During May, we are observing Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.K. Taking time to understand mental wellbeing is always useful, but it’s especially important in today’s environment where isolation can lead to loneliness, anxiety and a number of distinct challenges to mental health.

Many of us will be working from home at the moment, with limited access to the great outdoors and fresh air. In addition, it’s a big change to established routines and can be particularly difficult for families with children.

At Kerfoot, we believe that mental health should be treated with the same importance as physical health, and so we want to share our top tips for supporting your wellbeing during lockdown, whether you are working from home or simply isolating.

Have a routine – During lockdown, rather than relying on regular timetables, we are left to our own devices, and it can be easy to let things slip. A standard routine helps to provide structure and normality; it also helps to separate normal everyday life from ‘work mode’.

Get dressed – While it may be tempting to stay in your pyjamas or loungewear, studies show that not dressing for work could impact your productivity and importantly, mental health. You wouldn’t be expected to stick to the formalwear you would use for the office, but designating clothes for working helps to psychologically condition us to remain productive and motivated, as we would in a more typical work environment.

Plan your day before you get started – Our mindset, and how we see our new relationship with work, is crucial to overcoming the mental health challenge of isolation. Without a plan in place for your day, you may feel like work becomes too flexible. Perhaps you won’t have a checklist to show progress, or you may feel like your work is never finished. A daily plan helps to compartmentalise work and ensure you’re on the right track.

Create your office space – At first, working from home might seem perfect – completing work in our own secure space. However, a designated area for working is essential to draw that psychological distinction between work and home life, particularly as the line between the two becomes blurred. Plus, with a dedicated working space, it can be easier to remove or manage distractions!

Struggling to stay focussed? Try the Pomodoro Technique – A popular way to manage time effectively is the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks activities down into set ‘boxes’. There are apps that can help you to do this, but a simple kitchen timer (which is what the technique is named after!) will do just fine. The six steps to the technique are:

  • Choose the task you want to accomplish
  • Set your timer – usually 25-30 minutes
  • Work on the task
  • When the timer goes off, stop working and mark a piece of paper with a tick
  • If you have fewer than four ticks on the paper for that piece of work, take a short break and go back to step 2
  • Once you have four ticks, take a longer break, reset the ticks and return to step 1

Establish your boundaries – Work-life balance is essential to mental and physical wellbeing, but it can be harder to maintain when the two worlds are so closely tied together. It’s important to stay productive, but it’s equally important to be kind to yourself, and give yourself space and permission to adjust in what is an unprecedented time for everyone.

By setting boundaries and knowing when you need to switch off, you will generate a deeper understanding of your personal work habits and may lay the foundation for better, and less stressful work in the future.

Time your breaks – Working from home makes the working day longer for many, even without the daily commute being part of it! As part of enabling structure and controlling the routine elements of your day, ensure you time your breaks. The key is to stick to the same frequency and time as you would in an office. Taking more time than you need can be a slippery slope into longer breaks and taking less time than you need could harm your mental wellbeing, potentially elevating stress and anxiety levels.

Connect with people – We may be isolating, but that doesn’t mean we’re alone! Your friends, family and colleagues may all be experiencing the same feelings as you, so take time to reach out and stay connected. There are a number of great ways to do this, the familiar Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls help us to stay connected, and apps such as WhatsApp or House Party can be equally useful.

Loneliness can be one of the biggest challenges in lockdown, and it’s not just for those living alone. Even busy full households can feel lonely when separated from friends and loved ones. We are all experiencing the same thing – we’re just seeing it through different lenses.

Don’t freak yourself out! – Taking time to understand your emotions and how you react to ‘the new normal’ is important, but it’s important not to panic or worry. We are all dealing with the situation differently and there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Ensure you treat yourself with kindness and allow yourself to adjust.

Share what’s working for you with others – Communication is essential, particularly as we miss out on the face-to-face connection that we’re so used to. If you find a particular way of working that’s right for you, share it with others! As humans, we’re always learning and adjusting to the world around us, which means that what works for other people could have a positive influence for you, and vice versa. We all struggle from time to time, and your experience and ideas might help someone who needs it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a number of key challenges to wellbeing, but as we move through it, there are a number of great ways we can support our mental health. The theme for Mental Health Week in 2020 is kindness. That doesn’t just mean kindness to others, it means being kind to yourself too. The environment we find ourselves in, whether working from home, furloughed or otherwise, may feel disruptive, but nothing lasts forever. Eventually this too will pass, but until then, it’s important that we continue supporting each other and taking care of our mental health.