What can you do about the Monday night blues?

Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. As much as the pseudoscience has been debunked over the years, it is stubbornly sticking around, so we might as well acknowledge it.

Many of us are familiar with Sunday Syndrome, that sinking feeling as the weekend draws to a close that it will soon be Monday all over again. But what can you do if you have the Monday night blues? If the reality of being back at work was as bad as you had been fearing: what then?

Right now, I suspect more people are feeling Monday night blues than ever before. It’s January, which is never a cheery month in the UK, as it’s cold, damp, Christmas has been and gone, and the January paycheck seems an eon away. And this is January 2021. In the UK we’re in our third full lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The last 10 months have been tough, and the promised hope of 2021 is slow to come. People have lost jobs, loved ones and opportunities.

The job market is hard right now, and we are expecting this to continue for some time. You may not feel able to leave a job right now, which can lead to you feeling trapped.

If you regularly have the Monday night blues, here are a few suggestions that may help. And if you are struggling, there are some links to how you can get help at the end.

Focus on the things you can change

While you may not be able to change your job right now, what changes can you make to make things more enjoyable? Talk to your manager about taking on a project or task that you would enjoy, or would give you a stretch, and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed it.

If you’re employed, self-employed, or out of work right now, is there a new skill you could learn that you would enjoy. Even better if it could improve your chances of a new job, or piece of work.

And focus on how you spend your day. Gary Gower wrote his guide to life in lockdown in April last year. While his suggestions can’t change a job you don’t like, he has useful tips for when life is tough. Breaking up your day so that you get away from your desk can help break thought patterns that may be contributing to how you are feeling about your situation right now.

Celebrate your wins

Every week in the Lucidity Network Facebook group we celebrate our wins for that week. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’ve secured a promotion, won a long-planned for pitch, gained some insight from a ‘failed’ project, or managed to go outside for a walk every day that week, you’re encouraged to share this with the rest of the group.

Why do we do this? Because we know that many people are pretty rubbish at celebrating their achievements: I know I am. By being asked to think about this at the end of each week, we’re prompted to reflect on what we wanted to achieve. This can gradually train our brains to have a growth mindset, and to focus on what we’ve achieved rather than hasn’t gone well.

There are many ways you can celebrate your achievements. Some people like to write three positive things in a journal at the end of each day. This year I’ve started a jar of achievements, and I’ll write down my achievements and watch the jar fill up over the year. The important thing is to start doing it, so why not join the Lucidity Community Facebook group where you’ll be prompted to each week. You never know, you might find it helps.

Do something that sparks joy

Not to get all Marie Kondo on you, but joy is important for us all. I need to point out that joy and happiness are different things. As a rule of thumb, joy is cultivated internally, and happiness tends to be impacted by external events.

Author J.D. Salinger once eloquently described the difference as: “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.”

Because we can spend a huge proportion of our time working, we can often feel that if work isn’t going well that means life isn’t going well. Finding and doing things outside of work that spark joy and meaning in your life can help mitigate some feelings of dissatisfaction. Perhaps there’s a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up, a class you’d like to start again, or volunteer for a cause you really care about. If you’re feeling fulfilled outside of work, it’s easier to feel a level of joy that isn’t easily shaken by bad days at work.

Jo Gibney is Head of Business Development at the Association of Volunteer Managers, a membership organisation for anyone who works with volunteers, and a freelance digital community manager.

Need help?

If you are struggling right now, your GP should be able to signpost you for help, or the Mental Health Foundation has a page of resources: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/getting-help

*Coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004, after a holiday company asked him for a “scientific formula” for the January blues, Blue Monday falls on the third Monday in January every year. Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-51173730

Are you back at work?

Today is the first day back at work for many of us.

I’ll not lie when I say it was tough getting started this morning. For starters I couldn’t get out of bed. Then when I managed to get up and find my laptop I forgot most of my passwords. Then I had to relearn to type as well as how to find information, process it and then act on it.

I’ve had two weeks off which was much needed and whist I didn’t go anywhere or do anything, it was still over all too quickly.

It was weird – decidedly quiet and low key. However, on the upside no family arguments and I still managed to watch my fair share of mindless television and some good films and all while grazing on cheese and chocolate. I also squeezed in a lot of dog walking, chatting on Zoom and napping.

