I sent out a survey via LinkedIn and my Facebook groups and friends and there were 56 replies. Everyone filled in all 3 questions in differing amount of details. The replies were anonymous. The sample is not representative of the population as replies came from my own networks. I didn’t ask for information about gender, age or occupation. I am a qualitative researcher and so used thematic analysis and coding all of which takes time and really needs triangulating.
Thank you to everyone who took part and apologies for taking some time to get this out. There was more data than I expected (which was great) and also, like many of you, I am working from home and juggling kids.
How has your day to day life changed?
I’ll start off with the challenges people named.
The most common theme, which won’t surprise anyone, is that people are missing social contact and hugs. 13 people explicitly mentioned this as a negative change.
‘I miss friends and family’
‘I cannot get to see my partner’
‘I have no contact with anyone’
Five people mentioned that they were experiencing more stress:
‘My working environment is very stressful’.
One person talked in some detail about the challenges of being at home with a child who would usually receive lots of specialist support; ‘no let up from the exhaustion’.
Another person wrote movingly, at length about his/her work which ‘interfaces directly with nursing staff…and so I’m hearing daily stories of the awful reality of coronavirus’ and ‘supporting a team who is anxious and stressed’.
Five people mentioned the challenges of working from home; ‘I’m working online which I am finding quite draining’.
One person’s work has increased due to their involvement in the distribution of PPE and another person said they had no work.
One person reported dealing with bereavement ‘We have had both bereavement and a birth in the last two weeks and all the usual rituals, support and comfort and celebration have been removed from us.’
One person said they were bored.
One person said they felt anxious; ‘Made me more cautious’.
One person said they felt less fit.
So many of these I resonate with; I am missing friends, I do find it challenging to be working from home, however it was also a humbling reminder for me about how hard it is for those dealing with people whose health is affected at this time either directly or indirectly. Bereavement is so huge because it is a collection of so many emotions (and sometimes just numbness) and so although only one person talked about it, we are all aware of how many tens of thousands of people are experiencing it right now.
In spite of the physical distance, 9 people mentioned increased connections. Some people have adult children who have come home, other people have time at home with their young children other people ‘talk more frequently by phone’ and there were a number of people who said they were enjoying having more time with their family and spouse.
Eight people mentioned how much they were enjoying not having to commute; ‘No commute means far less stress.’ ‘No commute to/from work which saves an hour every day (and fuel).
Six people talked about how they were really appreciating that life had slowed down for them; ‘slower, more aware and more happy’, ‘A lot less rushing.
Four people said they were walking more; ‘I am walking more’, two people said they felt fitter; ‘more exercise’.
Three people felt they were saving money; ‘I have saved money’ and two different people talked about how they had stopped ‘nipping’ to the shops. Two people expressed gratitude for local services; ‘Having even more respect and gratitude for our local shops.’
Two people felt happier; ‘I feel more serene.’
Two people said they were reading more.
Two people said they felt ‘more rested’ as they were getting up later.
One person reported becoming ‘tee-total’.
Two people said they had been outside more; ‘more time outside, more exercise, healthier eating.’ Another person also mentioned that they were eating better; ‘I’m cooking from scratch and enjoying it.’
Two people mentioned; ‘enjoying being at home.’
What interests me about all this data is that I only asked one broad question and yet there are so many similarities and overlaps in what people are experiencing. Bereavement and loss of work are hitting some people hard and for many of us loneliness and separation are really hard.
However, in these responses, there is also much simple pleasure. No one mentioned shopping or doing their hair or nails but so many people talked about staying local, driving less, walking, being outside, connecting more (albeit remotely) and generally feeling healthier.
Which brings us onto the second question which was much more focused on the individual experience.
How do you feel you have changed?
Again there were really contrasting experiences, sometimes expressed in the same comment for example ‘more stress for the first fortnight but now more chilled/resigned.’ What this data can’t begin to capture is the fluctuations which for me can happen within one day not only across the weeks as it goes on. I am also aware that this data is now two weeks old and so may already be out of date. The answers this time seemed to have more commonality; in the first question there were 27 themes, but in this one, even though there were still 21, there was much more clustering around certain themes.
Unsurprisingly increased stress was a common theme with 6 people talking about it directly; ‘Working from home is massively stressful.’
Five people talked about significant mental health issues; ‘I’m more anxious as life is less predictable…more withdrawn.’ ‘More afraid of outside life.’ ‘experienced more palpitations and panic attacks.’
