While lockdown rules continue to slacken, lots of us are still opting to stay put, working from home (WFH), to avoid the risks that accompany an office environment.
For many, WFH has come with various welcome benefits, not least a much-improved work-life balance for previous commuters, who lost an average of an hour each day travelling to and from work, which has had other knock-on positives, such as a reduction in pollution.
As people started to reclaim their time, new hobbies were formed and skills were built on. There was lots of buzz in the news and on social media about people channelling their extra time into mastering things such as a new language, an instrument, and people even took to baking sourdough bread in the thousands, leading to flour shortages in UK supermarkets.
That’s all great- but is it really a true reflection of how lockdown has panned out for the vast majority of us? Recent research suggests not.
For those who are struggling with aspects of their personal wellbeing in lockdown, hearing the influx of success stories can add pressure and intensify feelings of failure.
From what I’ve heard anecdotally, for business owners too, stress levels are at an all-time high, and the looming recession only adds to the burden.
So what exactly are the wellbeing issues people have been facing during lockdown? And what steps can we all take to improve our overall wellbeing without adding additional pressure onto our lives? In this article, I’ll attempt to answer both.
In a recent survey by the ONS, 69% of adults reported feeling worried about the effect COVID19 is having on their life. 63% also said they were worried about the future, 56% reported feeling stressed or anxious and 49% bored.
Uncertainty about what the future holds, having various aspects of life restricted, as well as all the other problems COVID19 brings, is going to impact the stress levels of pretty much everyone- just not equally.
Those most at risk include:
- Young people
- Those with low household incomes
- Residents in urban areas
- People with mental health conditions
- Those with children
Feeling safe, stable and secure is central to our mental health, but the current crisis creates a situation antithetical to stable, and as a direct consequence, the safety of people’s health and the security of their livelihoods is at a higher risk.
But what is it (biologically) that causes us to become so stressed and anxious?
When our stress levels rise above a particular level, our ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in. When the stress level is mild, the logical part of our brain can override this response, but if the perceived ‘threat’ is high, the response will take over.
This response that was once used by our ancestors as a means of survival, now has a strikingly less practical fit within our modern lives, as fight or flight responses can become overactive– this means the response can take over when we’re stressed but not in actual physical danger. For example, if you’re feeling stressed about your workload, a fight or flight response is hardly what you need to get stuck in.
In fact, mental health is the top reason for sick days taken in the UK, and about half of long-term sick leave is down to stress, depression and anxiety. However, 95% of workers who call in sick due to stress give another reason, indicating that mental health stigma is still very much an issue within the work environment.
The various stressors as a result of the lockdown, whether you’re worried about the virus, your job, your child’s education, or all of those things and more, are bound to heighten stress levels across the nation, making it even more difficult to function like you normally would.
You can find reliable information, help and advice about mental health and wellbeing on the NHS website.
If our mental health suffers, so do the other areas in our life. In one recent survey, 48% of people reported having put on weight during lockdown. While a number on the scale doesn’t necessarily tell you how healthy you actually are, the same number also reported feeling more stressed and anxious, drawing a correlation between the two.
With 1 in 4 adults in the UK already falling into the category of ‘obesity’, additional weight gain will only worsen an already pervasive public health issue.
According to the NHS, the biggest risks caused by obesity include:
- Developing type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Some types of cancer
- Psychological issues (e.g. depression and low self-esteem)
But what can we put this (recent weight gain) down to? There’s a variety of aspects that have thrown people out of their usual routines, resulting in poorer eating and activity habits. These include gym closures (reopened July 25th), stress and poor mental health (which can lead to ‘emotional eating’), and more sedentary behaviour due to staying at home.
Being ‘overweight’ can also begin to also impact work-life, as symptoms include feeling very tired on a regular basis, as well as back and joint pain, disrupting work and affecting focus.
In addition, mental wellbeing and weight have a closely interlinked relationship. If one aspect begins to spiral, the other is more likely to follow, leaving both personal and work life to suffer.
What can we do about it?
Everyone’s lockdown experience will be individual, but collectively, there are small changes we can begin to make to improve our overall wellbeing in lockdown, without feeling overwhelmed as we enter into the ‘new normal’.
Keeping on top of your workload (structure and support)
If you want to be able to relax in your downtime, you need to stay on top of the work pile. But having a huge to-do list while WFH can feel isolating and overwhelming in the absence of the collaboration and support that a team brings.
However, it is possible for teams to continue to communicate and collaborate as effectively as they would face-to-face. Find out what actions you need to take to work from home effectively with a team and keep on top of your to-do list, click here.
For business owners, their concerns also will extend to the overall business and what they can do to keep it thriving through a recession. If you want to know what actions you can take, read our comprehensive guide here.
