If you’ve read our last blog you’ll have noticed that we spent a lot of time talking about the challenges our interviewees faced when they started to work from home at the start of the pandemic. We developed a work sheet to help coordinators, supervisors, and managers have productive discussions with their employees and volunteers about how to work productively from home while supporting their wellbeing.
This blog focuses on the other side of the story, because our interviewees didn’t just talk about the hardships of working from home. They also offered some key insights into how they’d learned to making working from home work for them, and how they’d developed and improved their practice over the course of the pandemic.
Looking after themselves in the here-and-now
Our interviewees often talked about how they had tried to protect and nurture their own wellbeing by actively looking for things that would support them to feel better on a daily basis. These steps often seemed small when examined individually, but came together to create a powerful system of support when seen as a part of a bigger picture.
For some participants, the first step in this process revolved around taking control of how much information about the pandemic they were exposed to on a daily basis. One interviewee explained her reasons clearly, saying:
After the first week, I actually very, very much scaled back my news intake, because it was quite frightening and I am normally a ten o’clock-er; I watch BBC online […] But after the first week, it became so black and so distressing; I limited my news’ time – very much. […Because] If I do not protect my good mental health, who is going to be running me?
Many participants took further, and went out of their way to find ways to actively distract themselves from the constant cycle of pandemic news:
I have taken up knitting – I have never knitted. I knitted a toy. […] My friend said to me said, will you knit a rabbit for me for my grandson and I was like, okay, I have never done anything like this before, and she was going, that is fine. She said, try it out. […] She sent it through to her grandson on his birthday and he absolutely loves it and he takes it everywhere he goes now. And I thought what an adventure that has been and just doing these wee things has actually helped me concentrate on other things […] So, I do have distractions and I do take my distractions to try and get me [lift my mood], because if I did not have them, I think I would go right down.
While others found that the move into lockdown had given them an opportunity to get ‘back to basics’ and spend more time enjoying the quiet moments.
[For] me, I suppose, prayer and my own faith – just giving it back to god saying you deal with that. Nature: I am sitting here looking at my garden. I have sat in a place in the house where I am looking out and I can see my flowers and there are wee sparrows and a wee hedge over there that they are going in and out. And, yes, I know that I ground myself growing vegetables – not a lot – some with more success than others. […] I am exercising again, that is helping my head because exercise is good for your head, and nature, and just being kind to myself – being sensible.
Looking Towards the Future
Having examined how they were spending their time in the present, many participants then started to find ways to look forwards into the future with hope, rather than fear.
For some participants, this looked like making a list of things both large and small that they’d like to have or do in the future:
Every morning I try and make a list of something else (like a wish list that is going to happen after this all opens up), like, will I be able to get away on holiday, maybe in October – that sort of thing, […] I am a total film buff and I love live concerts. The list on my kitchen table I am never going to manage to get all that done – so that has kind of preoccupied me.
While for others found it important to focus on the positive aspects of lockdown and the ‘new normal’ while they waited for the pandemic to pass:
We will come out of this because it is human ingenuity in any case – I do not underestimate that there is going to be an awful lot of financial hardship, but it will come back. So the more you actually have chats and conversations with people, the richer it is, because that will spark ideas and forge whole new links where things have been segregated before.
Finally, we found that many participants used the interviews as an opportunity to ‘take stock’ of everything they had faced and achieved during the pandemic. Taking this time to talk through the challenges and the highlights of lockdown, as well as their hopes for the future often left participants feeling more at peace- suggesting that having an opportunity to talk through their experiences was an important part of moving forwards.
I did not know what you were going to ask [… in this interview] but I feel as if I am all said out – I feel actually quite purged after this. It has been nice – it has been a bit cathartic and I think I got to the end of it and I can actually think, I have actually done alright. I have done okay. I have done best and I am happy.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has brought many of us face-to-face with challenges we’d never expected and prepared for. Looking through the data we’ve collected, however, shows how even small acts of self-compassion and self-care made a huge difference to our participants. That’s why we’ve created a poster based on our data to help people think creatively about the small, practical, low cost steps they could take to support their own wellbeing.
You can view the poster at the link below.