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Working from home and mental health: why taking annual leave is more important than ever

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Lauren Geall
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Has working from home throughout lockdown left you feeling lethargic and unmotivated? You probably need a break.

It’s sometimes hard to believe the coronavirus pandemic is really happening. When Boris Johnson first announced the UK would be going into lockdown on 23 March and many of us started working from home, it was hard to imagine what the next day would look like, let alone the next five months.

For most of us, the idea that the coronavirus pandemic would last throughout the summer and continue to loom over our lives as we transition into autumn was unthinkable. But here we are. 

Looking back, it feels weird to remember how novel everything was when lockdown first started – how exciting it felt to be working from home and the fun we had hosting Zoom drinks and virtual pub quizzes

It’s safe to say the novelty of these things has worn off quite quickly – without the change in scenery of going to the office and the being able to socialise with our colleagues, the stressful, anxiety-inducing reality of the situation hit hard.

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Since then, we’ve tried our hardest to keep going as “normal”. We’ve adapted to new working from home practices, tried our hardest to establish some kind of routine and generally tried to keep everything ticking along nicely. But as the pandemic continues to make working from home necessary for many of us, the reality of trying to juggle all these plates is starting to hit.

If you’ve been feeling sluggish, lethargic or generally unmotivated over the last month or so, you’re definitely not alone. It’s a subject which has punctuated our discussions here at Stylist – the resilience and determination we had to “keep going” in the earlier stages of lockdown is long gone. But why now?

According to Lucinda Gordon Lennox, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist at The Recovery Centre, these feelings could be a sign of pandemic burnout.

A working from home desk
Have you hit a wall while working from home? Us too.

“What we’ve all been trying to do is to keep everything ‘normal’,” she explains. “So, for example, we’re doing our jobs normally, we’re managing our responsibilities normally – we’re trying to keep everything going. And we’re trying to keep everything going, but under very different conditions.”

On top of this, Lennox says, our assumption that we don’t need to take a break – because our lives already feel like they’re on hold – means we’re leading ourselves to a point of exhaustion.

“How many people have actually taken a holiday day in lockdown? We think we’re at home, we don’t have to get up so quickly, we don’t have to commute and so we don’t need a holiday.

“But we need a change. If we continue to do the same thing over and over, without mixing it up, and without taking a break, we do become more tired.”

She continues: “Our bodies and brains are exhausted of doing the same thing without a clear purpose – and without very many breaks.”

In this way, Lennox argues, it’s incredibly important that we allow ourselves to take a break from trying to maintain normality – both by taking annual leave and giving ourselves permission to take things down a gear.

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“This isn’t a sprint – this is a marathon,” she adds. “We’ve been making everything work exactly as it would have done had we not been in a pandemic. That works for a sprint period, but it’s now becoming evident that perhaps we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. And what’s the first thing we change when we’re in a marathon instead of a sprint? We slow down.”

She continues: “I think this can look different for everyone, but I think we need to recognise that trying to create what we were doing outside of the pandemic, during a pandemic, isn’t going to be sustainable.”

So if you’re finding it hard to stay motivated at the moment, it might be a sign that you need to take a (well-earned) holiday, whatever that looks like to you. 

Sit back, relax and recharge – it’s time to stop treating life like a sprint. 

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