Were you desperately waiting for 2020 to end, somehow thinking if you got to the end of it, the new year would magically make things different? Think again.
Did you really think the stress of working in constant change – remote, in the office, back to remote, schools open, schools closed, visiting family, bubbles, not visiting family, travel, no travel and so on – would all miraculously cease with the turn of the calendar?
There should have been no surprise when we woke up on January 1 to find there were still restrictions on movement, the virus was still present, and we were just as concerned as we had been the day before. New year resolutions seemed even more futile than usual unless it was to try and lose the ‘lockdown weight.’
Studies done by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Deloitte, PWC and many more before 2020 highlighted the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. This was already a subject raised in the media and supported by charities, celebrities and social media for a few years now. Then came the unexpected, a global pandemic which changed everything and even those of us lucky enough not to have any issues with mental health in the past have been exposed to situations of immense stress.
I speak from my experience as an IT professional. There are many other occupations that have been affected, but I will stay with what I know. For most of us of working age, in ‘good IT jobs’ in the UK, this is our first experience of such a worldwide crisis. We in the UK have not been affected by conflict and war (although many have across the globe); we have experienced some economic crises, but nothing on such a large scale, affecting us in all aspects of our lives. We have been safe, society has been protected, we are in the affluent ‘first world’ economy.
I’m not implying there have been no struggles, but looking back with clear 20/20 hindsight we have to recognise that we have, on the whole, been fortunate, perhaps even privileged. Those of us who have had good careers, good education and a generally comfortable lifestyle (by which I mean we have had access to clean fresh water, shelter and food), have been shielded from some of the horrors of the world.
Then came 2020 and COVID-19.
We have had to deal with the changes and pressures of a volatile situation, affecting everyone in terms of work, social interactions, and grief. Losing contact with loved ones, being physically distant from family and friends, and creating different relationships with our work colleagues. Some of us have relished the solitude (I have spoken about the introverts before), others have been frustrated by the lack of contact and stimulation (our extroverts) but all of us have had one thing in common – this has had an effect.
To give you a good start, here are my top tips for helping yourself – in an acronym – R.E.S.I.L.i.e.N.C.E.
1) Rest is essential
2) Engage with your feelings
3) Self-care needs time
4) Individual response to stress—don’t compare yourself to others, your journey is your own
5) Listen to your inner voice (not the one telling you to run amok with an axe)
6) Improve your awareness of your needs
7) Experience your feelings fully, acknowledge them, even the tough ones
8) Necessary (you can’t do without this, don’t ignore your mental health)
9) Change your behaviour, your response; recognise that you can choose how to behave
10) Exercise the behaviour until it becomes a habit (ha! you thought it was going to be go for a run, didn’t you!), embed it, it that is resilience
Each time we indulge in negative thoughts and feelings, we strengthen their effect on us. However, every time we engage in positive thoughts and behaviours, letting go of the negative ones, we are retraining our brains to think a little differently.
By practicing mindfulness and meditation, we can begin to more fully understand how our emotions, thoughts, and feelings impact our lives. Taking one small step in support of a happier, healthier, and calmer way of life, mindfulness and meditation is a great place to start to building resilience.