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How to cope with being furloughed

As UK businesses move to furlough thousands of people across the country, whilst supporting them financially becomes as secured as it can be, focus moves to how we support people through a period of time where they are effectively jobless, albeit it for only temporarily.

It is complicated when moving from a working status to non-work. In most circumstances, there is time to prepare yourself. You can plan what you might do when you aren’t at work.

For many, they will greet this unexpected time away from work as a welcome break, enjoying the peace and quiet, binge watching the latest series on Netflix, getting some time to do those important household tasks that never get done. Some will be grateful that they no longer have to deal with difficult colleagues and customers.

For many others however, not being able to work will feel like the rug has been ripped out from underneath them.  Although people can be grateful to be in employment, it doesn’t mean the psychological adjustment is any easier.

You see, work and our job is a part of our identity. It is a part of who we are.

It gives us purpose, meaning, structure, routine and relationships.  The engagement, the extended coffee breaks, hoping no one will notice.  It is gone, temporarily, but with it everything about your schedule changes. 

Loosing daily structure, important relationships and that loss of identity can be stressful and harmful to our health. It can increase feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

The extent of how long furlough will go on for us unclear.  People are expected to adjust and adjust quickly.  People need to adjust. 

Lets look at the stages that furloughed people may go through and some ideas on how we can keep healthy along the way..

Denial – 1st Stage

Nearly a third of the UK are refusing to accept the situation of social isolation.  Denying that it affects them, that they are impacted by it or that those around them could be affected by it.

Whilst many may think this is a selfish way of behaving, denial can often act as a buffer to help protect us from our emotions.  It’s a defence mechanism.

Anger – 2nd Stage

It is natural to feel angry. Anger at the company, at the world, at the other half, at the dog.

Writing down your feelings can be helpful. It can help to relieve stress and help to avoid taking it out on others.  Whilst restrictions remain in what we can do outside.. this might just be a really useful tool.

Feeling low – 3rd Stage

Now we start to come to terms with the circumstances in front of us.  As the anger subsides, the emotional fog remains.  We may find that we retreat inwardly, stop socialising virtually as much, crying more often than usual or feeling very low, sad and down.

It is okay to feel to sad. And many of people, up and down the country will be experiencing feelings and thoughts similar.  Acknowledge how you feel, recognise that you are not feeling as good. The important thing is to come to terms with those feelings.

Acceptance – 4th Stage

When we reach this stage, it’s not that we no longer feel sad or even emotional.  The change comes in that we are no longer resisting the reality of the situation and struggling to make it something different.  This can be a really empowering stage, feel the weight come off your shoulders.

Self-care is so important and rarely something we think about until we are in the midst of the difficult and uncomfortable situations.  So it’s time to do those things you really love to do (within the realms of your home). Painting, decorating, arts and crafts, jigsaw puzzle, gardening, building, playing an instrument – when do you ever get the space to do those things? Now. Now. Now.

Stay connected with your friends and loved ones. It’s so easy to disengage, but keep talking – relationships are so important for our mental health.

Whilst you can’t work for money, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities are many charities are crying out for help and support with the most vulnerable in society.

Most don’t realise how important a routine is until you get a situation like this! Establishing a routine will help to provide a sense of purpose and give focus to the day. 

Learning and development is a great way to invest your time. The Open University has hundreds of free courses that are accessible on their website – what have you always wanted to know?! Maybe now is the time.

Finally, don’t put too much pressure on your self to be ALWAYS be active and productive. If you run yourself ragged, you will certainly feel the effects. Take some time just to embrace the day, embrace the moments with a cup of coffee, sat in the garden, listening to the birds, listening to your favourite music. We all need that break.

For help and support with maintaining positive mental health & wellbeing with your furloughed employees, reach out to [email protected]

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