Staying positive, motivated and active during these uncertain times is hard – trust us, we're struggling to be excited about another indoor workout too! We caught up with Dr Fin Williams, a clinical psychologist and Strava athlete, to learn more about the psychological impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on us all and how we can look after our mental health during this time.
How important is exercise in maintaining positive mental wellbeing?
"Exercise is really significant for our mental wellbeing. We know the science behind it, and how endorphins affect our mood. But there is also lots to be said about achievement, routine and what exercise gives us through those functions – particularly at a time when we have naturally lost some of this in our lives. We also know it helps us sleep, and that is vital for a good, healthy lifestyle.
"For me personally, exercise has always been a part of my life, and I can't imagine life without it. It’s vital for my well being, and helps me to leave any stressful day behind – or prepare for a big one!"
In the UK we are only allowed outside once a day – do you think this will be having a big impact on people's mental wellbeing?
"The current restrictions are helping us focus during that one hour when we are allowed to go out, and not take our time outdoors for granted. We have been blessed with great weather, and the limitations seem to be encouraging people to ensure they stay active and go outside – which is great to see.
"More people are taking the opportunity to get out on bikes as a family or take a ball to a nearby green space. The children and families that my team support have reported finding new ways to reconnect away from modern distractions, and it’s definitely positive to see a greater proportion of the population appreciating time outside.
"For those who are used to spending much of their time outdoors, or perhaps just not as much time in each others’ company, the limitations can also have a negative impact. Please remember that guidelines are still in place to support you being able to leave the house and seek support and protection if you are in a domestically abusive situation or you fear risk of harm."
How do you ensure that your mental wellbeing is not neglected during this time?
"It’s natural that our mental health will fluctuate during this lockdown. The British Psychological Society recently released guidelines on how the pandemic will affect us – we’re currently in the active phase when everyone is keen to get out, stay fit, support through volunteering etc. This will eventually wear down and we are likely to reach a phase of disillusionment and exhaustion, which is more likely to show a negative impact on our wellbeing.
"That is why it’s so crucial we build healthy habits now, as this will benefit us later down the line by providing structure, routine and punctuation to our remote working lives, or alleviation of stress from a loss of work. Our exercise goals don’t have to be big, we just need to set realistic targets for each day, to provide a sense of achievement. It’s important to start things now when we do feel motivated, and be prepared to be compassionate with ourselves, as limitations on our freedom become more challenging."
What types of things should people be doing to maintain their mental wellbeing?
"It’s key that you keep your work life and your personal life separate – as hard as that can be sometimes, especially for those with children and home-schooling duties.
"I have three children myself, and it’s a challenge to keep things separate and manage it all. Children need routine, and that has been completely disrupted. For your own mental wellbeing, make sure to have designated work time, schooling time and family time – and keep the boundaries clear.
"Crucially, you should have a dedicated workspace, ideally away from the bedroom or where you typically rest. Remove your work from the living space as much as you can, so that you can shut the door on it as you end the day.
"It’s important to also be compassionate to yourself – productivity simply won’t be as high in these critical times. There is constant background distraction and anxiety about what is happening in society and the world more broadly. It’s impossible to block that out. Make sure to recognise that productivity is lower, and give yourself permission for that."
Working from home can place additional strain on our daily lives, do you have any tips around managing stress?
"It's key to acknowledge that a different structure will work for each individual, so it’s hard to think of ‘blanket’ tips. Some will practice mediation, others, yoga, but it won’t work for all – it’s very individual.
"We typically used to have lots of routine and structure in our lives, without even realising. It’s now down to us to set up those routines, and set clear boundaries that we can follow. That will mean when you sleep, eat, exercise, and anything else that creates segments in your day.
"Most importantly, structure your time in the day so that you find time to spend with family, or in connection with friends – albeit remotely – and keep those commitments, even when you don’t initially feel like it; they will really help reduce the impact of isolation in the long run."
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
"I’m noticing that there is no natural beginning and end to work. We now just sit in front of the screen with no natural breaks that we would typically get in the office. For me, that means that I have to force myself to take breaks, and I use my time outside to finish the day. It helps to demarcate the end of my working day and the beginning of my evening. It also helps me to empty my head and sleep better.
"My advice would be to find what works for you, but to try and ensure that there is as much difference between your working time and place and your family time as possible.
"There is also a role that organisations have to play in creating company culture that supports the individual and does not create added stress. Companies can set examples and models for all to follow in terms of a healthy work-life balance. Perhaps not sending any emails past 5 pm or before 8/9am would be a start! We all also need to be compassionate and accept a natural drop in productivity whilst we are balancing our families, older dependants, and our own uncertainty at this time, and organisations will need to accept and prepare for this to model that compassion.
"As we find our way back to the workplace in time, organisations will need to think about employee wellbeing and the impact that the pandemic will have had on their employees; luckily, i think this was a direction that we were already travelling in, and remote working might now feel increasingly accessible. i know that in the NHS we are likely to be moving towards recognising the impact of trauma on our staff and bringing wellbeing programmes ‘in house’ rather than subcontracted.
"Like all traumatic events, There is room for post-traumatic growth as we emerge from this pandemic – learning about our own personal strengths and what worked when we had to change our lives will leave some of us in a more resilient place to cope with change and uncertainty. However, this is not to say that there won’t also be a significant negative impact for others.
"I think it’s fair to say that everyone’s well being will be affected in some way or another by the lockdown, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of asking people to work doubly hard to make up for lost productivity when we return to the workplace. What we learnt from Canada’s experience of SARS is that this was linked to staff burnout and increased sickness rates."
Do you find that Strava and the power of the community helps you stay motivated during this time?
"If maintaining regular levels of exercise is new to you, and you are finding ways to improve both your physical and mental wellbeing, Strava can be a great resource.
"The power of the community is palpable, as you are able to connect with others in a similar situation. You are able to ride together and share experiences √ the reason why Zwift is so popular these days.
"There is a natural disconnect happening in a time like this, and Strava is helping us maintain a link with one another."
What has your exercise routine been during this lockdown?
"My routine has changed quite a bit, as I was training for a July triathlon before lockdown started. That included a combination of gym and outdoor exercise, which I’ve now had to adjust.
"Since having started working from home I’ve had to restructure my routine. That means lots of Turbo work outs in the house, and running outdoors – which the weather has helped.
"I think the current boundaries and restraints have made us all realise that we can’t take exercise for granted. We all go out more consistently, but equally I also use my Turbo a lot more regularly than ever before."
How is the Strava community supporting your lockdown exercise routine? What elements of the platform are particularly valuable and useful? Any particular features? Do you find yourself turning to the Strava community more often for inspiration and new exercise ideas?
"I really value the fact that my Garmin and Turbo are integrated with Strava, and all my activity uploads are seamless and instant – it’s a great feature.
"My Strava community is still growing, and I’m connecting with lots more female cyclists on the platform which is great. I really enjoy all the statistical breakdowns, and the segments – these in particular provide great short-term goals, and push you to achieve more. You also get a clear breakdown of progress, achievements and it’s a really unique motivating factor.
"The Strava community is powerful, and staying connected at this time when we all run or ride on our own is so crucial. The community support can be a strong motivating factor, especially when we can’t meet our friends for exercise."
Join the Strava UK Club for more tips and inspiring community stories.