contact attempts, you can set up auto-responders in Facebook Business Manager and email. Ms Bathgate also recommended setting up a frequently asked questions page.

“Having boundaries will protect your mental health and allow you to deliver even better service to your clients as a result,” she said.

Additionally, Black Dog Institute recommended you avoid working in your bedroom as this will make it associated with being alert, awake and switched on.

In fact, a study from the United Nations in 2017 showed that working from home can interfere with sleep.

The research found that 42 per cent of remote workers said they woke repeatedly during the night, compared to 29 per cent of their colleagues who were working elsewhere. And that was long before the added stress of the pandemic.

Working in your bed can also significantly impact your mental and physical heath too.

John Hopkins University Associate Professor of Neurology Rachel Salas noted as well as the ergonomic issues that may arise from bad posture in bed, your brain builds associations with work and sleep, which eventually evolve into conditioned behaviours.

“As sleep specialists, we tend to recommend that the bed should be for the three Ss: sleeping, for sex or for when you’re sick. That’s it,” she told the BBC.

That is where ‘sleep hygiene’ comes in.

It’s not about washing your sheets regularly, but rather actions like putting on your pyjamas or reading, which allows your body to know it is time to shut down.

Scrolling through endless news articles or sending emails in bed is bad sleep hygiene.

Black Dog Institute Director of Psychological Services Professor Vijaya Manicavasagar recommended a digital detox after you finish work, so you can spend quality time with your family and get to sleep easier.

Build a repertoire of coping strategies, but try not to fall back on unhelpful crutches

The Black Dog Institute noted social activities are more likely to help with de-stressing than passive ones like reading or watching TV.

However, in-person socialising isn’t exactly advisable for people in lockdown.

The best plan is to build a number of activities you can do when you are feeling stressed.

One day you might go for a run or catch up with a friend, and the next, putting your favourite music on or engaging in a hobby might be the best option.

However, the Institute added it was important these strategies aren’t confused with unhelpful crutches.

“Alcohol and other drugs may feel like they lower stress but they are highly addictive and increase stresses, especially if used in the long-term,” the Institute noted.

The Institute instead recommended to incorporate self-care activities into your regular routine. No, self-care isn’t just bubble baths and candles.

Going for a walk or socialising (virtually), can give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate, so you can avoid or reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Physical health benefits our mental health… So get moving!

Avid exercisers are likely familiar with the ‘endorphin rush’ and subsequent improved mood a good workout fosters.

Black Dog Institute‘s Accredited Exercise Physiologist Caroline Fitzgerald explained exercise can provide a wide range of mental health benefits, from building resilience to distracting from negative thoughts and improving memory and sleep.

“Physical and mental health are linked and taking even the smallest amount of time to move your body has been proven to have a positive effect on your mood,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Deputy Director of NICM Health Research Institute, Professor Jerome Sarris has studied the role physical activity plays in mental health for many years.

“Moderate exercise has a range of health benefits which flow on to potentially greater productivity,” he said.

According to Professor Sarris, these benefits include an overall increase in stamina, along with enhanced oxygenation and blood flow to the brain.

These work in combination with a range of beneficial neurochemical changes that may lead people to feeling more energised at work.

A health study from the Nord-Trøndelag County in Norway also found depression and anxiety were directly related to how much exercise we get.

The study followed 34,000 Norwegian adults, monitoring how much exercise they did and how much depression and anxiety they self-reported over an 11-year period.

The data showed 12 per cent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants had undertaken even a single hour of exercise a week.

For the three million or so Australians living with anxiety or depression, these results highlight the importance of exercise as a tool for self-care.

Take up the support on offer and look out for each other

Professor Manicavasagar urged Australians to utilise support services on offer.

“Don’t think it’s (support services are) best left for others – you’re going through this as much as anyone else. Accepting you need help to get through is a big step forward,” she said.

But it is also important to reach out to loved ones, even if it is just to stay connected.

Even for people who don’t generally socialise a lot, lockdown restrictions force you to have less interaction with people, according to Professor Manicavasagar.

Being restricted from visiting the usual people and places that bring us joy can lead to feelings of disconnection, apathy, and a lack of self-esteem – all of which are completely rational responses to frequent lockdowns.

She explained encounters with colleagues or clients don’t spontaneously happen when we’re working from home, so we need to be proactive in organising meetings and social connection to maintain positive relationships.

Without regular face-to-face interactions – even fleeting ones like with a barista at the local coffee shop, or water-cooler banter around the office – many people may feel unmoored.

Associate Professor Manicavasagar recommends the following strategies to help counteract negative feelings and loneliness during lockdown:

  • Staying connected – discussing day-to-day activities and ‘sharing the mundane’ with friends and family members can be helpful in connecting to others over the phone or online.
  • Talking shop – if you’re working from home, connecting with colleagues and engaging on work-related topics can help you maintain professional confidence.
  • Scheduling regular chats with others – scheduled virtual catch-ups with friends and family can build stability and predictability in an otherwise uncertain period. Consider organising a games nights or trivia competition.
  • Seeking support – for those who are really struggling, the Black Dog Institute website offers a range of mental health advice and support, including a weekly mental health check-in and other coronavirus-specific resources.

Crisis support is also available from LifeLine at 13 11 14, Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636 or through various online resources.

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Jessamy Tredinnick

Jessamy Tredinnick was the news journalist for Elite Agent Magazine from June 2021 - October 2021. For current stories, news alerts or pitches, please email [email protected]