Covid-19: Mental Health and wellbeing – The benefits of breaks

It now seems that most UK demolition sites are either closed or working with a skeleton staff so this week we turn our attention to all of those people who are working from home. We will be looking at how our new surroundings could be affecting us and how we can introduce small strategies to help combat some of the effects.

Last week in our short article ‘Where are we now’ we covered an introduction to anxiety and depression brought on by recent events. We offered an eyes open, in the moment technique to dial down those effects and this practice can also be used to build our resilience to face the challenges ahead.

Over the last few days I have been chatting with many people who have fashioned a home office for themselves and are busy plugging away. It is becoming increasing clear that even though our daily commutes, face to face meetings and chats around the office have all but disappeared, people are reporting that they are busier than ever.

E-mail communication for most has at least doubled and people are reporting that this means they are tied to their new home office for a minimum of 8 hours a day with few breaks. One could argue that this is the new ‘super productive’ us and is likely to be referred to in the future when there is a desire for more flexible working.

However, the truth is that our new ways of working will have negative effects that may not be immediately obvious but will make maintaining both physical and emotional health increasingly challenging.

Sedentary lifestyles have been well covered over the years and how it affects our overall health and wellbeing and with the addition of even less physical movement this will be exacerbated.

Think about how you feel if you haven’t done any physical activity for a few hours/days/weeks? How are your energy levels? How is the quality and duration of your sleep? How are feeling about yourself and your physical image?

The reality is that a lack of physical activity has clearly been shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other conditions such as a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers as
well as increasing people’s feelings of anxiety and depression – which we know are already likely to be high due to the Coronavirus pandemic causing heightened feelings of uncertainty and fear.

When people participate in physical activity the body releases different hormones and chemicals and one such group of hormones that cascades through the body is Endorphins. After 20 to 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, endorphins are released and this results in a mood and energy boost for two to three hours and likely a mild feeling of enthusiasm, excitement, or exhilaration for up to 24 hours.

Basically, Endorphins are the body’s natural feel good drug and have been proven to reduce tension and stress, boost mental energy and promote self-healing, all of which we could do with more of at the moment. Additionally, when we exercise, our sleep quality and duration improve which again helps us to boost our energy making us even more resilient.

So, more than ever, make sure you are incorporating some form of physical activity or exercise into your week. The Chief Medical Officer recommends 150 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity a week – with
every activity and minute counting. Sounds daunting to most that’s for sure and we were probably all getting exercise that we didn’t formally count before such as walking to the train station or taking a walk at lunch time to buy some food or travelling between sites and meetings but now what?

Cleaning the house for example is a great way to burn calories and work the shoulder and arm muscles and so by doing an hour of cleaning you are already nearly halfway to the CMO’s recommended 150 minutes a week.

Interestingly, research by Wren Kitchens revealed that, on average, we burn over 50,000 calories every month, just be doing household chores. So why not give yourself a break from the office and pick up the vacuum, you’ll not only benefit from a shot of Endorphins but also a sense of achievement.

Although I’m sure some of you will be starting your morning with Britain’s new favourite PE teacher, it is more likely that the majority will cringe at the thought of getting up, donning lycra and doing a full work out in
your living room.

Adjusting to this new normal and building new routine can be a challenge, so if you start with baby steps you can quickly learn to incorporate some more basic movement into your new way of working.

Here are a few suggestions of how to take a break and stay active when you’re working from home.

  • Stand up for phone calls and walk around when you have meetings. Pacing up and down your newly fashioned home office can add up to an extra 20% to you total daily energy expenditure.
  • Work in 30-minute chunks and move away from your computer. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends leaving your desk every 30 minutes, even if only briefly. It’s good for your brain and your body allowing you to reset and return more productive.
  • Stretching regularly will keep you feeling fresh and prevent aches and pain. The NHS recommends a number of stretching exercises which can all be done at your workstation, these include chest stretches, upper-body twist, hip marching, arm raises and so forth. This link will guide you through the different stretches:

As you can see there are little things we can be doing throughout the day to help both our physical and emotional health.

And let’s not forget that there may be some benefits too. I for one am not missing the commute on packed trains for 2-3 hours a day and now waking up with the sun light and not a screeching alarm clock.

On a final point just like last week’s article, this is not a ‘to do’ list and there is no guilt attached. Cut yourself some slack and remember to ‘be kind to yourself’. You, along with the rest of the population, have never experienced this before.

Dave Price
Managing Director
Vector Equilibrium Ltd