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Wellbeing: Looking after yourself during COVID-19

Wellbeing: Looking after yourself during COVID-19

By Stephen Macdonald and Emily Knowles

COVID-19 Health Wellbeing 


Practical tips to keep you thinking well, doing well and being well during this time. 

Wellbeing tips
  • Get enough sleep (maybe you’re a seven hour person, maybe eight hours).
  • Manage your water intake – stress and dehydration are not a good mix.
  • Pursue a little exercise daily (at least 10 minutes to release cortisol, boost immune system and release endorphins).
  • Set a timer at 90 minute intervals to ensure regular micro-breaks throughout the day.
  • Use words to self-regulate your emotions – rather than just saying “I’m stressed” give the experience a vocabulary eg,. “In this moment I’m feeling irritated/angry/conflicted/helpless”.
  • If you have a meditation practice this is the time to stay with it. If not, now is a great time to start with guided mindfulness meditation.

Shakespeare, Newton, Camus were all inspired during times of uncertainty, unrest and lockdown. For us mere mortals 2020 has served up a cauldron of challenges. It is expected that as human beings we will have some level of stress and anxiety.

Experiences vary. Some are feeling overly connected (not another Zoom meeting), others not connected enough (let me back in the office). Some people are feeling crowded (in physical and mental space), others isolated. There is no normal experience to be expected during this time, rather there’s a spectrum, and individual experiences can also vary day-by-day. We are each living in different circumstances, to different degrees (financially, socially, physically and psychologically). Add that to the fact that lawyers already operate in a high-pressure environment characterised by high job stress with complex demands. 

Physical and psychological wellbeing

Beyond the basics of hand washing and physical distancing, the research tells us our own self-managed practices of maintaining our body during times of stress are vital – getting back to basics: sleep, regular mealtimes, enough water, regular exercise. Our body and mind communicate with one another in a highly sophisticated way. Put simply, your physical state will influence your mental state.

Psychological research shows the importance of leaders rallying around shared goals and concentrating on the collective intelligence, emotion and performance of their teams. If you have a team, connect with them as a group at least once a week and include some fun and humour.

Self-care: Put on your own oxygen mask first

This airline catch-cry for physical safety is equally applicable to psychological wellbeing during a crisis. We must first steady and calm ourselves before taking on the problems of others. There is research highlighting the importance of leaders first putting on their own oxygen masks as an imperative to facilitate the mood of the team, and their ability to respond, rather than just react (which is often less strategic – in both intent and outcome).

As many lawyers have been working from home, the delineation of time and space between our work selves and home selves has never been blurrier. We know it’s important to maintain structure, routines and rituals so that we can maintain focus and create some predictability in an environment that holds a lot of unknowns. 

Most of us know that we have a cycle that regulates our sleep (circadian rhythm). We also have our own inbuilt energy cycles. Some people have peaks in the morning, and others at night. Our physical and emotional/mental capacities are interlinked and it all starts with the management of physical capacity to build endurance and promote mental and emotional recovery.

Recovery practices are the buffer between daytime at work and nighttime at home; between weekdays at work and weekends at home. While this is a crude distinction, the principles remain the same. Science tells us it’s more about the psychological experience during recovery rather than the activity itself. For example, the goal is to target an experience that will facilitate detachment, relaxation or mastery.

How to switch off

In managing your own energy cycle, do you know your peak performance time of day? If you’re a leader, do you know that of your team? It may be worth synchronising watches to schedule for optimally effective team meetings, and wrangling complex problem solving.

How do you switch off after a day/week of work? We now know that active recovery (social, physical or creative pursuits) is a recharger. In contrast, the research shows low effort leisure activity, eg, bingeing on-demand TV while on the couch is not bad, but it’s not particularly good.

In your recovery practices aim for detachment (a circuit break that changes your state, such as running); relaxation (low attention and highly calming experiences such as yoga); or mastery (engaging in a hobby that nurtures an ability or passion such as cooking, gardening or sport).

Build in and allow for buffer time at the start of the day, between meetings and at the end of the day. ■

Stephen Macdonald is a co-founder of Human Inc and an organisational psychologist with expertise in both leadership and wellbeing across a range of sectors.

Emily Knowles is a practising psychologist at Human Inc with a passion for lawyer wellbeing, having worked in the legal profession earlier in her career.


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