Three people said they were finding it harder to get motivated; ‘I find it difficult to get motivated’
One person said they felt sad, another said they were comfort eating and one additional person talked about grief; ‘our grief has been amplified by the current situation.’
I recently wrote an article for the education online press about what schools need to do to work with some of the mental health issues that young people will bring back into school with them. The article is here if you fancy a read. For me, what people have told me in the survey is so significant for employers as well as schools. For some people, this period of time will have led to bereavement and trauma and the mental health impact can not be ignored. To ignore the emotional and psychological impact is not, in my experience of working with individuals with these issues, only harmful the individual, but also to their social networks and their work. None of us performs or relates well when we are stressed and scared.
However, I have argued before, that we must not assume, that just because we are living at the same time, that we will have the same stories to tell and this really came across in the data, because for some people the impact was very positive.
Nine people said they felt calmer; ‘I feel calmer.’ ‘I’m better at relaxing.’ ‘More peaceful and relaxed’.
Seven people said they felt less stressed; ‘I don’t feel under so much pressure to fit all the normal day to day things in.’ ‘No pressure.’ ‘Less stress’ ‘Appreciate the simpler things in life.’ ‘Appreciating time with family.’
Six people spoke of their gratitude; ‘Gratitude flows freely from and around me.’ ‘Thankful for all we have.’
Six people spoke about being more in the moment, more contemplative, more present to the people in their lives, nature and their health; ‘ I feel much more present.’ ‘Some things just aren’t an option so I don’t think about them which frees me to be in the moment.’
Four people spoke about increased health; ‘Lost weight and fitter.’ ‘Physically stronger.’
Three people mentioned that they had slowed down; ‘I’ve accepted that there’s no need to rush everything.’
Three people mentioned feeling; ‘more reflective’. ‘It has given me time to reflect.’ ‘Space to reflect.’
Three people spoke about increased connection; ‘I’m really enjoying every day at home with my husband as we have reconnected.’
Three people spoke about being able to be in nature; ‘Beautiful sunrises and the blossom on the trees.’ ‘Flowers blooming, lambs in the fields.’
Two people specifically mentioned improved sleep; ‘sleeping better and the somatic anxiety symptoms I usually have are disappearing.’
Two people talked about; ‘More time for me.’
One person feels; ‘More content than I have previously noticed.’
One person has seen this as a turning point; ‘To up sticks and move to our dream home.’
One person mentioned; ‘community spirit’
One person said they had; ‘reflected on my values.’
One person said; ‘I have learned to use social media.’
So much of this tallies with what we know is essential to human well-being; time, reduced demands, time in nature and the ability to reflect and be present. So much depression, stress and anxiety comes from worrying about the future, regretting the past or trying to juggle un-juggle-able, often competing demands and so no wonder that for some people this time is actually a time to take stock and re-balance.
One person mentioned not having choice and whilst no one would want to be in a situation where we have no choice, too much choice is overwhelming. I watch my children scroll through all the channels available to them, which they would do for hours at end without choosing what to watch, and I am glad that when I was growing up it was Blue Peter or bust. Having choice means we could make the wrong choice of job, partner, life style and so to have so many choices taken away from us is, for some people, understandably freeing.
The final question I asked was about the future which one person said was ‘irrelevant and politically biased’ which was not my intention, more that as a life coach and researcher, I am interested in change. Here’s what people said.
How do you want life to change in the future?
The question was framed positively (‘want to change’ rather than ‘will’) and so there was only one negative reply which thought the future would be; ‘Harder for the poor, working harder for the rich.’
Only two people said they wanted life to go back to how it was before; ‘’I want the freedom back to do all the things I enjoy doing away from home.’ ‘I want to go back to the freedom of before!’
The overwhelming thing that people wanted was to see and spend more time with family and friends with twelve people naming it; ‘Spending more time with loved ones.’ ‘Value time with my friends a lot more.’ ‘Hold my new-born niece.’
Eleven people said they hoped that this would lead to systemic and social change; ‘Rebalancing of society.’ ‘Health and well being for all.’ ‘The true worth of the NHS.’ ‘To build our own manufacturing back up. To buy British.’ ‘I want us as a society to remember how much we valued people in jobs we may not even have noticed before, the postman, the shop assistant, the social care workforce, the bin men, the bank staff…not just our amazing NHS.’ ‘Better protection for non- permanent workers.’ ‘Re-evaluation of fairness in society and a redress of the distribution of money to things that are important (and away from things which are clearly not.).’ ‘A more equal society.’
