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How to take the stress out of ‘working from home’

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Whether working from home or being furloughed, the combination of loneliness and fear of the unknown makes this a stressful time.

Looking after our mental health is as important as our physical wellbeing. Polly Rivers has been talking with colleagues, both in the industry and outside, about what we need to do to combat the anxieties and concerns that are only natural at this time.

Maintaining health is something we are all taking very seriously at the moment. Whether it is doing laps of the garden (and raising millions in the process) or reaching for the fruit bowl rather than the Jaffa Cakes, keeping an eye on our physical health is a top priority.

However, with more and more pressure piling on from all angles, keeping our mental health in top condition is also high on the list. But what do we need to be considering to ensure that we are managing our mental health needs, and those of our nearest and dearest, during this tricky time?

Establish a daily routine

Most of us are creatures of habit, with a standard routine that keeps us ticking over day-to-day. So, when this is thrown in the air, it can shake the foundations, and leave us feeling confused and uneasy. Keeping some routine to our days is really useful to ensuring that we keep on track.

Late nights and lazy mornings are far from helpful when it comes to establishing a routine – they can cause real problems with maintaining healthy sleep patterns. Parents of teenagers may recognise this issue, with many teenagers seemingly becoming nocturnal at the moment! Whilst tricky to implement, heading to bed and getting up at similar times every day will regulate the body clock, helping it recognise when it is meant to be sleeping, and lead to far fewer frustrated nights spent staring at the ceiling.

Many of us are using our daily exercise as a way of keeping some structure. When we exercise, our bodies release feel-good chemicals called endorphins – great news if you are in need of a pick-me-up.

With gyms closed and team sports out of the window, it can be difficult to feel like we are making a dent in our exercise regimes. However, don’t underestimate the benefits of even a little moderate exercise every day. It may not be the workout you’re used to, but a brisk walk out in the open air, a free online workout, or even a race around the house with the hoover will all get the blood pumping, improve energy levels, and promote better sleep.

Manage expectations

As we settle into a new working from home routine, many of us find that the ‘to do’ list doesn’t stop with our own work… 

For many, the added pressure of home-schooling has added another dimension, and it is no surprise that this situation can create a pressure cooker of emotions, for all family members. Claudia Graham, assistant headteacher at Meopham School in Kent shared her thoughts on the pressures many parents and children are facing with regards to tackling home-schooling.

“Teachers understand the pressures that families are under to juggle the complex situation we all find ourselves in. Trying to manage everything is a nigh-on impossible task. Your children will be scared, missing their friends and familiar life, all of which can make them unresponsive to any new routines.

“We are asking our students and their parents to do whatever works for them. If it helps to have a routine that feels familiar to school, great! If not, just find a rhythm that feels manageable.

“When we eventually get back to school, we will work hard to get every child back to the stage they need to be – we’re all itching to get back in the classroom and we’re ready to take on the challenge.”

Stay connected

When one long day stretches into another, it can seem like there is no end to the monotony – which can play havoc with our mental health. That said, living in the digital age is helping smash this boundary, with more opportunities than ever before to stay connected with friends and colleagues from home, and get involved with projects designed to keep us busy.

Nurturing relationships can help us feel happier and more secure, giving us a greater sense of well-being and purpose, as well as being a great way to offer emotional support and share experiences.

Organisations such as Young Rail Professionals have leapt into action, pulling together a series of online training courses and webinars designed to help rail professionals make the most of this enforced downtime.

Jacob Cooper, national professional networking and development manager at Young Rail Professionals explained more: “We felt that this was a great opportunity for people in our sector to really come together. There’s an incredible amount of knowledge out there and we are all hungry to learn, however the pressure and pace of life so often gets in the way. We felt that people would be keen to use this time to engage with new information and may appreciate a distraction from everything going on around them.

“We called out to the industry for courses and the response was incredible – there’s courses from vehicle engineering to fraud protection available and it really goes to show how generous the railway family really is with their knowledge. We are also delivering our own development webinars which cover events on rail policy and investment, innovation and a suite of leadership talks.

