Managing stress during and after lockdown

Posted by Sam Warner, head of legal content at Legal Futures Associate

Warner: General slowing down and return to essential human-ness

“I don’t get stressed” has been a mantra I have tried (and generally failed) to live by for decades. It belies the fact that I have been an unknowing but nonetheless card-carrying stress-cadet since goodness knows when.

Stress is a silent assassin – it can ruin sleep cycles and damage health, impacting relationships and lifestyle. And like an assassin, it can creep up on you.

But strangely, since lockdown, once the dust settled and life began to shape around the new normal, I have felt as unstressed as I can recall in recent memory. Which is odd. We are in a global pandemic, lives, jobs and livelihoods are at risk. The estate planning market has never been busier, so you would have thought that if there was a time to be stressed, that time would be now.

But taking a step back, I feel fortunate not to have been directly impacted by Covid-19, and the only real effect on daily life has been a restriction of movement. There is no longer the commute to work and no early morning training means the kids are getting enough sleep and are (mostly) lovely to have around.

It is a very strange thing: having never been busier professionally, I find that there is also a general slowing down and a return to essential human-ness, which is very grounding.

And so, I have been thinking about what to take from this experience and how to go from this new-found semi-zen lifestyle back into the real world, when the lockdown lifts:

Work life balance only works when you structure it. Having a job that you enjoy greatly contributes to getting this balance. To hope to find a happy equilibrium, we need to find a role which enables us to comfortably juggle all the people we have to be in a single day (mum/dad/partner, coach, cook, teacher, worker), which is easier said than done.

Being pulled in so many different directions is stressful, and it is no wonder that we used to end each day shattered, waking up exhausted. Perhaps going forwards we will be kinder to ourselves and try to hold onto the benefits we have found in lockdown.

For example, technology has provided answers to questions no-one had thought to ask: it forced our collective hand to find solutions to staying connected, living and working remotely and, arguably, more efficiently.

Personally, it was all surprisingly easy. At Arken, we went from being an office-dwelling crew to being a fully functional remote working team literally overnight and we have been operating full-steam ahead since day one of lockdown – the benefit of working from laptops, in the cloud and enthusiastically embracing agility as a company policy.

I know some of my colleagues better than I did before the start of the pandemic – it’s a bit like spotting a rare species in its own habitat: unguarded, relaxed and doing what comes naturally.

Exercise is always touted as the panacea for life’s ills, and for stress. But, in my experience, you can have too much of a good thing.

A few years ago, during a period of personal stress, I decided to run a marathon. Running was an outlet but clocking up to 10 miles each day and not following any programme was a bad move. Far from alleviating the stress, it resulted in injury – another stressor!

Moderation is the key. Exercise is only beneficial when you are enjoying it and doing it for the right reasons.

Diet is also something that we are told to optimise for maximum wellbeing. However, when stressed, the urge is often either to comfort eat or stop eating altogether, neither of which is beneficial to one’s psyche. Spiking or plummeting blood sugar is deeply unsettling and surviving on caffeine and adrenaline for more than a day is a bad idea.

Sleep is, for me, the first casualty of stress. Swirling vortexes of thoughts as the head hits the pillow are an unwelcome bedfellow. I really have tried everything – pillow sprays, reading, no phones an hour before bedtime – but not much helped.

In my experience, the only way to sleep well is to get rid of the root cause of the stress. And lockdown has been a godsend – not having to spring into action at the crack of dawn to sort out everyone else before work means a full eight hours and a more cheerful disposition.

A relaxing tipple is the first thing many of us head for after a busy workday before launching into an evening of homework and household jobs: a glass is good, a bottle not so much. Moderation again appears to be the answer!

Support networks are vital. Friends who haven’t spoken for years are calling each other or video conferencing. It’s not a full substitute for a hug, but the degree of social connectivity that is going on is quite astonishing.

A range of interests is a useful way of detracting from stress – a mindfulness, focusing on the present task brings the blood-pressure back down.

Pets are clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution. But I know my stress levels dropped six years ago when I acquired my yellow labrador, Arthur. He ensures I get out of the house every day for a walk and it is simply impossible to feel too stressed when showered with unconditional affection.

Community often gets overlooked in our usual busy lives but in lockdown, people are quietly remembering neighbours, checking in with vulnerable friends, volunteering and sharing resources. This sense of connectivity is such a positive thing and balances out many of the other stresses in life.

So those are my takeaways from lockdown, which I acknowledge are from the very privileged position of still being employed and busy doing something I enjoy. But I know first-hand that stress can be a stealthy, negative spiral which is very hard to unwind, and being aware of it (or in my case, being made aware of it) is the first step to addressing root causes.

No-one could possibly have wished for the situation in which we find ourselves – there is just too much at stake. But there are some important lessons to have learned for businesses and individuals.

Cost efficiencies engendered by technology are better for business and can save time for employees (which is the biggest stress-busting gift any busy person can receive). Employees have had the time in quarantine to reflect on what is important to their wellbeing, and getting closer to the elusive nirvana of a balanced work and home life.

The trick will be putting some of the pieces back in place after lockdown without upsetting the newfound equilibrium.


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