Getting outside every day (or when you can)
Even if you’re exercising indoors, you should still aim to get some fresh air outside regularly- even if it’s only briefly. This is because serotonin affects our mood, sleep and appetite. When we don’t get enough sunlight, our serotonin levels drop, which can lead to feeling depressed.
Spending time in nature is also well known to have a substantial impact on mental wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean you need a woodland on your doorstep. It’s more of a challenge for many urban dwellers, but there will be public parks, or you could even create your own patch of green space in a garden or on a balcony.
It’s not just our moods that benefit from getting out in the fresh air. Research has shown that spending time outdoors makes us:
- Less stressed
- More social
- More focused and improves short-term memory
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve our immune systems’
- Sleep better
- And more
In a time where public health is in crisis, doing something as simple as spending time outdoors each day is a great way to make sure you’re taking care of your overall health to lower your risk.
Raising your activity level
Sedentary lifestyles have a lot of short and long term health implications, but if you’re struggling to find the motivation to start exercising regularly, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
There are a lot of intensive online fitness courses, out there that look like they’ll be transformative to your fitness, but if the behaviour doesn’t become habitual, you’re much less likely to keep it up in the long run. But doesn’t doing a full 90-day course create the habit?
Research actually shows that to create long-term, sustainable changes behaviours that become concrete habits, they should take ‘minimal mental or physical effort’. It’s why failed new years fitness goals are such a cliche; people set themselves a big, time-consuming goal without actually breaking it down into smaller pieces, making it more difficult to sustain.
So the key could be to start small. Completing just five minutes of exercise a day requires minimal effort, but if you do it consistently, the health benefits will build, and it will become a habit and you can start to add another 5 minutes on top, and so on. It’s an effective strategy for people who are time-poor or those who are simply long-suffering exercise-phobes.
Finding the right tools to help
There’s no one size fits all solution to overall wellbeing in lockdown, everyone will have a slightly different approach that works for them- but finding the right tools can help, too.
There’s an array of free apps that can help you with various aspects of your wellbeing, from meditation, to exercise, to entertainment- there’s more or less something for everyone.
Using apps can help you add structure to your efforts to improve your wellbeing and help you sustain it.
For example, there’s reliable evidence from studies that have reported that meditation helps relieve anxiety and depression, improves our concentration and attention, as well as overall psychological wellbeing. The benefits extend to both the personal and professional.
However, it can be difficult to know where to start with meditating. Apps like Headspace provide guided meditation, making it much easier.
This is just one example but click here to read see what apps could help to improve your life during lockdown.
What can business owners do?
It’s a time of high stress for most people, but business owners also have the added responsibility of supporting the wellbeing of their employees, to ensure they remain engaged, motivated and enjoy their job. So, what things do you need to do?
Evaluate your culture- work culture can have a big impact on wellbeing, and most of us have undergone a big cultural shift as more people are WFH. This means that if you haven’t already, you need to look at how your culture has changed- what’s worse? Has anything improved?
Keep things flexible- if lockdown has proved anything in the business world, it’s that WFH is practical and beneficial, but not everyone thrives working in isolation, just as others may find it hard to concentrate in a busy office. The key is to keep things as flexible as you can and listen to what your team says about how they prefer to work. It could be that you end up renting a small number of desks and your team has the option to either work from home or the office.
Keep your team informed- businesses are going through a tough time, and the recession will only extend that. With 600,000 roles disappearing from the UK jobs market, many people across the country are worried about the future and security of their job. The worst thing you can do is to not keep your employees informed about how the business is doing, even if that new isn’t especially good, not knowing anything will only lead to more anxiety.
Seek support- With a lot on their plate, there are lots of business owners who could benefit from support. Luckily, there are online peer-to-peer discussion groups available, such as Support UK Business, which has a collaborative approach where you can give and receive support from other business owners. It’s free, and there’s no commitment, you can drop in and out of the session as you please.
While there’s no way of knowing how long some form of lockdown is going to exist, how strong the predicted second wave will hit, or what the extent of the recession will be, there are steps we can take to holistically look after our wellbeing in lockdown.
In a time so full of uncertainty, issues around both mental and physical health have been ascribed a new sense of importance- we need to be physically healthy to reduce the risks of Covid, and we need to be mentally healthy to deal with the stresses brought on by all the issues relating to the virus.
When activities and strategies that support overall wellbeing, both mental and physical, are put into practise and become habitual, that’s when people really start to thrive, even in tough times.
We hope that you find this article informative and that it provides you with the ideas for taking care of your wellbeing in lockdown and supporting your employees. If you have any questions, get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help.