This #StressAwarenessMonth Paul Sliwinski, Consultant Team Lead at Aiimi, opens up about his experience of work stresses invading his home during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Stress. Anxiety. Tension. Strain. Distress.

Just a few things that have a negative impact on our daily lives – and that I’m sure we all can relate to in one way or another. An upcoming deadline, metaphorical fires raging on your work projects, worry about family and friends – yes, these are all things that always exist, but now more than ever, as we continue with our COVID-19 lockdown, it is even more important to be mindful of those five words taking hold in your life.

I will hold my hands up; I have felt the strain of this lockdown more than I previously let myself believe.

I miss being able to travel to a client site where I had my ‘thinking time’ on the drive there, where I could process the day, take any lessons learnt, and separate work and home. Up until mid-April, I felt very rundown and was really looking forward to some much-needed down time. As much as I was anticipating the time I’d booked off work, a big part of me was worried about what I would do with my day and that I would end up diving back into work before the week was over.

My first day off, a Monday, came around. I knew I had nothing but alone time for the next few days and my mind wandered to projects and checking emails. I did this a couple of times until I forced myself to put my phone down and really think about what had caused me to be run down in the first place.

The answer was stress. I have let stress get into my home life, more so than ever whilst working from home.

The next question took some thinking; what can I do to reduce my stress? Unsurprisingly, my stress was caused mainly by things I could not control directly. This is something that we all need to recognise. Even a year ago, I was highly stressed due to events at home which were outside of my control and causing a lot of strain on my mental health.

As I felt my stress recurring during lockdown, I spent some time considering what helped me to refocus my energy into a more positive setting in the past. That’s what I want to share here. I am not saying these strategies will work for everyone, but what I am saying is this: consider what makes you happy and focus your energy on that, I promise it gives you a new outlook on the same situation.

Find your release

Coping with stress during lockdown, find your release - Aiimi

Stress builds over time, taking its toll on you and, in some ways, on those around you. I started to look at stress in another way, as ‘tanked’ energy which was just waiting to be released. Instead of an explosive release, I started to channel this energy into new outlets. I got back into drawing and digital design.

I found myself relaxing and releasing all that stored up energy on something positive. Fast forward to now, and I have a new piece of art on my wall which has designs of things that I grew up with and love – like the Nintendo Gameboy and a Star Wars Light Saber. The great news is, learning how to make the most of this coping strategy will help with my work and enable me to bring a new skill to the table.

Put something in the calendar to look forward to

Coping with stress during lockdown, plan something to do - Aiimi

I have a holiday booked in late May to go to Snowdonia which is likely to be cancelled. At the moment, we just can’t plan for holidays or trips anywhere other than around our home or popping to the shops for food, but that doesn’t mean we can’t plan social events. We live in an era where technology is available all around us and I’m sure you’ll have seen people you know setting up Zoom calls (or using similar tools) to host pub quizzes or have general chats with friends and family. Others are taking to gaming online with friends.

I have found myself planning in some activities in that I can look forward to help break up the week and reinvent things I can’t do socially or in-person anymore.

Get active

Coping with stress during lockdown, get active - Aiimi

A few years ago, I could not have dreamed that I would class myself as a runner in any way whatsoever. I’m not saying I could run a marathon or a sub 25-minute 5k, but I now truly enjoy the feeling I am left with after a run or a good home workout session. The physical benefits are one thing, but what surprised me was the mental health benefits. I finish my home workout sessions with a positive outlook. It helps clear my head from any negativity and refocus on something physical and positive.

Make time for family

Coping with stress during lockdown, make time for family - Aiimi

Families are your biggest support network. I refer to family as those close to you; whether they are biological relatives, stepparents, stepchildren, friends or any other close connections. When you feel stressed, it can rub off on those you interactive with. And whilst it’s often vitally important that we take the opportunity to reach out for support, I doubt anyone would want their stress to impact those around them unnecessarily.

In many ways, we have been given a bit of a gift with this lockdown. I have seen myself and many others be able to spend more quality time with their families than ever before. As travelling to work is a thing of the past for many of us, except key workers, we can dedicate more of our time to those we hold nearest and dearest – whether they are physically with us at home, or at the end of a text message or call.

If you have kids, especially young kids, you may be able give more time to them as you work from home and cut out your commute. Don’t let the stress of work affect these golden moments with your family and loved ones. When the time is right, put your work to one side and relish in time to connect with others. Many of us are lucky enough to structure our own working days – you will be able to get back to work later or structure your day differently to bring some of your evening down time into larger breaks throughout the day.

For those with family who do not live together, especially the elderly, make sure to catch up with them and see how they are doing – you will have a more positive outlook if you fill your time with worthwhile interactions.

Don’t be afraid to take time off work when you need it

Coping with stress during lockdown, taking time off work - Aiimi

It may be daunting taking time off during these times, with the prospect of nothing to do but stay at home. I know I had these thoughts before I took a week off recently. I had to consider why I wanted this time off; it was to recharge and come back into work with more energy and focus.

I spent my days doing what made me happy in my personal life, and I am very grateful that I did. We all recharge in different ways, so do what you need to do to make time for it. Whether that is taking a week off or just an evening to focus on you; take yourself out of the situations surrounding you and allow yourself to choose how you spend your time.