“Digital courses and webinars are also a great way to keep connected with friends and colleagues. At YRP, we host a number of social events throughout the year, up and down the country. Obviously, these are not possible currently, but just because we are sat at home, doesn’t mean we cannot raise a glass together and share a social evening. We’re just doing so from the comfort of our sofas!”

The YRP is also collaborating with the Railway Benefit Fund, as part of a project designed to help anyone working in the rail sector who has been adversely financially affected by the COVID-19 crisis get back on their feet.

Deal with fear

There is no doubt that this is a scary time, and most people have felt waves of fear and nerves wash over them as we feel our way through the COVID-19 journey.

However, in order to manage our mental wellbeing during this time, there are a few simple moves we can all make in order to minimise the pandemic panic, and ensure that, whilst we are well informed, we don’t let anxiety get the better of us. 

Talking worries through with trusted family or friends is a great place to start if you feel anxious.  Most people will be having many of the same concerns, so sharing your worries will help address these fears. It can be difficult to consider a solution on your own, two minds are better than one, after all.

Having open conversations as a family will also help you address any fears that your children may be concerned about, which are likely to be very different to your own. Tackling these together will hopefully calm the fears and allow them to feel more relaxed about the confusing situation.

Whilst a second opinion can be really useful, having the world offering their thoughts can add to confusion. Social media, whilst great for keeping in touch, can be overwhelming, with plenty of conflicting information and speculation proving a confusing mix. Taking a break from social media, or muting non-reputable sources, is a great idea if you are feeling overwhelmed, and help you feel more in control.

Keeping an eye on younger family members’ social media consumption and checking that they aren’t getting misled is key too; there’s plenty of wild theories swirling at the moment!

The news is full of nothing but COVID-19, and whilst it is useful to stay informed, it is important to strike the right balance between staying in the loop and losing a day glued to the same information. Turning off news alerts on devices and sticking to one news briefing a day is a great way to stay informed, but not overwhelmed. You could even ask a trusted family member or a friend to update you, if you want a total break for a few days.

Access support

Understanding how to access the right services is vital to making sure that you are well supported during this time, and there is plenty of assistance available should you feel you need a listening ear, or someone who can point you in the right direction.

Your local GP is always a great place to start if you are feeling in need of support. For many, the fear of entering a medical environment at the moment is a contributing factor to anxiety and stress, but, whilst most practices are not offering face-to-face appointments at the moment, many have great online triage options which allow you to note your symptoms and direct you to the best advice. This could be a telephone or video appointment with your GP, keeping you completely clear of any physical interaction with a medical practice.

Alternatively, there are a number of dedicated mental health support options available, all of which are perfectly placed to help people who may be struggling with COVID-19-related concerns. Organisations such as Samaritans (call free on 116 123) are available 24/7. The Samaritans Self-Help app is also available for download via smartphone or on a desktop – it has been designed to help you self-manage your mental health in a crisis. The anonymous app helps users learn safe, memorable techniques for coping with things that are troubling them, through a range of interactive features. 

Don’t overlook assistance closer to home, too. The rail sector is great at recognising the need to place as much emphasis on maintaining mental health as physical health, and many organisations have a great provision for support within their own teams.

ScotRail is one of a number of railway companies that has recently rolled out a comprehensive mental health first aid programme, with 50 employees undergoing training to help them identify individuals who are developing mental health issues and guide them to the relevant service. With social distancing procedures in place, the team members have put their newfound knowledge to good use, using video conferencing calls to hold meetings to offer support and guidance to their peers.

Nadya Kuhl, ScotRail occupational health and wellbeing manager, said: “During this unprecedented global crisis, it’s important that we continue to talk about our mental health.

“Whether that’s texting a friend, chatting to colleagues through video conferencing apps, or checking in with a vulnerable neighbour – our society really benefits from peoples’ selflessness and kind-hearted actions.”

We are all working through a confusing and complicated time at the moment. From schooling thrown up in the air, to lockdown restrictions and concerns over workplace security, it is no surprise that it feels harder than normal to take care of our mental health and wellbeing.

Whilst we are facing a worldwide challenge, you are never alone – support is always available.

Mind: call 0300 123 3393 / text 86463

Samaritans: call 116 123