Ten people said they wanted to continue to live a slower life; ‘I don’t need to live at 100 miles an hour.’ ‘I love the less frenzied life style.’ ‘I’d like life to be a slower pace.’
Seven people talked about the environment; ‘I want the world to wake up to a cleaner planet by adopting the measures that have been forced upon us eg fewer car and plane journeys, lower use of harmful chemicals.’ ‘More respect for the environment.’ ‘More acknowledgement of the natural world.’ ‘Everyone to be looking after the earth and each other better.’ ‘I can work in a way which is healthier for the planet.’ ‘Would love to see a positive effect on the environment continue with less flying and car journeys.’
Seven people talked about kindness and care; ‘I would like people to be more thoughtful day to day not just in a crisis.’ ‘I’d like to see less selfishness in people.’ ‘Be more considerate towards everyone.’ ‘More understanding of each other.’
Six people said they didn’t want to go back to commuting; ‘Less travelling to meetings.’ ‘Limiting travel and time away.’ ‘Less daily travel.’
Five people spoke about consumerism; ‘Stop chasing material things for the sake of it but to look for experience and memories.’ ‘I’d like to see people become less materialist.’ ‘I worry there is going to be a massive onslaught of marketing campaigns to encourage consumption in an attempt to boost economic growth taking us right back to where we started.’
Five people said they wanted their values to remain changed; ‘Values with more focus on looking after and supporting the vulnerable.’ ‘Focus on the important stuff.’ ‘I hope everyone remembers this and starts valuing the things they are missing.’
Five people said they wanted to remain more present; ‘Enjoying now, every day is precious.’ ‘Just listening to the birds.’ ‘Love every day as it comes.’ ‘Embrace my awareness and love myself.’
Five people talked about happiness of contentment; ‘Doing more of the things I enjoy.’ ‘More time for us to enjoy life alone and together.’
Five people spoke about community; ‘local communities flourish as a result of greater tolerance and the ability to work from home.’ ‘A sense of community.’ ‘People to make more use of local shops and businesses.’
Four people spoke about gratitude; ‘More of this for me, I really do not want to change back.’ ‘I won’t be taking things for granted so much.’
Three people talked about simplicity; ‘It will be simpler.’
Three people said they wanted to continue to have time to themselves; ‘Keep more ‘me’ time.’ ‘The luxury of time is a very rare gift indeed.’
Three people said they wanted to continue to; ‘Look after myself’ ‘Exercise more.’
Three people said they wanted to continue; ‘This laid back attitude that we never had before.’ ‘Less stress.’
Three people said they would like to continue to work from home’ ‘reconsider digital options for reducing commutes and meetings for meetings sake’. ‘Ability to work from home.’
Three people talked about re-focusing attention away from work onto the family; ‘I hope that work/life balances change for the good and family life is seen as important.’ ‘I have seen my grown up daughter lose the stress of being a working wife and mother, I watch her become calm and rested, loving this special time with her young son and think it would be good if everyone stepped back 30% in future from work, stress and being driven by money.’ ‘Not worry so much about work.’
Two people talked about how they wanted to eat; ‘More home cooking.’ ‘Eating simpler foods.’
One person said; ‘I’d like people to accept that death is part of life.’
One person talked about how s/he was approaching the future with; ‘Openness and curiosity. This is unusual for me. But I relish the silver linings that this horrific cloud will bring.’
One person said they wanted to; ‘learn more about being by myself.’
One person said; ‘We need to take personal responsibility for our many actions.’
One person said they hoped we would; ‘Seek more meaning in what we do, more purpose.’
Wow. This is a world I am looking forward to living in. More kindness, simplicity. Less rushing and more time with people we love. More home working and developing local community with increased awareness of the environmental choices we make about driving and flying. More social equality and less consumerism. Eating food we have cooked ourselves produced and bought locally. More appreciation and gratitude for what we have and a slower life, bringing us more into the moment.
And we do all need to take responsibility for our decisions.
Maybe the next question is ; ‘What practical changes are you making to birth this new world?’
I am going to shop for food less often and more locally and I am going to use the car much less.
Thank you again to everyone who took part.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who would be interested (or who has influence to make some of the systemic issues raised here.)