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Be kind to yourself - you can’t afford to be ill

THE ROUTINE of working from home that most freelances were used to before the pandemic is very different to what we're experiencing now in coronavirus lockdown. That was one of the conclusions from the Working Safely Through the Pandemic webinar hosted by LFB in March. It dealt with ensuring our own physical and mental health while working from home - often in isolation - in times of covid. It was led by Caroline Holmes, Training Coordinator for the NUJ Trade Union Training Programme.

Caroline Holmes

Caroline Holmes leads the Working Safely through the Pandemic webinar

Panic attacks, chronic fatigue

Caroline is herself a freelance engaged by the NUJ and has been through the experience of having covid herself. She noted that "a crisis is scary" - fear of the unknown can cause stress and anxiety. Several people in seminars Caroline has run for the NUJ or other unions have reported suffering full-on panic attacks during the covid lockdown.

Stress comes out of us in different ways - that we may not recognise. Chronic fatigue has been the most common symptom of stress during covid. Other ways stress can manifest itself include a lack of motivation. This is particularly bad for freelances: if we don't get motivated we don't do work and we don't get paid. Another common symptom is a feeling of isolation - a belief that we're the only people experiencing stress. We are not.

It helps to identify where the stress is coming from, to identify the challenges. Some freelances have reported trying to focus on too many things as a cause of stress, while "ending up geographically where they don't want to be" due to covid travel restrictions is another cause of great anxiety. As Caroline noted, "stressed people lose sight of the good".

Even harder for photographers

Photographers are taking more of a risk just being out and about with so few people around on the streets, and lens-based journalists have the additional practical hassle that "everything fogs up" when you're wearing a mask. Not only are the emptier streets more dangerous, there aren't even any "shops and restaurants to dive into" if danger threatens.

One photographer present also noted that for some corporate portraiture or fashion shoots they're having to spend twice as much time do two versions of everything, apparently for the same money - photographing people who have their masks on for use now, then with their masks off for later use in anticipation of the pandemic eventually lifting.

There are also issues around "eye health and screen time" - we're all spending more time in front of screen in virtual meetings than we ever have before. We should try to take screen breaks, however brief, every 45 minutes. The seminar itself was a strictly 90-minute affair, over by 7.30, as part of an effort to make sure our screens and the devices they're on are safely put away at least two hours before bedtime.

Caroline has come across one case of a freelance's regular client conducting a risk assessment for them when they started working from home with the lockdown. It's worth asking.

Solutions?

What to do about the unprecedented stress we face in these unprecedented times? There was an admission that some of the solutions sound "a bit cheesy" but they seem to work for a lot of people. Map out your work day: the Pomodoro® time management technique is worthy of investigation, and you don't have to buy its gimmicky timers. One participant noted that there are meditation apps out there, including very simple ones for "meditation for kids".

Work by Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, on reviewing two or three things you are grateful for each day is also worth looking up. This research seems to support a link between happiness and a feeling of gratitude.

Also, "a treat is a really important part of our day." But, as one participant pointed out, what passes for a treat in these times wouldn't even have registered on our "treat" radar before lockdown.

Caroline concluded by advising us to "be good to yourself and kind to yourself", because "as freelances we can't afford to be ill".

She is offering to run another Work Safely Through the Pandemic webinar for LFB - like the one in March, this would be a freelance special and free to NUJ members - if there is sufficient demand. To register your interest, email Caroline via tutraining@nuj.org.uk.

There's a webpage full of links to Caroline's earlier webinars for the NUJ, including Helping You Stay Fit and Healthy at Home and Work, which is similar to webinar she led in March for LFB.