We're busy updating our Work Well during Lockdown guides to reflect the situation we find ourselves in after 200+ days in varying states of pandemic restrictions - but the most important section of the guide is Chapter 1 - the absolute basics of looking after yourself whilst under restrictions.
1. Take a deep breath
We are being bombarded with messages, articles, content, advice and more on what we should and shouldn’t be doing. 100 ways to stay productive working from home. 45 tips for juggling homeschooling and work. Don’t work in your PJs. Put a schedule in place. Do this. Do that.
The most important thing is to look after yourself. Don’t expect to be 100% productive. You’ve never been 100% productive when you weren’t working from home - you won’t be now.
There’s so much going on. It’s okay to not have a handle on everything. If you read no further in this booklet, please take this one piece of advice. Give yourself a break.
2. It’s been a long time - good habits lapse
At the start of the pandemic it was almost exciting to set up new habits, the weekly zoom pub quiz, calling people on the phone, getting into a new routine that didn't include the commute - but over time, it's been very easy to let some of the positive habits lapse.
For many, this was a good thing, as people put themselves under immense stress to 'thrive' rather than just cope - and burnt-out - but there's a balance between doing nothing to take care of yourself and putting too much pressure on yourself to be your best.
I know it can feel like hard work, especially during the shorter days, but a little investment in your wellbeing pays off in buckets.
Use this moment to reflect upon the habits you've found yourself naturally following now things have settled down - and make sure you're not ignoring the most foundational habits, such as exercise, diet, sleep, connection and communication.
3. Don’t forget the basics - eat, sleep, drink, exercise
Physical health and mental health are absolutely intertwined - so keeping on top of the absolute basics helps.
Eat well (lots of green leafy veg, lots of Vitamin D rich foods), drink lots of fluids (ideally not as much caffeine, less alcohol and lots of water) and make use of your daily exercise allowance outdoors. Try to balance the cravings for carbohydrates with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Taking extra Vitamin B12 or Vitamin D supplements can also be helpful for winter.
Keep exercising - you have unlimited time outdoors to exercise, to make the most of it, and if staying in place, make use of the many free resources for indoor exercises, such as Joe Wicks 9am workout for families, or have a search on Youtube.
Sleep well - sleep is being disrupted for many, so try and focus on regularity of sleep, the same time going to bed, the same time getting up. It's easy to shift your sleep habits when the light changes, but try and stick to your routines, and don't be tempted to spend longer in bed, even if it's warm under that duvet.
Make the most of daylight - research shows that a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day can be an effective treatment for coping low mood in the winter, and getting outside during the natural daylight is essential. Even sitting near the window whilst you're indoors can help.
Get some fresh air and natural light into your home - open a few windows, get a breeze flowing. And if you’re taking medication, don’t forget to keep taking the regular dosage. Set an alarm to remind you if you’re losing track of the days.
4. Healthy Boundaries - make sure you're switching off
If you're working from home, it can be really hard to switch off - there's no clear distinction between when the work-day starts and stops, and no obvious signals for when you should take breaks during the day or 'leave' work.
Consider putting some structure into your day by giving yourself a 'working day' with a lunch hour, mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks, and a time at the end of the day where you 'leave work', even if that means nothing more than getting up from your sofa and walking around the house to stretch your legs.
Research is showing people are working longer hours whilst working from home - but we need rest, mentally and physically, to stay healthy and productive.
5. Be aware of your mental health - small things add up
Even if you don't feel like your mental health is being affected by the lockdown, small things add up, and can slowly eat away at your wellbeing. Be actively aware of how you're feeling, and try and track changes in your mood over time. This is especially important if you're at home alone or working from home on your own all day.
Use a notebook to keep track of your feelings and thoughts each day, or use an online tool or app on your mobile. There are lots of great online communities where you can share how you’re doing too.
You can also look back and reflect on what’s causing lower mood and and what improves things, which will make it easier to build behaviours that maintain positive mental health.
6. Building Emotional Support Bubbles
No matter the restrictions on how many people we're allowed to meet - creating emotional support bubbles of people who are there for us can help immensely.
Take time to strengthen the connections with those in your network who you know are already there for you, will take the time to listen when you're struggling, or that you want to reach out to to check in on them.
Look for other spaces and places where you can meet others who might be going through similar experiences too - online support groups or communities exist for job sectors, ways of working, geographic regions, etc.
It can help to add some regularity in your contact too - perhaps set a time and day you'll check in with your group, and protect that time in your diary. Even if you're feeling fine - it can help others.
Finding a tribe where you can share what you're going through and support others helps you to make and maintain meaningful connections.
7. Think longer term
We don't know how long COVID will be impacting the world - so no matter how long we might be lockdown, it's important not to treat this as a temporary measure but rather to put things in place which are longer-term habits to take care of yourself and your wellbeing.
So try and look towards sustainable change, rather than unrealistic temporary measures.
This time around, we have a chance to plan ahead, we know a little more of what it might feel like, where our gaps and needs are, and we focus on wellbeing rather than just "making things work".
This might mean more significant changes things like diversifying your income streams so you're not reliant on a single way of working, or small things like putting aside a percentage of every invoice for emergency funds.
Just don't ignore the potential of a further lockdowns happening - even if things improve, having some ideas ready for what you could do reduces anxiety, as you've had time and space to consider what you might do.
8. Keep Connected
Most importantly - listen and share.
Take time to ask "how are you?" to your colleagues - and listen for the answer.
If it's "fine", ask again and listen to the answer. Give people an opportunity to share if they're struggling, and talk it through.
Lead by example and share how you're feeling, so when someone asks you, be honest. If you're struggling, say so. Often, just the simple act of saying it out loud helps, and helps others know they can be honest if they're struggling too.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your team - find others to connect with, non-judgemental online communities like Leapers.
If you are really feeling low or struggling with feelings of isolation, anxiety or panic, there are people who can help - see our urgent help pages for support.