The first day back after a holiday is usually a bit tough but this year it felt even harder than usual. Maybe it’s not going to an office, maybe it was the exhausting emotional pantomime of ‘oh yes you can, oh no you can’t’ from the powers that be resulting in last minute changes of Christmas plans. Maybe we all got chills eating Christmas dinner with the windows open.

The emotional pantomime continued all Christmas break. The positive stories of another approved vaccine were countered by doom and gloom of the new variant of corona virus being more transmissible, overwhelmed hospitals and ‘oh yes you are, oh no you’re not’ as some schools go back and others do not and others don’t know.

We’ve been through a lot. And yes we’re learned a lot too and there are many positives that we’ll be able to take away from our experience of living through a pandemic. But even thinking about the events of the past few weeks its no wonder if you’re feeling exhausted, emotional and like you’ve run out of steam.

Then there’s the pressure of a New Year.

There’s been an understandable narrative of good riddance to 2020. There’s the promise that 2021 brings new hope. I’m not denying that, but our lives are not going to change significantly any day soon. The changes will be gradual as the vaccine is rolled out in the coming months. I don’t want to put a downer on 2021, but to manage your expectations I want to flag that it might be 2022 that is the year that heralds this ‘new normal’ that’s been constantly talked about.

So if, on day one back at work, any of the above chimes with you, then here’s my advice.

  • Give yourself a break. You’ve been through a lot and so has everyone you’re working with so just take it a bit easy. Be kind to yourself.
  • Prioritise the work that is essential. What absolutely has to be done today? Just do that.
  • Plan out your activity for the next few days and weeks (taking into account the above principles).
  • Finish work on time – every day.
  • Connect with others for help and support. Consider joining the Lucidity Network. 
  • And for goodness sake don’t start making any new year resolutions that deny yourself the things you love and that you might need to get through the next few months.

All other advice is welcome in the comments below.

*Note This blog was written prior to the 2021 lockdown announcement.

Are you good at asking for help?

Last month I ran a webinar with Caroline Doran, founder of Deliver Grow on managing uncertainty. We had some great questions and an interesting theme came up. It’s not the first time.

Several times I asked viewers to put their questions into the chat box. I encouraged people to ask for help, even if it was specific to their situation because I could pretty much guarantee that someone else would be grappling with the something similar, so it would help others too. Also I felt pretty sure that someone else would have been through a similar situation and come out the other side, and therefore could help.

The questions started to flow, and it highlighted and sparked a conversation about how we can find it difficult to ask for help.

It can happen for many reasons:

  • We’re worried about what other people will think.
  • We’re worried of asking something that may seem silly or trivial to others.
  • We don’t like to feel vulnerable.
  • We feel we should be able to figure it out for ourselves.
  • We know others have got lots of things that they’re worried about so we don’t want to add to their stress.
  • We hope the problem will just go away and we won’t have to bother anyone.

The thing is, the vast majority of people like helping others. We’re social animals, we live in communities. Helping each other is just part of being human.

Yet, even though we may like to be asked for help, even though we like helping other people, even though helping other people makes us feel good, when we have a problem we often hold back from asking others.

It doesn’t make sense!

Who are we not to give others the opportunity to help us? Who are we to deny others the opportunity to feel good? It’s a gift to be able to help other people – yet we often feel that asking for help is a burden.

Also in my experience most of the time we think we’re alone but we’re not. When we voice our feelings, we learn that other people have experienced what we’re feeling too. Just knowing we’re not alone can be helpful in itself.

So next time you think that the problem will go away, that its silly or that other people have enough on their plates without you asking them for help. Just ask for help.

One of the reasons I set up the Lucidity Network was to provide a community where it feels OK to ask for help. A place where people have a sense of belonging, understanding and enjoy helping each other. If you promise to ask for and give help you can join us here.

You can also watch the replay of the webinar on managing uncertainty with Caroline Doran in the Lucidity Network archives.

Tips to get the best from your team when working remotely

Working remotely is here to stay and it brings with it a mix of opportunities and challenges. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, the flexibility to work at the time of day when you’re at your best.

There’s a definite downside though.

Boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. Many of us can feel that life is all work with no space to really switch off, and this plays havoc with our personal life and our wellbeing.

If you don’t have the right leadership and culture, that genuinely allows you the flexibility to choose when you work and when you take time away from your desk to recharge, working from home can take it’s toll.

Life might feel more uncertain than usual right now. Human beings crave certainty and want to feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, our anxiety and stress levels rise and fear takes over.

