Insight & Analysis

Lockdowns and mental health – are you coping?

Published: Aug 2020

The various lockdowns are impacting people and businesses across the globe. At Treasury Today, we’ve taken deep looks into the effects on the market, on supply chains and on trade, but now we’re looking at how lockdowns are affecting peoples’ mental health – and what they can do to alleviate some of the pressure.

Man sitting on a rock looking into the distance

The COVID-19 pandemic is one that almost no one predicted, and the impacts have been unprecedented. As the world began implementing various social distancing measures, millions of employees were faced with a challenge that many had never encountered: working from home. For those who live alone, and indeed even those who don’t, social distancing and home working brought about an experience not too dissimilar to solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is, of course, something that is condemned by experts and human rights advocates, on account of the sometimes-devastating impact it can have on a person’s mental health. Whilst most people aren’t confined to the tiny box-room that prisoners are (though some flats in large cities are almost comparable), it’s undeniable that being stuck in a house or apartment all day every day is likely to have a similar effect on mental health.

The statistics

Nick Earley, Head of Psychology at corporate mental health and wellbeing specialists, Helix Resilience, explains that recent research conducted on over 350 London-based banking and financial professionals found that 86% believe that lockdown has affected their mental health to some extent. For 47%, this has come in the form of sleep disruption.

When it comes to working during lockdowns, 38% said they are less productive, and 36% said they feel anxious or poorly motivated. Additionally, working from home has now blurred the work/life boundary, and 35% said they are working longer hours. Despite this, 42% of the banking and financial professionals said the lack of commuting time has actually improved the work/life balance, and the same percentage said they are happy to continue working from home.

The stress of being in mandatory lockdown is also impacting peoples’ regular habits. At 45%, nearly half of respondents said they were eating more junk food, and 41% said they are exercising less than before lockdown. Meanwhile, 32% said they are drinking more alcohol.

It’s okay for some

Earley says it’s important to note that the impact of working from home largely depends on a person’s job. “For those that already worked from home, it was probably a seamless move,” he explains. “But for those that didn’t, it might be something that’s completely new, and their company might not be set up properly for it.” For the latter group, working in a different environment, possibly with technical issues, can increase stress, reduce productivity and lead to other problems such as struggling to concentrate or adopting unhealthy coping strategies (the consumption of alcohol and unhealthy foods).

For treasurers, who often have to access a treasury management system (TMS), or an ERP, switching to remote work might offer more technical challenges than for say, a writer. “If people are doing complex tasks where they ideally need to be in an office to do them and they’re forced to do it remotely, that could make their job more difficult and therefore add more stress,” comments Earley.

Likewise, many people are working longer hours, and Earley suggests this is likely due to the lack of “clean break” that is felt when leaving work. For most, this break comes in the form of the journey home, be it walking, taking public transport, or driving. “Without that clean break, you can end up working longer and find it more difficult to switch off.” With regards to the sleep disruption that 47% of respondents said they were experiencing, Earley doesn’t find it surprising, and thinks it’s likely to do with that non-existent break. “People might still be churning things over from the office before bed, which can increase stress levels and make it difficult to sleep,” he explains.

But he also notes that like everything, adjustment takes time. “When we lose a loved one or have an illness, there’s always an adjustment period whilst we come to terms with it,” he says. Once a person has come through that period, the experience might still be a challenge, but it’s one that they have adapted to. “For some people, that adjustment process is still a bit of a struggle, and they find it more difficult to adapt.”

Find a method that works for you

A key piece of advice from Earley is that people have to understand what exactly stress is. “Some people might not even recognise that they’re stressed,” he says. Equally, it’s important to recognise and normalise that this is a particularly stressful time, and it’s okay to feel that.

Coping strategies are important, and according to Earley, everyone has a “resilience toolbox”. Inside the metaphorical box are various tools that we use to help with stress. It could be baking, painting or exercising. “But for a lot of people, their toolboxes have been suddenly emptied out.” Indeed, with gyms closed and baking ingredients in short supply for a long time, people were left with a lack of enjoyable activities.

Earley suggests that an individual feeling this should conduct an audit of it. “If I’m stressed, what can I do? It could be mindfulness or breathing techniques, or going for a run, or eating more healthily, but it’s important to figure out what might actually be helpful to you.”

Reach out and focus

For those suffering with stress or mental health difficulties, reaching out and speaking to people is not only key, but also sometimes difficult to do. This is only exacerbated by the lockdowns. At a time when many are feeling socially isolated, reaching out to other people is more important than ever. “It’s not just friends and family members, but also colleagues,” says Earley. Indeed, places of employment likely have access to wellbeing support in the workplace. “It’s important to know what’s available,” he adds.

It’s also important to focus on what is controllable, says Earley. At a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, it’s easy to feel like everything is out of control. It’s this kind of stress and anxiety that can trigger the “animal brain” that looks out for danger. Finding an activity that you can focus on, instead of worrying about things from the past or things in the future, can help quell that anxiety, he says.

Another area of control, especially during the workday, is through scheduling. For work, many often have a set lunch time, or a dedicated time for a coffee break, and that’s not always an option when working from home. “I recommend people look at structuring their day, and maybe scheduling things in and planning the day ahead,” says Earley. This can provide a bit more motivation and incentive.

Seek support – and offer it

For treasurers leading teams, it’s important to understand the needs of your employees. “The onus is on employers to make it clear what’s available and to do a bit of an audit on their support. But the onus is also on individuals to recognise and come forward if they have problem,” notes Earley. Additionally, there appears to be a degree of stigma around the belief that everyone is coping fine at home, so it’s a negative thing to be suffering. Checking in with colleagues and employees is a good way to combat this.

“I think it’s important to be transparent right now. People need to feel that their manager or colleagues understand,” he says. If there’s a problem, be it stress, physical illness or a bereavement, it’s a necessity that employees know that the support is there and how to get it.

If you’re struggling with any of the issues discussed in this article, a list of global mental health resources can be found here.

All our content is free, just register below

As we move to a new and improved digital platform all users need to create a new account. This is very simple and should only take a moment.

Already have an account? Sign In

Already a member? Sign In

This website uses cookies and asks for your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.