Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum co-founder Ben Channon offers three tips to help maintain mental health and a sense of wellbeing during this dispiriting time of crisis
Adjusting to our new way of life has inevitably impacted every single one of us in one way or another.
With news on the economic and health crisis flooding the airwaves and our work and down time continuing to blur, it comes as no surprise that about one in four architects in a recent survey said their mental and physical wellbeing had declined because of the lockdown.
This added strain comes on top of the already drastic mental health problems that the industry faces, as reported in the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum’s 2019 toolkit.
Clearly, this is a tough time for us all. And that’s why we at the AMWF have launched the Covid-19 toolkit, offering useful tips and resources for architects, designers, students, furloughed workers, parents and anyone else in need of support to help bolster their mental health and wellbeing.
The toolkit sets out three fundamental things all of us can do to improve our mental health and wellbeing at this time.
1 Stay positive
It’s certainly not easy staying positive right now, and we are all likely to be more stressed than before as we grow tired of being stuck indoors or worry about our jobs. And stress impacts our sleep cycles, leaving us irritable and tired, making it even more difficult to enjoy work or our down time.
However, a few simple changes to our daily routine can help improve positivity and peace of mind and make sure we get a good night’s sleep.
Take time out to meditate, listen to some favourite music, and for sitting near a window to get as much as daylight as possible while you are cooped up indoors. These may seem like small steps, but all of these can help.
Use this time as an opportunity to learn something new or something you’ve always wanted to do, such as learning to cross-stitch, play guitar (my personal goal), or speak Japanese. Learning activities help relieve stress and take minds off the current situation.
2 Stay healthy
We’ve been fortunate in that, unlike some countries, we are still able to get outside and exercise. Going for a walk, run or cycle ride is one of the easiest ways to boost mental health. Even taking time out to go for a stroll around the block before work starts can get us into a different mindset. Maybe think of it as the ‘new commute’ you take each day before your arrival at your makeshift desk.
Of course, a good diet and exercise go hand-in-hand towards improving both mental and physical health. But so can creating a daily routine that allows us time to do something proactive and different, which can increase energy levels as well as feelings of happiness.
Good ways to feel proactive when furloughed, for example, might include volunteering in the local community, looking after family members, or prioritising something that is important to us.
3 Stay connected
While it’s important to keep up-to-date with government and NHS advice and stay connected with what’s going on in the world, constantly digesting negative news can cause anxiety. Limiting time spent on media outlets and choosing sources wisely helps.
Also, just because we can’t meet up physically with friends, doesn’t mean we should be isolated. Our digital world means we can easily set up Zoom calls or keep in contact through WhatsApp.
As Aristotle observed, humans are naturally social animals, and it’s crucial that we maintain and build those relationships, not only for the happiness that comes from chatting to our loved ones but for the support network they provide when we’re feeling at our most stressed and vulnerable.
It’s important to remember our need to decompress too, though; so let’s not to feel guilty if we don’t feel like joining in with that next Microsoft Teams pub quiz.
We are living in unusual times, but we are capable of getting through it and bouncing back into action when the lockdown lifts.
Mental health issues are prevalent in both the wider society and in the world of architecture. Through this toolkit, all of us at the AMWF hope that architects, students and practices will have a wide range of tools to create the resilience needed to keep going and understand the importance of making time for bettering our mental wellbeing during this time of uncertainty.
Ben Channon is head of wellbeing at Assael Architecture and co-founder of the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum