“The day after I flew back from Afghanistan, I ran the London Marathon. After months of being in an austere environment where personal security, body armour, and separating yourself from people was the norm, suddenly I was amongst thousands of runners in the middle of London.”
Eric Warren, a former British Army officer, has had a fair bit of practise at adapting to different environments. During 16 years in the Army, switching between lovely lie-ins on leave and rather less relaxed arrangements in the Balkans and the Middle East, Warren became adept at acclimatising to contrasting conditions.
“It’s about mentally preparing yourself for what’s to come,” says Warren, who would list the ways in which a new environment would be different. “You project yourself forward mentally, mapping everything out. This creates a mental resilience, because your subconscious starts dealing with the new normal you’re going to be experiencing, rather than it just happening and you having to deal with that, all at the same time.”
Having hung up his khaki since retiring as a Major, Warren is now ensconced in the City, where he also serves as Chair of a network which helps veterans transition to civilian life.
So now the country is finding its feet, how can we transition from the jolly holiday of lockdown? Whether furloughed or working from home, many of us have enjoyed gentle days in the garden with an early G&T, and have reservations about being wrenched back to busy offices via crammed commutes.
Is there a way to subdue the shock? Warren shares his military inspired advice…
Bring yourself back into a work focus by writing out everything you need to address. Check train timetables as these may have changed, and decide what to listen to, to take your mind off the journey. Plan what to wear – a lot of us have been more relaxed in our outfits while we’ve been at home, so make sure you’re not running around on the morning, trying to get ready. Re-set your alarm if you’ve been waking up later during lockdown, and get a haircut. Looking prepared will help you feel prepared. Doing this forward planning will make going back to work that bit easier on yourself.
No need for speed
Even if you’re happy to go back at work, it can be incredibly difficult to rev back up after a period of relaxation. Your muscle memory will have changed because we’ve been sat in a different environment for a period of time. In the military, we’d never rush into a different way of life at 110 miles an hour, because it’s too much of a shock to the system. Your mental resilience will be challenged and your body will say, “what are you doing?” So don’t rush back – start slowly by simply reconnecting with colleagues.
If you’re dreading the commute, discuss changing your hours slightly so you can travel in earlier or later, during quieter times of the day. If you do have to commute during the busy peak time, try not to rush. If everyone’s fighting to board a tube or a train, remove yourself from that, because the commute is stressful enough, and rushing doesn’t save as much time as you think. Focusing on a podcast is a good way to block out the frenzy, and music can help to remove the stress and anxiety of the environment around you.
If you’ve found you prefer working from home, explore opportunities for continuing to do this. If you’ve been happier and more productive, hopefully your employer will see it as a good thing. However, don’t necessarily aim to do it continually, permanently – create a balance between time at home and time in the office, as regular contact with people at work is positive from a career perspective, as well as for ourselves as human beings.
If the prospect of going back to work doesn’t fill you with joy, make sure you have something to look forward to in the evening or at the weekend, or at the end of the month. If I was going through a tough time in the military, whether it was a long deployment or a forced march, I’d become more mentally resilient by visualising something at the end of it, whether that was going somewhere nice for a drink with friends or buying myself something I wanted rather than needed, to acknowledge the journey I’d been on. Personal reward is important, and for our mental health alone, it’s a positive action to take.
Note to self
If there’ve been things you’ve enjoyed during lockdown, keep them up when you go back to work. If it’s time with family, arrange to be around more in the week, perhaps working one day from home. If it’s exercise or reading books, incorporate that into your routine so it doesn’t feel like an effort – but don’t do too much or it won’t be sustainable. There’s a risk of slotting back into old routines, slipping back into working all hours, and forgetting the positives lockdown has brought – so write down what you’ve enjoyed, on the fridge or in a notebook by your bed, to remind yourself to make it part of your life.
Eric Warren supports The Poppy Factory
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.