I see fear playing out in different ways in pandemic working life. Some of the behaviours that might feel manageable in an office become unmanageable when working from home on your own without regular in person contact.

Micro management – it can make us feel in control and reduce the anxiety associated with uncertainty when we micro manage. However if you’ve ever been micro managed you’ll know that it feels horrible. You feel like you’re not trusted. It can knock your confidence and make you feel constantly on edge. No one does their best work in a constant state of edginess.

Always working – feeling like we have to be at our desk all the time to show we’re working. Fearing that if we’re not perceived to be working really hard that we’ll be at the top of the list when it comes to redundancies.

A friend who works in people development was telling me about an email they sent to all employees to tackle the problem that many people were feeling. Employees felt that they had to work all the hours. Their email highlighted that working hours were 9-5 Monday to Friday and there was no requirement for people to be working weekends. It highlighted email etiquette of not sending emails out of hours and if you did receive an out of hours email not feeling the need to respond. They forgot themselves and sent the email on a Saturday night.

Rising stress and anxiety – many people find working from home isolating and stressful. When we’re feeling stressed out or anxious we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. We can’t think straight. It’s often described as a feeling of ‘brain fog’ which leaves us incapable of focusing on any one thing for long.

How to overcome fears and have a happier life when working remotely

Trust your people that when working remotely that they’re doing their best. If you don’t trust your people – the problem isn’t that you’re all working remotely, the problem is lack of trust.

Everyone is different – in terms of what support they need when working from home and when they do their best work. Have an individual chat with each person in your team to understand what they need from you to work from home successfully.

Give permission to not have to be at a desk from 9am – 5pm. Especially right now in the UK with less hours of daylight. Is there a reason not to work early in the morning, have a chunk of time off in the day in the daylight and finish up later in the afternoon or evening? As long as the work is done does it matter when or, on the topic of micro management, how?

Emails – if people are working flexible hours it might not be about not sending emails outside of core hours but more around communication and expectations. For example, if you choose to work in the morning, take the afternoon off and work again in the evening you’ll likely be sending emails after 5pm. It’s more about letting people know that you don’t expect a reply until they are working again.

It’s not just about work – allow time for those casual chats that build relationships. For example, allow some time at the beginning of a meeting for informal chats, or build in travel time to Zoom meetings to allow for human conversations.

Lead by example – model the behaviour you want to see in your team. Help people find heir way. Remember everyone is likely to struggle at some point when working from home. Be kind, look for signs of stress (like if someone says they have ‘brain fog’) and help if you can.

If managing the current uncertainty is something you’re grappling with, join me and Caroline Doran, founder at Deliver Grow for a webinar on Thursday 26 November. We’ll be discussing practical tips to help you manage uncertainty – and it’s also your opportunity to ask your specific questions. Here’s the link to sign up. Places are limited so do sign up today.

Gary Gowers guide to getting past the 6-month wall

A guest blog on getting past the 6-month wall, by Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier that likes to be heard.

A long time has passed since I wrote my first ever blog – my guide to life in lockdown. When I wrote it I didn’t realise that the corona virus would impact us all so significantly or for so long. Last week we hit a 6-month wall.

I’m Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier and I live with my PA Lucy Gower.

At the start of lockdown we were optimistic. I was delighted that I got better walks and the long evenings and the light mornings meant I got the best sniffs of the day. My PA got really busy providing more support and connection for her membership community, the Lucidity Network. We even had Zoom lunches where I got to wear a cravat and cheer people up just by being me! But then we got Zoom fatigue from looking at people and pets on a screen all day and we went into a decline.

That’s when my PA had a panic as her work is mostly training and conference speaking in rooms with lots of people. They stopped happening. She wasn’t going away at all. We were stuck at home alone and I missed seeing my friends at doggy day-care. We both got a bit grumpy and anxious.

I think this was when my PA started baking cakes. She made a different one every week to practice new recipes’, and feel she was learning new things. But that stopped in June when she said the cakes were making her clothes shrink.

Then we worked hard at optimism. My PA appreciated that she wasn’t spending much on petrol. We got lost on the common a lot as (my PA said she had to do 10,000 steps a day) and we appreciated discovering new tracks and bogs. I appreciated the volumes of stinky mud I got to roll about in.

