Stress Awareness Month takes place every year in April and this year's focus is on the themes of connectivity, certainty and control. Olivia Moore, our Careers & Wellbeing Manager, explores what these themes mean and what we can we do to put them into practice.

We know that stress is a key issue in the legal profession that we need to discuss. The latest annual statistics from LawCare, the charity that offers mental health and wellbeing support to the UK legal community, show that stress was the single-biggest source of its phone traffic in Scotland in 2020, with 27% of all callers citing this issue.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects have certainly driven a surge in stress levels over the past year, as many have contended with issues such as job losses, business closures and home schooling, along with the threat of the virus itself.

The Stress Management Society, which co-ordinates Stress Awareness Month, recently collaborated with Huawei to conduct a study on stress and gathered data from 2,000 British adults. The research identified that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the Covid-19 restrictions began in March 2020 and the three key causes for concern were feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control. As a result, the key focus for Stress Awareness Month is what we can do to regain a sense of connectivity, certainty and control in our lives.

Throughout this month, we’ll be sharing resources relating to stress that you can use as an individual or that employers can make use of to engage staff in Stress Awareness Month.

I'm kicking off with a few thoughts of my own on what connectivity, certainty and control mean and how we might be able to engage with this theme.

Connectivity

I have to say that I have found connectivity tricky over the past year, as have many people and employers.

A year ago, everyone from friendship groups to HR teams talked about Zoom quizzes, virtual drinks events, WhatsApp groups and other sticking plasters for the missed face-to-face connectivity most of us crave.

The digital connections have never really done it for me.

I have a strong dislike of virtual group chats and lack a social media presence. I hate texting. I only feel I extract any social value from seeing people face-to-face.

You might be like me or you might have fared much better at making the most of the myriad digital solutions available to us (and thank goodness for them). Whatever your experience, can April be a time for making some changes and trying some new things? There are some things we can all do to help us build our connections.

We’re back to being able to meet people outside again and to start to socialise. Can we instigate some outdoor meetings with colleagues and make the effort to get back to seeing friends in person outside? This might require some real effort and active planning, if you’re like me and have fallen into an unnatural ‘hermit-like’ existence. But it might be time to push ourselves to reconnect with others.

In terms of our teams and workplaces, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the year of disruption that we have had, but turn this on its head for a positive assessment. Maybe it’s a good time to celebrate the challenges we have overcome and the successes we have had. Let’s say a well-deserved ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to colleagues and boost that team morale.

And managers, it could be an opportunity to think about having some sort of virtual ‘awards’ or hosting a meeting to highlight some of the group and individual achievements from a hard year, whether they be big or small.

Certainty

I wish we had the level of certainty that we’re all craving, but we’re not quite there yet. Establishing certainty is particularly hard in a year when unknowns and disappointments have been the general theme. We still have to keep using the word ‘hopefully’, which does constantly temper our sense of certainty.

However, can we look at it from a different perspective? What do we have the ability to be certain about?

I have been trying to process certainty in different terms, which helps me get through the day. One of the things that works for me is to repeat to myself certain phrases, such as:

  • Tomorrow is a new day and, if today wasn’t great, tomorrow has the potential to be better.
  • Tomorrow is one-step closer towards the end of restrictions and the return of normality.
  • I will be ordering a takeaway on Friday and it will feel like a treat. (I know this sounds flippant, but small wins matter.)
  • I can get outside for a walk to clear my head whenever I want, and I know that being outside always makes me feel better.

So, what positive things can you feel certain about to get you through April and beyond?

Control

When lockdown first came along, I made a real effort to think about my daily working routine and what I was going to have to do to adapt to the change of spending days and weeks in my flat as well as possible. This was all about establishing some level of control over my mindset.

For a while, I even went as far as unpacking my spare room into half of my kitchen, so that I could create a space in the spare room to get some peace and quiet and do some activities like yoga or reading. A good idea for a while, this didn’t last and, inevitably, less helpful and less healthy routines took root.

Making some good habits is something I am going to work on in April, with the aim of regaining some control in a positive way.

There seems to be conflicting data online to answer my question ‘how many times do you have to do something before it becomes a routine?’. From basic research, the answer seems to range from 21 to 66 days. But if we repeat behaviour throughout April, at least we know we’re well on the way to forming a good habit.

Think of all the good intentions you might have had at some point in the last year, which might make you feel better. Is there anything you can start trying? That ‘simulated commute’ if you are working from home (basically walking round the block before and after work)? Cooking more from scratch? Getting into regular workouts?

Fortunately, with the lighter evenings back, it’s easy to feel that we have more time, rather than instinctively flopping on the sofa on a dark evening.

Also, think about all the good old habits you used to have before lockdown… maybe it’s time to optimistically bring some of those back? It might also help the transition back to normal life which, hopefully, is just around the corner.

These are just a few suggestions of ways we can all start to regain some connectivity, certainty and control this month. There are lots more tips and advice over on the Stress Awareness Month website too, including a 30-day challenge, and we've lots of resources on Lawscot Wellbeing as well, including a free online module on managing stress.

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Make stress management and resilience-building a priority for 2021

Fiona Chambers works part-time as an employment lawyer and also delivers workplace wellbeing training. In this piece, Fiona gives us twelve steps to take a proactive approach to managing stress and building resilience in the coming year.

LawCare: How we can help

LawCare is the charity dedicated to supporting people working in the law. Most of us have probably heard of it, but do you know how LawCare can help, why people call and who would be at the other end of the phone? Find out more here.