Practitioner viewpoint

12 July 2021

Escaping from the constant demands of work is essential for our mental health and wellbeing. Louise Ward gives an insight into the benefits of taking a few minutes out.

I can’t do mindfulness! Or yoga, or Pilates, or indeed anything else that requires clearing the mind or focussing on ‘nothing’. In fact, the very concept of ‘nothing’ makes me quite anxious and has even been known to prompt a panic attack! 

But I totally support the concept. Modern life is crazy, and I can see the benefits in taking a few minutes to escape from the chaos, be still and give both mind and body a chance to unwind, relax and refresh. 

And there has never been a greater need for such respite. The COVID pandemic has turned the normal rhythm of life on its head, taking away traditional boundaries between life and work, exposing us to the constant demands of online meetings and prohibiting the social interaction, sport and exercise, hobbies and pastimes that we would normally use to help us relax. 

As the Government stand poised to release us from enforced lockdown many people are really looking forward to a return to the office and a chance to interact with people again, but others are really anxious, and I suspect few have considered how exhausting it’s going to be to return to regular commuting and face to face interaction again.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has been a hugely traumatic experience for everyone. Each individual experience has been different, but all of us have been deeply affected, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that we will just step back into life exactly as it was before.

So, in the coming weeks and months I think we will all need to find ways to escape for a few minutes, calm down, relax, and refocus, to help us cope and to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

I’ve discovered that I don’t need to contemplate nothingness in order to do this. Actually, just being present and focussed on my surroundings can provide an escape from the demands of work and life, and a chance to rest both body and mind. I’m fortunate to live in a rural area with ready access to green spaces, and I’ve found that being outdoors, really helps me to relax. Stretching my eyes to the horizon (rather than the 3ft to my computer screen or TV), and enjoying the plants, trees and wildlife, offers an escape from the constant demands of work, and the worries and pressures of life. And it doesn’t need to be a big undertaking or a huge demand on time either, just a few impromptu minutes between meetings, or a walk around the block, are sufficient to press ‘reset’ and leave me feeling ready to cope with the next challenge.

Of course, this won’t work for everyone. We’re all different, but I think that employers need to encourage staff to discover their own source of respite in order to support recovery from the pandemic and to facilitate adaptation to news ways of working for the future. 

Wellbeing is very much the issue of our time, and during the pandemic the government, charities and third sector organisations have published a vast range of resources to support both individuals and organisations, particularly around mental health and wellness. The challenge of course is to help everyone find the methodology, technique or situation that suits their preferences, style and circumstances. I think the most effective approach is to offer a ‘pick’n’mix’ type approach, signposting and offering people a chance to try different approaches in order to find something that works for them.

As health and safety professionals I think we are often guilty of putting other peoples needs before our own, so my challenge to you is to lead by example. Find your escape, and then share with pride to encourage others to follow your example.

Resilience isn’t about being the last person standing, it’s about being able to recover effectively following a challenge. I believe that understanding our own route to recovery is an essential step in building future resilience for ourselves, our organisations and our communities.

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens.