For those who don’t know me, my name is Steve and I am a TSSA member who worked for 15 years at Transport for London, In 2017, I left Transport for London through voluntary severance and set up my own training and consultancy business to help workplaces improve awareness around mental health and wellbeing, and introduce practical steps to support employees. I’ve also managed my own anxiety condition – Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - for several years too.
The current global crisis has brought an unprecedented amount of uncertainty for us all and it’s understandable this can be scary and so impact our mental wellbeing. Also, if you are working from home and/or practising social distancing from being based in an office, you’ll have already experienced big changes in your daily routine. It is completely normal to be feeling anxious or on edge, especially when hearing what is going on around us and the feeling of having no control over it. I see lots of similarities between the current situation and the one I faced when I left a busy office full of work colleagues in 2017 to go straight into working for myself and on my own; the very first time in 37 years of work. I can’t deny that it was not challenging at first, but I can reassure you that over time I coped well with the big change despite also managing my GAD, and I did this by following the www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
I’m a massive advocate of the tool and I’ve been using this approach in my life for a number of years now, even to the extent of sorting my computer files into five folders reflecting the five ways! It’s helped me manage my own anxiety and I’ll be continuing to use a balance of these five ways to help me maintain my mental health and wellbeing during this time of isolation. So, I’d like to share with you what I’m doing to ensure that I incorporate each “way” into my life, so it can help you in some way to maintain a sense of calm and balance, rather than anxiety and worry during this time of isolation.
1. Connect with other people
Feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to us functioning well in the world. I certainly need connection and so I’ve timetabled into my daily routine at least one form of connection with other people per day aside for my wife and son who are at home with me. I’m contacting family, friends and work colleagues regularly using the phone, text, instant message as well as the video conference platforms like Zoom, where I group chat with people I would normally meet in person. They are all people that I trust, and I’ve found it helpful to talk to them about my worries, especially if they are feeling in a similar situation. I’ll also be sending a few letters and cards as writing down what’s going on and finding out how others are doing is therapeutic for me. I also find listening to podcasts give me a feeling of connection too.
2. Be physically active
Because working from home more regularly has now become the 'new normal' for me, I am not moving as much as I was before. Being active is not only good for our physical health and fitness but it improves our mental wellbeing too. So, I am building more physical activity into my daily routine. I don’t have any gym equipment, so I’m going out for a long walk or run every other day, as well as watching The body coach tv with my family every day.
If you are not so mobile, there are some good www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/sitting-exercises/ I have seen which can help with activity and you can even do some whilst watching television. Normal household activities such as walking stairs, gardening and cleaning are keeping me busy too, and I’m also making time to listen to my favourite music and having a little boogie to that.
3. Give to others
I always get a real happy feeling when I do an act of kindness for someone else and I know this increases my wellbeing too. It’s a little harder to do such acts when in isolation, but I’ve decided to make a point of really thanking the people I’m contacting for what they have done for me because a lot have been very supportive. I’ll also always make a point of asking them how they are and really listening to their answer and acknowledging it; we support each other. I know doing some form of volunteering will warm my heart, and because I now have some spare time I’ve registered as a www.goodsamapp.org/NHS and hope to do some driving and have some chats with people feeling isolated and lonely soon.
4. Pay attention to the present moment
Paying more attention to the present moment improves my mental awareness, which includes my thoughts, feelings, body as well as my surroundings. This awareness is commonly known as “mindfulness”, and I improve my attention is using an app called www.headspace.com/covid-19 for 15 minutes first thing every morning to set off my day in a calm way. They are offering some free sessions if you want to try it, but there are plenty of other app and sites out there, and my other favourites are mindfulnessexercises.com/balance-mindfulness-app/ (which is currently free for a year) and www.bemindfulonline.com/ (which is on video too). Mindfulness does not have to be meditation, and I try to be mindful in the shower, cleaning my teeth, when eating, as well as taking notice of the things around me when I go on my exercise runs/walks. I find mindfulness techniques help me focus on the present rather than dwelling on the unhelpful thoughts than can fill my head.
Having a regular daily schedule and timetable is also important to me and I find what works for me is splitting activities (including work) into chunks of 50 minutes then taking a 10 minute break; I devote my full attention and focus on that activity for the time I allocate, set an alarm to stop, and then use the breaks to think about other things while I get myself a drink or snack.
As part of my schedule, late in the evening I reflect on what went well for me in the day as I find it helpful for me to recognise my “little wins” and the things I am grateful for, no matter how small, and I keep a gratitude journal to write down two or three of these things every day.
In my household, we have now have a “wish” jar where we write and put in post-it notes of things we wish we could do that we currently can’t due to isolation. We’re looking forward to picking these out of the jar and doing them once the current situation is all over.
5. Learn new skills
I’m finding that I do have more spare time in my day at the moment, and I’d produced a small list of things I wanted to learn a while ago, so I’ve decided to use this time for those now rather than just adding to time watching television or scrolling on my smartphone. So, I’ve picked up the ukulele that my wife bought me two Christmases ago and am learning to play. I also have a stone painting kit, and I’m looking forward to painting stones with positive slogans on them to leave around the various places I walk. I also started studying breathing and breathwork.
It is important to choose new activities that help you relax and some ideas I have heard other friends are doing are arts and crafts, DIY, yoga, colouring, singing, writing or meditation. In order to improve my knowledge, I’ve discovered some great free on-line courses from the www.open.edu/openlearn/free-courses/full-catalogue and www.futurelearn.com/courses that are really interesting.
Hopefully I’ve managed to give you some ideas for using your time to help your mental wellbeing during this time of isolation and/or working from home, There’s lots of resources out there around the subject and in my next blog I will share some that I recommend if you need them. Take care.