2020 has not been an easy year for any of us. It’s been plagued by the pandemic, financial uncertainty, furlough, home working and as a result, a national mental health crisis. At the end of September, the man who was keeping us all positive, Joe Wicks, The Body Coach and the nation’s favourite P.E teacher posted a video telling us all that he too now, is struggling. Like many of us, Joe is finding the level of uncertainty around COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions alarming and stressful which is having a knock-on effect on his mental health. We’re certain he’s not alone. Wellbeing and stress management are topics that have been high on our agenda for some time now, and these conversations remain incredibly important both outside and inside the workplace.
Feeling the impact
In June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) discovered that 7.4 million adults reported that their wellbeing had been affected by loneliness during the early stages of lockdown (April -May). Plus, for those of us who don’t usually work from home, this has been quite the culture shock. Research from Nuffield Health revealed that 80% of Brits feel that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health. Despite its benefits (spending more time with family members and reduced commuting time), 25% said they find it difficult to cope with loneliness and isolation from colleagues. Additionally, 30% reported finding it difficult to separate their home and work lives, with the lines becoming constantly blurred. This isn’t surprising. If your workspace is also your living room, where you used to relax and recharge, where do you draw the line?
Coping with stress
But it’s not all negative. Research shows that stress can be an ally. It helps us to identify risks, emergencies and any situation which requires an immediate response. It generates quick release hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, to help you cope with these situations, but it means that your heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies are impacted. This is usually fine for short periods as your stress responses should be self-limiting. However, if you constantly find yourself in a state of stress, it can put you at risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems and much more. And during COVID-19, many people have reported feeling more stressed than usual whether that stems from the pressure to look good on video meeting (19%) or feeling unable to step away from your workstation (36%), believing rapid responses to colleagues are absolutely necessary.
Planning for the unknown
As the Body Coach highlights, part of the problem is the unknown. We are very much in the dark as to when ‘normality’ will resume, and where does that leave us all? The New York Times recently compared the journey of sled dogs in the Artic to our current situation in the pandemic. After all, we’re all engrossed in our journeys, giving all of our time and effort with little understanding of how far it is to the finish line. Some of us have stretched ourselves thin to cope with increased workloads (especially during furlough) and for those who are used to planning ahead, much of these plans will have been shattered (or quite frankly gone out the window) over recent months. We’ve stopped anticipating our needs for rest, social engagement, balance and in many cases, have planned to take care of ourselves later, whenever that may be. Perhaps it shouldn’t then come as a surprise when we crash or are struck by loneliness. It’s inevitable because as the article says, “if you don’t know how far you’re going, you need to act like you’re going forever.”
Looking to the future
So, what comes next? Despite its challenges, research shows that 75% of employees want to continue working from home and it’s likely to become a common practice for many, long after lockdown. However, if this is to be the case, serious conversations need to be had around wellbeing and how the future workplace (and employers) can support team members throughout this transition. But while the pandemic and local lockdown measures continue, we need to review how we can alleviate some of the stresses and pressures that this brings. There’s no better time to do this as we approach National Stress Awareness Day on November 4th which will focus on the effects of psychological distress in the workplace, and coping strategies to help address it.
We’ll be continuing this conversation around stress and wellbeing on our Twitter chat on 4 November at 12.30 pm. To join us or to catch up on the highlights, visit @BarbriAltior or search #BALegalChat