Copywriter Miranda Barrett, discusses the Post Pandemic Anxiety event at this year's Wellbeing Festival.

If working remotely has become ‘the new normal’, where does that leave life after lockdown? As part of the dentsu Wellbeing Festival we heard from a panel of experts about post-lockdown anxiety, how nature can play a part in recovery, and what leaders can do to support their teams. We were joined by:

Dr Julie Smith – clinical psychologist, and mental health advocate, her mental health awareness videos have reached several million followers on TikTok.

Kate Harris – regional director of the advertising and marketing industry charity NABS who has worked to improve mental health and wellbeing in the industry for over twenty years.

William Baldwin-Cantello – WWF board trustee and author of the free nature-based mental health guide, ‘Thriving through nature’.

Here’s what they had to say…

For many, post-lockdown anxiety centres around work; even small actions like travelling on public transport can provoke stress, and while we are right to be cautious, the worry can become overwhelming. Dr Smith encouraged acknowledgement of these feelings; this is a big change, in many ways as big as the initial transition to remote working. It’s important to keep in mind that the more an action is repeated, the less the fight-or-flight response is triggered as your brain slowly gets used to it. After an anxious response she encourages self-compassion; take a walk, a hot bath or a gaming session to calm your mind, and congratulate yourself for overcoming your fear.

As for right now, lockdown working is particularly difficult in the creative industries. Home distractions and technical difficulties make it hard to replicate that in-person creative environment, particularly creative discussion.

Collaboration breeds creativity – Katie Harris.

Where you might take a break or chat to your colleagues to give your mind a rest, working from home your routine is much more one-note, and the worlds of work and rest blend. This can lead to creative exhaustion.

One of the best ways to give your brain a break is interacting with nature. William Baldwin-Cantello recommends spending time in nature on a regular basis, even if that’s as simple as going for a walk in the park. Studies show an inherent psychological benefit in spending time in nature, but nature also facilitates activities that benefit wellbeing, like exercise and socialising.

Surveys show that 70% of people find that spending time in nature lifts their mood, and 2/3rds find they are calmed, and their mental wellbeing improves. – William Baldwin Cantello

For those without ready access to nature, interaction is even more important. Bring plants inside the home and try to really engage with them – perhaps by sketching or taking rubbings of leaves and flowers. Where you can’t get access, build a natural space in the home with photographs and natural sounds.

Katie Harris seconded this, as well as suggesting tips for reducing Zoom fatigue. This can be helped by keeping meetings short, scheduling time for social calls, and sticking to the topic at hand. Just as important as these workarounds, however, is saying no. Sometimes a zoom call is not necessary, or you are just not in the frame of mind – you have the right to refuse and find another format that suits you.

But what about those who will remain in lockdown after others return? It is the responsibility of leaders, Katie Harris asserted, to ensure there is no stigma attached to those still working remotely. She likens it to those on maternity leave returning to work part-time; rather than judgement or exclusion, there should be empathy and understanding. She asked leaders to be “cognizant” of any change in colleagues’ behaviour that might indicate an impact on their wellbeing, and following up when such a change is noticed, even when that person is working remotely. Dr Smith also stated the importance of social inclusion. Chatting over a coffee break or grabbing lunch with a colleague are part of the fabric of work; missing out on them, especially when others are returning to them, can have a real impact on our wellbeing.

It can be easy to underestimate these small moments of connection. – Dr Julie Smith.

Those returning to work should actively include those still working remotely. That could be through techniques used during lockdown, such as zoom calls, online games and scheduled social meetings, or the leadership team can collaborate to schedule something safely in person, such as an hour’s walk around the park.

In short, just as we pulled together to navigate the unknown waters of lockdown, so too must we be patient and understanding of one another in the weeks to follow.

Illustrations for the festival by Hannah Robinson.