How do we get through this? Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us restrictions on our lives are likely to continue for another 6 months at least. What can we do to reset our brains, reboot our mindset and rebuild the resilience we’ll need for darker, wetter, colder days? It is the perfect time to invest in our mental and physical health, revisit ways to help ourselves and those around us.
Over the summer, we’d all fondly hoped the worst was over, so it’s a major blow to our hopes. A vaccine is unlikely to be approved for use and ‘moonshot’ comprehensive testing programmes are unlikely to be rolled out until early 2021 at the earliest. If you are feeling apprehensive you are not alone. The Office for National Statistics tracks personal and economic wellbeing and shows a general rise in anxiety levels with the greatest anxiety amongst the most vulnerable, disabled adults, those with health conditions or who feel unsafe outside the home. A rising number – 3 in 10 people – already expected the pandemic to impact on them for more than a year even before the Prime Minister’s announcement.
There is no prescription, no one size fits all, each of us needs to shape a plan to suit our own needs and those of our families, colleagues and friends, but attention to five activities could work for you:
Rework your Home Office
Time to ask how good is your set up? Are you sitting properly, are you getting back or eye strain, how good are your video calls? It could be a new router, a new computer or just a better layout. The reinstated advice to ‘work from home where possible’ means it will be the norm for some time to come. Surveys show on average, home working employees save 84 minutes travelling each day, but other surveys also show this could be balanced by working longer hours, with UK employees adding up to 120 minutes to each workday. For many, home working has been great, for others incredibly challenging: children are back in school, but distractions abound, space is at a premium or there’s too little separation of work, rest and play. It does not have to be expensive. A friend stopped working on the dinner table, reshuffled a small bedroom, bought a small self-assembly table, reassigned a dining chair, added a cushion, attached an extension cable and for less than £30 he transformed his home office experience.
‘Loneliness costs lives’ says Dame Esther Rantzen who asks us to ‘call not text’, because so many are experiencing profound loneliness and desperately need companionship. If you have not already done this, now is a really good time to look through your address book and re-engage with people you have lost touch with or been meaning to call. Think beyond relatives, consider friends and acquaintances who live alone, denied their usual social gatherings, they’ve been feeling this more than most. It has never been easier, a vast range of communication choices, even the humble old telephone will give both ends of the line a warmth and emotional lift greater than any text or app.
Get out more
Don’t let your home become your prison. It’s time to go Scandinavian. Living in colder places with short dark days in winter, they believe there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes. Time to get properly kitted out and reset your brain – get into the habit of going out even on wetter or colder days. Although we must limit social contact, we can still go out to walk, jog, take exercise as part of our daily diary, there is no better part of wellness. I’m reminded of a brilliant business school colleague who asked me: ‘why is it when you write your list of things to do each day, taking exercise is not on it when it is by far the most important thing you do to stay sharp through the day?’
Get a new hobby
We’ve seen plenty of evidence of poor mental health, we hear words like ‘devastating’, ‘depressing’, ‘appalling’ and ‘heart breaking’. Time to focus on what’s most important in life – family, friends, colleagues, key workers – but also think of yourself and your own mindfulness, invest in a pastime. For some, Covid-19 admittedly limits their hobby, but for most this is a perfect opportunity to pick up a hobby, challenge yourself, mentally, physically, to immerse yourself in something you’ve neglected, pick up something new to enjoy, or simply do more of what you do already – reading, music or art. You may never be the next Eric Clapton, but you could learn to play the guitar!
Reassess your Job
It is hurtful if people talk glibly about your job as no longer viable or a dark cloud continues to sit over the future of your business. Better to stay positive and be proactive, even in these darkest of times, jobs can still be found, there are still opportunities, new businesses are being formed, some businesses have actually grown stronger in the pandemic and want more people. This could be the time to revaluate your career path. We are not going back, time to rethink your place in a digital and socially networked society, where new sectors and places grow and thrive in vastly different forms. Time to work on your profile, to stand out in the crowd, consider reskilling for something different. This search can be liberating and uplifting, giving fresh purpose at this most difficult time.
MA (Oxon), D.Phil, CCMI, FCIPD
Mark teaches, consults, and researches in leadership and senior team development in the UK and international government, business and education. Mark is also the technical lead on serval leadership programmes and delivered by GMD People.