Top tips for managing stress during lockdown and beyond

Danielle Arkwright - 29 April, 2020

Category : Blog

Top tips for managing stress during lockdown and beyond

As schools and trusts navigate this time of tough challenges and constant change, we want to offer some helpful advice for adapting to new ways of working. Danielle Arkwright, our HR and Office Manager, has put together some guidance on how to manage any stress you may be experiencing due to all this change. Danielle

As schools and trusts navigate this time of tough challenges and constant change, we want to offer some helpful advice for adapting to new ways of working. Danielle Arkwright, our HR and Office Manager, has put together some guidance on how to manage any stress you may be experiencing due to all this change. Danielle is trained in creative therapies, stress and trauma, and is in her final year studying for an MA in Drama Therapy at University of Roehampton, so we’re really excited to share her tips with you.

So, it’s week 6 of lockdown and it might seem like everyone around you has either perfected Michelin level cooking, learned to knit or can now do every yoga pose in the book. You might feel that everyone is expecting you to emerge from this crisis a better, more beautiful and more productive version of yourself. If you’ve managed any of the above things, brilliant. But as admirable as all that sounds, some of us might not be finding ourselves quite as productive – and that’s okay.

If you or your partner are working remotely, your home life has probably changed quite dramatically recently. Whatever your situation – whether you’re spending your non-work hours running around after kids, or facing a stale sense of boredom – we’re all coping with a time when our normal boundaries have shifted. We recently shared some tips for working remotely, but today I wanted to talk about how to manage the difficult emotions we might be experiencing.

How are you feeling?

This period of change might have left you feeling irritable, anxious or down. You may be feeling less confident than usual and having more consistent worries about body image. You might be drinking and eating more, finding it difficult to make decisions and having trouble sleeping. Maybe you’re noticing unpleasant things going on with your body, like skin irritation, muscle ache and headaches. All of the above are symptoms of stress. I’m going to cover how to recognise and manage these symptoms. 

Firstly, it’s important to say that feeling these things is a perfectly normal response to such an abnormal situation. There will be millions of people across the world experiencing similar feelings. Even if you haven’t been personally affected by Coronavirus, you may be worried about you or your loved ones getting infected, or about getting the supplies you need. You may be concerned about money or job security. 

Uncertainty is one of the most difficult things to face. Not knowing when things will get back to “normal” makes us feel powerless and unsafe. You might be feeling hyper-vigilant; constantly checking the news to feel more in control. The good news? You’re not alone and there are strategies you can use to cope.

Being aware of what is happening to our bodies when we feel in a panicked state can help us to step back and not judge ourselves.

What is stress?

  • Stress is how our body responds to external pressures (something that happens to you)
  • Stress is triggered by a stressor – this could be when you experience something new or unexpected which makes you feel like you don’t have control 
  • Stress triggers a release of cortisol which causes a “flight, fight or freeze” response. An example of “flight” would be if you deny the situation is happening, “fight” if you get angry, and “freeze” if you get depressed and turn inwards 

Is stress bad? 

Sometimes having a stress response is appropriate and helpful, for example, if you’re pushed into a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, it’s good to trust your instincts to and avoid it. However, if we constantly experience stress over a long period of time, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. This is what we call “chronic” or long-term stress, and it can have an impact on both physical and mental health.

For more info, go to MentalHealth.org

How can we manage stress? 

There are small and meaningful things you can do to lessen the symptoms of stress. Some of these techniques might seem simple and obvious, but if practiced regularly, they can have a huge impact on your stress levels. 

At Arbor, we’ve set up a dedicated wellbeing committee, who have been rolling out lots of different activities, particularly over the last few weeks, that allow colleagues to dedicate time to mental wellbeing together. We’ve had online yoga classes, weekly group mindfulness practice, fun daily challenges and art sessions. We’re also planning to send out seeds to everyone’s home address so we can start a sunflower growing competition! 

Top tips for managing stress

Stay connected – Even if it’s a few phone calls a week, sending a funny video, or doing a organised online activity like a quiz, connecting with others can remind us we’re all in this together 

Stay hydrated – You might be really good at remembering to drink when you’re in the office but during lockdown, don’t forget to keep hydrated to at least cut down on unnecessary headaches

Structure your day – Routine helps us feel secure. It can be as simple as eating lunch at the same time (perhaps “with” colleagues) or a regular time you connect with your friends 

Take regular breaks and go outside – It’s easy to forget to get up and move when a cup of tea is in reach! Try and plan breaks and a short evening walk into your day to keep your mind fresh

Try mindfulness – Now is the time for an open mind (literally!). I’d really recommend trying an app like Headspace, even if only for 5 minutes a day, to allow you to step back when it all becomes too much 

Dress for the day you want – Try and resist staying in your PJs all day! Get dressed and see how different you feel!

Remember, some days will be better than others and if you manage just a few of these things you are doing really well. My biggest advice is to lower your expectations – if you don’t feel very productive, don’t let it pull you down. When you’re kind to yourself, you’ll allow your best thoughts to flow.

Useful links 

I’ve put a list together of some resources I think are really helpful, particularly during the challenges we’re facing at the moment:

For coping with the Coronavirus outbreak:

  • Advice from Mind if you’re worried about Coronavirus
  • How to looking after your mental health while working during the coronavirus outbreak from MentalHealth.org
  • Tips from the BBC about how to protect your wellbeing during Coronavirus
  • 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus from the NHS
  • Guided meditations from Headspace during Coronavirus

General recommendations:

  • Top tips for managing stress from the NHS
  • 7 Simple Meditation Techniques to Practice at Work (to Boost Productivity) from Inc.
  • 10 Minute Mindfulness Practice exercise from MentalHealth.org
  • Mindfulness sessions for kids from CosmicKids.com 

Tom, our Partnership Specialist, has some reading recommendations too!

If you have any tips to add to Danielle and Toms’ lists, share them with us on social media using #ArborCommunity or on our Community Forum if you’re an Arbor school.

We’re running a webinar programme called “Adapting to Change: Managing Your Schools and Staff Remotely” for MAT Leaders to share strategies during lockdown and beyond. You can sign up for free by clicking the link.

To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre. If you’re new to Arbor, find out if Arbor MIS is for you with an online demo – get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.