Life in lockdown: The importance of self-care and positive mental wellbeing

May 20, 2020
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Marc Gillham, Director of Funding, MIS & IT. Shares his story of life in lockdown.

The current pandemic has affected many people in lots of different ways. I, like many others, have experienced challenges adapting to the changes – and as we face a slow return to life before the COVID-19 lockdown – I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience and how my perception of work and mental wellbeing has changed.

The last three months have certainly been some of the most challenging of my career! Making them stand out above the fond memories I have of 2017, when I experienced two months of a full Ofsted inspection followed by an ESFA Audit. As it became clear that a lockdown was inevitable, I found the stresses and strains of the job as severe as ever, and I am certain that I was not alone. I was making decisions without clarity on what the next steps would be, there was no manual and no past experience to fall back on. Sleep, something that I’ve had a tricky relationship with, suddenly was non-existent. Switching off was impossible, as I found myself hooked to a 24-hour news cycle as the pandemic unfolded.

Eventually, lockdown was announced, providing some clarity and moving us out of limbo. This seemed to make a difference to my mindset, and my focus was on making sure the College and my colleagues were supported with the digital transition. Even with our existing digital systems, moving an organisation offsite certainly presented some challenges!

After a few days of the ‘new normal’ I did what many people seemed to be doing, adjusting my work processes, and funnelling everything through Teams. I also cleaned, sorted the garden, and I started homeschooling my daughter, Ivy.

It wasn’t until after those first few weeks that I noticed something was missing, and I felt different. The same job pressures still existed and certain elements seemed to have increased, communications, for example. What I did notice, was that some of my personal stressors had disappeared. I took stock and reflected on what had changed, why had the traditional stresses gone when the work was equally challenging?

Here’s a few of my conclusions:

I looked at how my work/life balance had shifted. Not having to compete with Milton Keynes traffic gave me extra time in the morning to go for a run and prepare a proper breakfast before turning on the laptop. I was able to ease my way into the day ahead.

I found that I could take more control over my day and I was less likely to be derailed in the ‘new world’. I had space to think and plan, and I’ve found it easier to identify the things that are important and filter out the things that can wait.

Crucially, I’ve also been able to spend more meaningful time with Ivy. During this time, we’ve balanced home and work life in a way that was not possible before, and some of you have even had the pleasure of meeting Ivy on Teams calls. Although, I can’t say it has been plain sailing, as many of you with young children will appreciate.

And trying to get the right balance is hard; no-one should expect that they can be a full-time parent and a full-time employee during lockdown. I want to acknowledge the support that Louise has given me and others during lockdown. I’m in awe of how Louise has effectively run two households, hers and mine; coped with two children under eight, whilst being seven months pregnant and continued to be a dedicated Head of School. ​​​​​​​

Whatever happens in the next phase, particularly as we slowly move back to life after COVID-19; it’s important to hold on to the things that have allowed you to deal with life in lockdown. Whether it’s making sure that you have time for yourself, prioritising what is really important, or just going for a run in the morning.

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