Six ways to better manage your emotional wellbeing while on furlough

Written by Anna Bishop
May 6, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

There are many limitations on what you can and can't do while on furlough leave. With government guidelines advising that people don't venture out of their homes except for essential supplies and limited exercise feelings of stress and anxiety can quickly build.

Using our six Rs of Resilience framework (responsibility, reflection, relaxation, relationships, refuelling and recreation) we’ve provided six tips for building your personal resilience which may help you cope better during stressful situations such as lockdown. We have also included some activities to try that will not only help you take better care of your mental health, but help you bounce back following this unusual and challenging time.

The following actions and activities are recommended based on what you feel able to do and the resources you have available. Whatever you choose to do should be achievable - if you want to, you can set small goals and reward yourself. It’s important to remember that this situation is difficult and worrying for many - it’s okay to do what you need to, and what you feel is best for your emotional wellbeing.


1. Take responsibility

Research shows that those on furlough may feel undervalued, worried and even guilty about not working, and if you’re experiencing these feelings, you need to know how to deal with them. While it’s essential to communicate these emotions to your employer first and foremost, you also need to take responsibility for your own mental health and wellbeing. 


Responsibility tip: 

Tracking your mood and mental health can be great in times of uncertainty, and you could benefit from using some of the mental health apps available (many of which are recommended by the NHS) as a way to track your emotions, and start taking responsibility for your mental health. While some people may believe they don’t have the time to invest in these apps, many of them involve minimal interaction that can be done daily or weekly, including tools to help you focus, manage anxiety, and facilitate better sleeping habits. 

An app could help give you a sense of routine, and offer the resources needed to be kind to yourself - whether you’re struggling on furlough or not.  In our six Rs of Resilience framework, taking responsibility for your mental health and wellbeing is the first step towards preparing yourself to “bounce back” from stressful situations.


2. Take time to reflect

One of the ways to take responsibility for your mental health and wellbeing is to take time to reflect on how you are, what is happening and how you are feeling about things. This is sometimes referred to as mindfulness, which simply means being aware of the moment - knowing what’s going on both inside and outside of ourselves, and taking time to recognise and reflect on our emotions in that moment. 

Taking a moment to reflect is often seen as something that people simply don’t have the time to do. Particularly for those with dependant family members, finding the time to think about how they feel will not be a high priority - “switching off” and reflecting isn’t always possible. However, there are a number of quick and easy activities you can do to help you better reflect on your emotions.


Reflection tip:

Under the current circumstances, it’s best to take each day as it comes. Capturing your reflections can take many forms, such as writing, drawing, painting, voice records and much more - anything that is a physical expression of how you’re feeling. Keeping journals in particular has proven an excellent way to release emotions and relieve stress for many people. Research suggests that writing can help regulate emotion unintentionally, and by keeping a simple diary you could be reflecting on your emotions without even realising. 


3. Take time to relax

Being furloughed by your employer has varying effects on individuals and while some are content with their free time, others may be feeling stressed about finances, family members and juggling their many, demanding responsibilities. In this case, it becomes extremely challenging to simply “switch off” any stressful thoughts or worries you have. 


Relaxation tip:

When it comes to relaxing, it's important to take time out of your day to do activities that you enjoy, or that can help ease tension. Think about the activities you routinely enjoy, or that have helped you de-stress in the past, whether it’s jogging, reading a book, practising mindfulness or even gardening. While this won’t necessarily stop you from overthinking, it will help you unwind as you make time for the things you like doing.


For a greater look at the ways in which you can practice mindfulness, check out our infographic.

Download the infographic


4. Take time for relationships

While on furlough, you may be experiencing feelings of isolation or loneliness, particularly if you live alone, or have no real support network. However, remember that just because you’ve been furloughed by your employer, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep in contact with your coworkers - so keep in touch with other colleagues and friends, and be sure to stay involved with wider team activities. Outside of work, it’s also important to be social and maintain supportive relationships where possible, whether it’s with family, friends, or members of your community.


Relationships tip:

When trying to maintain relationships while on lockdown, it may be beneficial to continue with routine social interactions as much as you possibly can. For example, if you usually visit a family member every Sunday, you could set up a video call with them to maintain contact and personal connection. This way, you’re not drastically changing your routine social interactions, you are simply adapting to the circumstances, while staying connected with others and maintaining a sense of norm as much as possible. 

For those on furlough with children or other family members living with you, try and take time to involve them in an activity, and enjoy the free time you have to spend with them. Some examples of activities where everyone can be involved include gardening or arts and crafts - but even incorporating others into routine activities such as cooking can be a great way to maintain close relationships. 

If you live alone, or doing activities with others isn’t possible, there are still ways you can build supportive relationships. Across social media, community groups have become more popular - particularly as more members are participating in skill sharing, which gives you a chance to help someone else learn something new.


5. Take time to refuel

While on lockdown, physical and emotional exhaustion is likely to be a common occurrence. In times of uncertainty, it can be difficult to ensure that you’re eating well and staying hydrated, as it’s often a low priority. If this is the case, try and take time to focus on basics like eating, being conscious of alcohol intake and getting into a routine for sleep, 


Refuelling tip: 

When you feel like you’re doing too little or too much, trying to find the time for additional activities can be overwhelming. Because of this, it’s a good idea to think of an activity already in your daily routine that you can focus on, such as cooking. For many, cooking has become a routine exercise, however, the rhythmic, even therapeutic nature of cooking a meal from scratch can be great for your emotional wellbeing. Cooking gives you a small goal to aim towards, and the rewards are excellent for both your physical and mental health. 


6. Take time for recreation

Participation in regular physical exercise has been proven to do wonders for emotional wellbeing, in that it releases endorphins and makes us feel better. However, you shouldn’t view physical activity in lockdown as something you need to do, or accomplish, as this can foster negative feelings of guilt or remorse if you decide not to do it. Recreational activities should be enjoyed as a way to release any mental and physical tension.


Suggested activities:

Depending on your mobility level and what you feel comfortable doing, there are many recreational physical activities you can do indoors or outdoors, including:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Online workouts
  • Yoga 

Recreational activities however, aren’t limited to exercise, and you could use this time to learn a new skill you’ve always wanted to try, or return to a hobby you previously stopped due to lack of time. 

However you decide to spend your recreational time, it’s important to remember that you should never feel obligated to do something, and should avoid being too hard on yourself if you don’t accomplish what you planned. During such a challenging time, the best thing you can do is be kind to yourself.

While we recognise that not all activities are possible for everyone, we hope that you take on board the six Rs as a way to begin prioritising your emotional wellbeing, and taking better responsibility for your mental health. 

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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