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Civil Service

Staying connected and looking after your mental and physical health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Health & Wellbeing
Zamila Bunglawala

​It is easy to say, “take care of your mind as well as your body”, while we are all going through unprecedented times because of coronavirus (COVID-19), but it really is important.

The measures put in place to tackle COVID-19 have understandably required significant adjustments for all of us in how we live and work, while some, or their family members, may have contracted the virus. All of this results in differing degrees of emotional stress.

It's important to remember that it is OK to feel this way. I'm sure we are all finding ways to try to deal with it, but it really hasn't been easy. 

Staying connected

Staying connected with others is one way that is helping me to get through this.

I live with my family and I'm definitely spending more time with them, including taking a proper lunch break to enjoy their company.

I miss seeing my team, the excellent International Directorate at the Department for Education (DfE), especially the chats and laughs we have at our desks, walking by each other or on Skype before a meeting starts. 

A few weeks into our new working-from-home approach, I started a wellbeing chat with my team to talk about how we are feeling, what we're doing on evenings and weekends, and helping to make each other laugh.

Taking the time to be honest, empathetic and, where we can, laugh together, is so important to our wellbeing. Many of us may be laughing less during this time, but regularly sharing positive vibes and good energy really does feel good.

Physical health and wellbeing

Our physical health is also a huge contributory factor to our wellbeing. But while advising each other to eat well, drink water, get exercise and a good night’s sleep is common sense, these challenging circumstances are making many of us behave in different ways and change our eating habits. 

We can look out for each other here, too. I'm enjoying learning from my team about what they're cooking, new hobbies, and how they're keeping physically active – while enjoying cooking, reading and gardening myself!

I suffer from migraines, and working from home means days full of screen or phone calls. Excessive screen use causes me optical problems, and phones result in too much sound, and these are triggering more intense migraines than usual, which affect my physical health and wellbeing. 

Once a migraine is triggered, I must lay down in the dark within one to two hours. My prescription meds only numb the pain slightly and do not make it go away. There is no cure for migraines, yet.

Even if you don't suffer from migraines, too much screen time can lead to stress or anxiety, which can cause headaches. 

I am a British Muslim of Indian heritage. Public Health England data shows that COVID-19 is impacting ethnic minorities disproportionately, sadly resulting in higher infection and fatality levels. This, coupled with the recent Black Lives Matters protests, rightly demanding ethnic and wider equality for minority groups, following the horrific death of George Floyd in the US, is also deeply troubling and directly impacts on my and my family’s wellbeing.

Supporting each other

My line manager and my team, who knew about my migraines before the pandemic, are very supportive and understanding, and knowing this greatly helps my wellbeing. I've now included short breaks in my working day to ensure I move away from screens/the phone and get some exercise.

My team leaders and I are helping colleagues to work flexibly in ways that best suit their different living situations and parental or care responsibilities. 

The importance of supportive line managers

Paul Kett, Higher Education and Further Education Director General at DfE, shares his thoughts as Zamila's line manager

Having not previously known someone who suffers serious migraines, I've learnt a lot about the condition from Zamila. It makes it easy for me and the team at work that she talks openly about her condition and how to manage it, As well as making it straightforward to manage when Zamila is out of action when a migraine hits, it is a great reminder for us all to do those things that help keep ourselves and each other healthy, both mentally and physically. 

As Zamila reminds us, social distancing measures will affect us all differently. We need to look out for one another, and I'm so proud of the kindness I see in colleagues doing just that at this time.

Sustaining wellbeing activity going forward

I’m currently working with mental health charity MIND to deliver wellbeing workshops and seminars, and a programme of sustained wellbeing activity to help us to be resilient, positive and support ourselves and others through this challenging time. The pandemic has emphasised the importance of our mental health and wellbeing and enabled us to recognise a need for a sustained focus in this area post-pandemic.  

Staying positive, talking about how we are coping, not being afraid to share challenges and looking after our health will definitely stand us in good stead. 

Please do share in the comments below how you have been looking after your own wellbeing and any tips that you have for your colleagues.

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  1. Comment by Anne E. Mulholland posted on

    I have been sewing for the NHS. At the beginning of the lockdown one of our directors at HM Land Registry told us to look for volunteering opportunities in our local community. The next day I saw an advert for a local group to sew scrubs for the NHS. I have always sewn a little bit and as they had patterns and a utube video I thought that I would give it a go. I am now working from home, so production has slowed down considerably but 2 date I have made 78 sets of scrubs for The Walton Centre and Alder Hey children's hospital. I have given myself now the target of 100. This has helped my mental health immeasurably as I felt that I had a purpose and a reason to get out of bed in a morning as prior to that I had felt useless and didn't even get dressed until halfway through the day. I help others and it helped me.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    I do recall Zamila your previous blog in which you shared your personal story and challenges with migraine. I really hope that your story had increased awareness and understanding.

    I would agree that the Covid-19 lockdown in itself has been a challenge but for those with a medical or mental health condition it has been even harder.

    As the Chair of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Wellbeing Network, I have noted an increase in anxiety and those feeling isolated.

    I would agree that it has been extremely important that we reach out and connect with colleagues and encourage colleagues to feel empowered to talk about how they are feeling.

    At the start of the lockdown, one of my Wellbeing Network colleagues and their Editorial Team created a newsletter, which contained a wide range of advice and guidance.

    We have also look to encourage colleagues to share their initiatives and advice through our Yammer page and post blogs in which they have shared their experiences.

    Through Microsoft Teams we have continued to be able to give talks and presentations on a range of Wellbeing topics and keep in contact with our membership. We have sought to ensure that colleagues do not suffer in silence.

    I would very much agree with you of the importance of taking regular breaks away from the workstation and where possible get some fresh air.

    I always start and end my working day with taking our dog for a walk and taking note of the nature in my surroundings.

    I am aware that some of our colleagues have look to take regular exercise either through Joe Wicks or through classes run using zoom.

    Certainly for me, I have been encouraged by the fantastic acts of kindness that colleagues have shown to others.