Maintaining mental health at work/home during COVID-19

Married with two children who attend Canyon Ridge Middle School, Gaspar is a licensed clinical social worker, as well as a registered play therapist. She owns a private practice called the Good Mourning Counseling Center.  

Gaspar loves her work.  

“There is nothing better than seeing the progression a person makes in therapy, “ she said. “It echoes in their mental health, physical health and family relationships.”  

She specializes in treating children, adolescents and adults who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, grief and loss, abuse, neglect, anxiety and abduction. She is a former adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Social Work and has been on contract with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since 2013.

Mental health at work

Gaspar is very concerned about how this pandemic and shelter-in-place will affect people in business. She has been seeing clients remotely from her home office. 

“I want employers and companies to be thinking about how they prioritize their employees’ mental health and communicate their concern for them,” Gaspar said.

To that end, Gaspar has been reaching out to businesses to present some of her advice on how to balance work, family and the health of the business. 

Kristina Ritchie, a senior vice president at Mintel Group Ltd. and head of a team of 130 employees, had Gaspar make a presentation to her group recently. Ritchie and her family also live in Steiner Ranch.

Mintel, a London-based market research firm, has Friday morning meetings every week to encourage personal and professional growth

“Historically these sessions have been training for our team. However with COVID-19, we recognized the need to focus on our employees’ mental health and wellness,” said Ritchie, who reached out to Gaspar, who has spoken at local schools, and asked her if she would present to Mintel. 

“Within a few days she was live, via Zoom. Lauren focused on anxiety, stress and possible depression employees may feel right now, how to recognize these feelings, strategies to cope, and when to seek further assistance through our employee assistance program or other sources,” Ritchie said. 

“The outpouring of positive feedback and gratitude for this session – across age, gender, life-stage and job title – while wonderful to hear, it also reaffirmed our commitment to regularly focus on our employees’ mental and physical health, and general wellness,” Ritchie said. 

Emotional balance at home

Kristina Ritchie

Gaspar’s advice to families at home is to focus on emotional balance. 

“We need to really look at each individual member and what they’re needing right now,” she said. “I’m encouraging people to think about how they manage their anxiety and find balance.” 

In her own household, Gaspar has had to learn to counsel others from home after so many years working from the privacy of an office. 

She’s doing this while her children are also learning how to attend school at home. 

“It’s a challenge to manage the amount of people wanting sessions at this time, and trying to make sure my children are getting what they need from me,” she admits.

To make it work, Gaspar tries to keep the family to a schedule. A print out of the children’s homework schedule resides in the kitchen, so that everyone knows what’s expected for the week. 

She starts the day with exercise. “Because my kids are in middle school, I have the luxury of some freedom in the morning,” Gaspar said. “I typically go on a hike with my husband at 7 a.m. That’s for my mental health. 

“Then around 9 a.m., I’m available to my 6th grader as he does his homework and I get ready for sessions. Luckily, my 7th grader is on auto-pilot.  

She sees clients from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and has to be in a room with no interruptions for 50 minutes of every hour when she is working with someone. 

“During my 10-minute breaks in between sessions,” she said. “I am running out to the living room and upstairs to make sure my kids are doing their homework, on their Zoom call, etc.”

Self awareness helps keep balance

One piece of key advice she shares is to intentionally be tuned in.

“Managing anxiety is about knowing when we’ve heard enough, seen enough and what our body’s cues are for this,” Gaspar said.

People need to know when to turn off the news and delete social media, even if temporarily. 

“Our level of exposure to what is happening and how others’ are managing distracts us from focusing on ourselves,” she said. 

When a person is balanced, that offsets anxiety. 

“It’s how we self-regulate and slow our nervous system down, so we can breathe right and feel right,” Gaspar said. “I ask a lot of clients to pay attention to their sleep, their breath and their intentional relaxation. A little can really go a long way, and for some, it’s about building the habit of self care.”

One thing that helps Gaspar balance is turning off her computer in the evenings to focus on family and friends.