Lockdown leadership lessons: mental health

It was just over a year ago that the entire world came to a grinding halt. I’m used to travelling around the globe delivering training and keynote speeches, so the sudden standstill was profound.

Like me, you probably thought it was going to last a couple of months and then we would return to some semblance of normality. That didn’t happen! Working from an armchair in my bedroom was a challenge as the rest of the family were in other rooms.

At first, it was a bit of a novelty but it began wearing very thin after six months. To continue to work in my own space effectively, my wife and I agreed it was time to build a garden office.

Working from home required effort but being cut off from relationships has affected me the most. I have managed to continue to keep in contact with relationships, but the lack of face-to-face meetings was a huge change for me.

YouGov’s 2020 personality study reported recently that around 53% of Britons felt the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Its 2021 study also highlights that 43% of Americans feel more distanced from their friends. Feeling isolated has resulted in a rise in anxiety and stress.

Coping with change

There is no quick fix, as everyone is different due their circumstances and personalities. Survival for me was about bringing shape to my day. I have found it easier to plan and focus with a schedule in place.

Travelling to and from conferences was the perfect inspiration to help me plan projects. Without that travel, however, I had to make a deliberate plans to ensure I didn’t enter a quagmire of malaise.

So, early in the lockdown, I decided to carve up my day – and this may work for you. Working from a desk is really not my bag, so one of my first decisions was to limit Zoom meetings and office time to mornings.

Switch off

Switching off video conferencing for the afternoon helped me because I was becoming exhausted with all-day meetings on Zoom. Without travel time between meetings, it is assumed a meeting via video is less taxing, but I disagree, indeed science shows that it’s more difficult.

In a blog I wrote last summer, I featured a study which said that endless Zoom meetings could be damaging to mental health. Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association, explained that video calls require more focus and mental energy than face-to-face meetings.

So, if you are feeling the pressure and are mentally drained from video conferences, that is the reason why. It may appear that such meetings are easier, but they’re evidently not.

Fresh air

After lunch, I like to head out into the fresh air. Over the year, this has taken a different shape depending on local rules. But getting out to think and plan is such a liberating experience, even on your own.

As well as getting exercise, it’s great to work outdoors. While I’m away from my desk I am still working but I simply change the setting. If getting exercise outside is more difficult for you, then you could try physical activity at home.

To help in the winter, I bought a spinning machine and make sure that I have 30 minutes of exercise on it each day. It is invigorating and after a shower, I feel energised.

Carving up my day has helped me cope with what was a very difficult time, especially at the start of lockdown when I was struggling mentally.

I would recommend calibrating life and work in a way that is best for you. Whether that’s morning or afternoon meetings only, or exercise at the end of the day. Make it a sustainable way to work rather than driving yourself into the ground.

Since the start of the pandemic lockdown over a year ago, I have grown the teams of the organisations and businesses I am part of. Without finding the right way to calibrate my life, I would have been too drained to make the progress I have.

If your mental health has been seriously affected, don’t ignore it. If you are struggling to find the right way forward, talk to someone closest to you, who you trust, or ask for professional help.

It has been a tough year and it’s OK to feel like it has been a struggle!

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