My cousin phoned me over the weekend to say her uncle who had been rushed to hospital last week had died of the coronavirus. The deceased’s son, who had only just got home from university had to call an ambulance for his dad and was now in self-isolation. The poor lad will not able to attend his father’s funeral and has to make do with a photo of the burial. These are the times we now live in. Suddenly, it wasn’t just statistics on TV anymore for me, this was real. In the UK, we are all in lockdown.
Stress levels are off the charts. People are losing their jobs, people are having to work from home and home-school their children simultaneously; some people have to live in cramped spaces with toddlers whirling around and no one knows when we are going to come out of this for sure.
Believe it or not, April is National Stress Awareness month and has been since 1992. This is the perfect time for us to be aware of our stress levels, as all of us stare into self-isolation for up to the next three months! So, what are the big mistakes people make in lockdown?
1. Unrealistic expectations
2. Lack of structure
3. Not prioritising wellbeing
You need to understand what your stress triggers are and allow for the fact that we are living in unprecedented times and set your expectations accordingly. Any one of the following could happen and you need to be okay with it:
• Your productivity is going to drop
• Your kids will realise that you are not a very good teacher
• The dog will bark while you are on a conference call
• Your child will come in and ask for something embarrassing before you get a chance to press the mute button
• You forget to switch off your camera on Microsoft teams and your work colleagues see you with mad hair and no make-up on, sacrilege, I know!
These things will happen and you need to lower your expectations if you want to come out of this lockdown intact.
In normal times, as in recent years, 49% of sick days, and two fifths of work-related ill health were caused by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Now throw in lockdown, and stress levels fall off the charts.
The causes of stress according to MIND, the mental health charity are:
• being under lots of pressure
• facing big changes
• worrying about something
• not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation
• having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming
• not having enough work, activities or change in your life
• times of uncertainty.
The Coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown mean that all of the above issues may arise for many if not all of us. Be kind to yourself and lower your expectations and cut yourself some slack.
Lack of structure
The fact that I am asking you to lower your expectations doesn’t mean that you should now be waking up at midday! If you have young children that is not a choice anyway. You have to wake up at your normal waking hour and try to be at your desk at the normal time that you would be at your desk in your office. That waking up, having a shower and getting dressed (no! pyjamas are not acceptable, but it doesn’t have to be a suit either) to come and sit in your home office is important. Your brain likes routine. It also makes you feel in control. Your kids also like routine, and if you want them to tow the line for the rest of the day, it starts with the mornings.
My son is on his Easter break now but last week when he was supposed to be at school, I made him to do the full school day at home, to the point of breaking for lunch at the same time as he would have at school. He saw me sticking to my routine so it was easy for him to stick to his.
In times of turmoil like this, when we are all craving certainty, routine gives us that. Find a daily structure that works for you and family and stick to it.
Not prioritising your Wellbeing
The fact that you are stuck at home doesn’t give you license to binge on ice-cream (my weakness is vegan ice-cream!) and give up on exercise tempting though it may seem. Wellbeing really comes into its own and supports us when we need it most. In these times it is an absolute must. The last thing you want to do is fall ill now. The hospitals are cramped to breaking point and you have no guarantee that whatever you go in with, you will come out alive; so the best thing to do is to stay away. How do you do that:
• Eating nutrient dense food to ensure your body is well supported.
• Staying hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of water day
• Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
• Sleep 8-9 hours at night
• Read interesting, stimulating and positive material (limit your coronavirus news intake)
• Practise mindfulness and meditation
With realistic expectations, structure and prioritised wellbeing, you will be able to withstand whatever comes at you and manage your stress better in these trying times.