Covid stress: Furlough vs. working

It’s undeniable that the last six months have been a stressful situation for everybody in one way or another, but it’s important to remember that whether you have worked all the way through, or whether you were put on furlough, both of these situations came with their own challenges and stress triggers. Two members of our marketing department have shared their experiences and how they dealt with the situation.

Laura Devoy

In April, myself and a large portion of the UK workforce learned what the word furlough meant, with no idea when we would be returning to work. Personally, I am someone who strives with structure and routine in my life and before Covid turned up I had a fairly set in stone routine Monday-Friday. So, as you can imagine, being told I had no work to do and an abundance of time seven days a week was very stressful. The fact I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything was just the icing on the Covid cupcake.

I’m someone who has historically got myself in a bit of a tizzy if a plan doesn’t go the way I thought it would, and I am a serial stresser when it comes to things I cannot control – not a great quality in the middle of a global pandemic.

When I think about my stress and anxiety triggers the first one that jumps out at me is not being able to control the environment around me. I don’t like living in the unknown. I also didn’t like not knowing when I’d go back to work (or, better yet, if I would go back), with redundancies happening across all industries.

Then following on from that another trigger was finances and not knowing when I’d get back to my full salary. I may not have been able to go out and do anything, but I still had my monthly overheads to think about. Linking this back to the significant number of unknown elements around the whole situation resulted in a big pot of stress.

When I get stressed my brain tends to shut down and stop working. I was never one of those people who could cram for an exam because my brain just stopped retaining any information. I also stop eating properly and my sleep is generally always impacted too.

Because I know what my triggers are, I can now spot them before I reach breaking point and I have coping mechanisms I can put in place to help my brain manage the situation better. Now I like doing the usual ones like going for a walk, having a bath etc, but I didn’t find those helped with my main issue during furlough: no structure.

I started writing myself a to do list for every week and every day so that I had some idea of what I’d be doing. That could have been anything from doing the washing to prepping my lunch for the next day. It didn’t matter what it was – if I had some sort of structure then my stress levels lowered.

I also created new daily habits and routines that I could easily implement and my favorite one to do was yoga. Every morning I would wake up and do it for 30 minutes and that signaled the start of my day.

Megan Macdonald

When furlough hit so did the panic of the unknown. Whilst I may have been in the category of ‘one of the lucky ones’ to have not been put on furlough I very much still felt the stress and anxiety of the unknown and what the future of my career looked like. Like Laura, I crave structure and process, and one thing Covid has taught us is that no day is the same. The need to be agile was certainly on the cards for the next however-many months.

A reduced workforce of course brought its strains and pressures to those that remained. Firstly, the sadness to not be working with your full team, closely followed by the stress of adapting to the ‘new normal´ and the need to spin multiple plates to ensure business continuity.

My main struggle during these last six months has certainly been managing levels of stress caused by lack of structure and process. Learning to be agile and adapt to the new challenges that came with each day was difficult at first, but I can proudly say these are now two characteristics I’ve added to my professional abilities.

Dealing with new stresses and anxieties is never easy but with my newfound ability to be agile and adapt to change I’ve identified several coping mechanisms to help manage them. The first, and most important, is to talk. Working from home doesn’t mean you need to lose that regular interaction with your teams. In fact, I feel closer to my team than ever before. Multiple Teams calls throughout each day to see how everyone is, what the day ahead looks like, what worries you may have and even meaningless chat about what you’re having for lunch has been extremely useful during this time.

Regular breaks have also been vital. While working from home it’s easy to stay sat at your laptop for hours on end as you don’t have your regular coffee breaks or quick chats with your colleagues in the kitchen. Setting an alarm every couple of hours to remind yourself to step away from your laptop and have a quick break really helped break the day up. Lastly, and my personal favourite, when the working day finished tidy your laptop away so there’s a clear distinction between ‘work time’ and ‘home time´, put some music on (loudly) and do some cooking. It worked every time for me.

As you can see there are similarities from both camps. Stress and anxiety can affect anybody at any time, whether that be through work or in your personal life and it’s important to recognise what your own triggers are and actively find ways to manage things if you are having a stressful spell. Talking is key and checking in with your colleagues and loved ones regularly during these challenging times – not just around World Mental Health Day – really is the best medicine.