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Mon 18 May 2020

Looking up from lockdown

By Nadine Lock, People Officer at Tenovus Cancer Care

I read this week that just 9% of the UK population want things back to ‘normal’ or as they once were after lockdown. So, that got me thinking that we’ve had time on our hands these last couple of months to think about how we live our lives. I know work is a massive part of things for people. It pays our bills yet we also get a great sense of belonging from it; work is part of our identity and gives us camaraderie and satisfaction.

It seems that the impact of coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing has not only taught us some life lessons but completely changed the way we’re working. While you might feel like you’ve been through the wringer a bit of late with one thing or another, it’s only natural to not feel quite your usual self at home and at work and that the two have collided while we’re hanging in limbo.

Sometimes a pause, a shift or jolt from the usual hustle and bustle forces us to stop, reflect and evaluate. Typically we human beings baulk at change. It can frighten or excite us and we take to it in different ways in our own time. But, this one came at us like a bat out of hell and we had no choice but to go with it. And we’re still riding the wave.

It’s lovely to socially Zoom and WhatsApp with our furloughed friends and have our day to day contact on Teams with each other. Overall though I see we’re missing being around each other like we used to be and its hard all round. Maybe some of us at work are experiencing some parts of lockdown life a little differently, in both good and bad ways and are being a bit hard on ourselves.

So, as it’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is ‘kindness’, it’s a good time to talk.

Now is the time we most need to be able to grab onto our ability to cope in hard times, bounce back from the bad news stories and manage our stress levels. We’ve got a job to do and we’re all working super hard but we need to band together to recognise this and get through it because life is tough right now.

The work and personal challenges we faced before lockdown are still there and we’ve got a heap of new ones piled on now. So while we’re still spinning plates every day at work we need to give ourselves a bit of slack too. We need to remember we’re human and while we will get through this we may stumble on the way and that’s alright.

Saying that, maybe now we’ve had the chance to reflect after the initial mayhem of lockdown life and tell ourselves we’ve done ok. We’re weathering the storm. On the whole we seem to be adapting well, have risen to the occasion and are working with what we have and embracing new ways of doing things.

I for one have definitely learnt more about using IT at work than ever before and surprised myself in enjoying home working. I’m chuffed I’m getting better at using Teams and in a funny way its brought us a bit closer together despite being further apart and our drive and love for what we’re aiming for at work still shines out.

Although it’s a challenge there are lessons to be learnt from lockdown. The famous writer, Maya Angelou says it best in “The question is not how to survive but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humor and style”. It’s all about how we get up when we stumble and how we embrace that to take it forward with us to wherever this leads us.

So, on that note I will hold my hands up. In any time I’ve had off work I have not baked a loaf of banana bread, done a Joe Wicks workout or cycled anywhere in my daily leisure time. I’ve even declined some zoom quiz nights and secretly been relieved I don’t have to rush off here and there for various social things like I felt compelled to in the ‘old days’!

I’ve done what I can, when I can around work and family life. And, although it took me a bit of time to get there I don’t feel guilty for it.

I admire how those of you home schooling or caring for others and working are managing everything. It’s sometimes hard for all of us to cram everything into the day and get a bit of time in for yourself to keep you sane. Maybe you’re not! But if you can try to drop the guilt like me and get at least get 5 minutes with a cuppa away from everything just for you to breathe. Be your own benchmark and take each new day for what it is.

Maybe having a positive mind-set and letting go of any guilt trappings will help us all cope better on those wobbly days. The feelings of what you think you should be doing with your time right now, worrying how our furloughed friends feel or how you should be coping may lull as we continue to accept, adapt and hit the reset button to a new way of working life that gels with everything else.

We’re all changing up how we work our hours around lockdown life. The pace and challenges at work are different. Our work and home lives are now seamlessly interwoven. We’ve crafted home offices out of our kitchen tables and work and IT is so accessible to us all now at home that it can entice us to put more hours in. Some of us are away from loved ones as key workers and we worry about our health and work.

So, although that means we’ll measure ourselves and our value we give to work in different ways the emphasis more than ever needs to be kind to you and not push things too much.

We don’t know how long this will all go on for. What changes may come and go or stay, we’re yet to see. So we have to accept what we’ve got right now, trust and support each other and keep adapting. We need to just do our best and look up from the values lockdown life is teaching us rather than get too bogged down in the detail.

We’ve got a big job on but part of that job’s to relish the opportunity the lockdown crisis has brought and think about things differently. Now’s the time to look after ourselves physically and mentally, do the main things we need to in a day and just let some things be.

We’re making history in working flexibly like never before and stepping up to the crisis.The ONS report that in just the last 8 weeks 20 million of us are now remote working as opposed to the 1.7 million of us working in this way before the coronavirus impact in the UK. A lot of us may have the space and opportunity now to learn to balance our home and work lives and make positive changes for us and our loved ones. This can only happen though if we’re kind on ourselves and with each other as team mates.

That means not feeling like you can’t book some time off work, chat to your Managers, colleagues or HR teams if things are a bit hard. Take a decent lunch break and embrace time to live healthy. It’s about building better working relationships, listening and speaking with compassion and empathy prioritising relationships that are important to you. It’s having fun times as well as working hard and giving yourself guilt-free time for you.

So, if you need a chat reach out to someone you feel you could talk to in or out of work or just check in with people as part of your day with a virtual coffee break and see how they’re doing. Know that if you’re feeling quite low you can always get in touch with someone like the Samaritans, your GP or Mind for help.

Looking up from lockdown has made me realise life is good even though times are tough and sometimes upsetting. I’m doing things I didn’t before and embracing the lack of life’s old daily pressures to do more of the things I love and feel gratitude that I’m one of the lucky ones.

I might sit in the garden with a book and eat a healthy salad during lunch these days rather than nip over to the shop for a sandwich. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk and catch up on my work hours a bit later. I’ve made time for cooking from scratch instead of a commute. I’ve got into gardening a bit more and I’ve ‘Zoomed’ for the first time and caught up with long overdue friends and family from all over the world.

Although I’ve been busier than ever with work I’ve released my diary constraints and feel better all round. This is because I’m trying to embrace all the good stuff knowing I’m looking after myself and ‘thriving’ in Maya Angelou’s words. I’m now feeling grateful for this piece of newness in my life that I hope I can keep hold of. Without looking up from lockdown I would have missed out on a lot of the positive things I’ve built in my ‘new normal’ although I do miss being able to give hugs.

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free cancer Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010