We’ve definitely got to know each other better, and we have adjusted to a different life. My PA always has an online delivery booked in, and the cupboards are better stocked in case we get locked down. We do good walks and don’t get lost as much as before, although there has been less mud. We moved to a smaller house that apparently costs less and I have new neighbours to bark at.

But last week I’ve noticed my PA is back in a slump. I think she hit a 6-month wall. She’s got a kind of disinterested boredom. She said she has brain fog and is finding it difficult to concentrate. She’s talking about wading in treacle. She’s struggling to be motivated to do anything; work, relax, watch TV, read or do the washing up. At least she still gives me dinner and takes me for walks, but even that feels like an effort. I think her mood affects me. I sit on the top of the stairs with a sad face. Even my favourite toy, Christmas Pig doesn’t cheer me up.

I was listening to the radio and apparently there’s a thing called surge capacity.

According to Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota; Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.

However, she says that natural disasters usually occur over a short period and are visible. If there’s a hurricane or a flood you can look outside and see the damage. And according to my PA (dogs don’t have great sense of time passing) we passed the 6-month wall last week and there’s nothing visible – just an uncomfortable feeling of indefinite uncertainty.

Masten says. ‘It’s important to recognise that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.’

Basically we run out of steam. No wonder my PA is feeling it. Maybe you are too? Me, not so much as I’m a dog and I just roll with the punches, but my PA talks about a feeling of loss; loss of ‘normal’ life.

Gary Gowers tips to get past the 6-month wall

The ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty. All the tips to help you adjust to life in lockdown in my last blog still apply. In addition, here’s some things that I’m working on with my PA to help her keep going for however long it takes.

Give yourself permission to feel what you feel

If you feel rubbish, disconnected and disinterested then that’s OK. You don’t have to be brave if you’re just not feeling it. Work on just accepting that’s how you feel. Give yourself permission to expect less. It’s OK if you feel like sitting on the sofa. It’s OK not to feel great. Accept that it is what it is for now. I just go and sit in my bed with Christmas Pig.

You can’t change the situation but you can change how you approach it

My PA said that 2020 had been a ‘sh*t show’. Acknowledge that and then find a ‘yes and’ to go with it. For example, ‘this year has been really tough but me and my PA have got to hang out a lot and go on some great walks with some brilliant mud which has been really great’. Don’t deny how you feel, and in addition to the gloom, see if you can find a positive ‘yes and’.

Make plans

We all need to have something to look forward to. And lots of us have had big plans curtailed by the pandemic. (I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents, who give me lots of treats and I was super disappointed). Don’t stop making plans for the things you enjoy doing. It helps to have something to look forward to. Even planning a walk with a friend can make a positive impact on your day. Recently my PA and me went canoeing to the pub with some friends. We looked forward to it, and it was a really super afternoon.

What things do you miss – and how can you recreate them?

We’re all missing things, holidays, coffee with friends, playing at doggy daycare. Jot them down. Are there things that you can adapt? For example, many people have told my PA that they miss the informal chats at work while making tea because all they do now are proper meetings. Can you start the meeting 10 mins early and everyone in the meeting make tea first to still have those chats? I miss when my PA used to leave me on my own when she had meetings, so I go and hide on my PAs bed and pretend she’s gone out.

Build your resilience bucket

Humans are resilient. You all have a full bucket and every knock back spills some resilience out of it. So its important to do things to keep the resilience bucket topped up and not let it get empty, because that’s when you burn out. Thankfully I’m one of the things that keeps my PA’s bucket topped up. She feels better after going for a walk or when she fluffs my beard up into funny shapes, or boops my nose. What’s your thing or things that help to build your resilience? And can you do them regularly so your bucket doesn’t get empty?

Stay connected

According to Masten, ‘The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social support and remaining connected to people. That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.’ 

I know that when I’m feeling grumpy I just want to sit on the top of the stairs on my own, but I know if I go for a walk, chase a ball, chew a stick and sniff other dogs that I feel much better.

Humans need to stay connected too and make a deliberate choice to do it. It can be easy when you have disinterested boredom to just go inside your own head. Be deliberate about stepping out of your own head and connect with others on a regular basis.

If you’d like help, support and connection to get past your 6-month wall, check out the Lucidity Network. My PA runs it. It’s a mix of training, learning and connection to a network of brilliant people to help you keep your resilience bucket full during the new normal uncertainty. You get to have the occasional lunch with me too. For more information and to join us click here.