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This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

The optimal working environment has long been a point of discussion amongst many occupational psychologists. However, despite the recognition of common workplace stressors, employers can often look to alleviate symptoms when it may be more valuable to focus on preventative measures (Amaechi, 2019). With Coronavirus lockdown measures forcing many people to work from home or not at all, the workplace has changed for many people living in the UK. This has presented an opportunity for employers and firms to examine their best practices in organisational stress management and to implement practical changes to support employees upon their return. 

Allostatic Load

Upon returning to work, many employees may suffer from a number of additional challenges on top of the current environmental stress of the pandemic. Neuroscientists have noted that many people living under lockdown conditions may have suffered similar symptoms at home, with the common term used to describe this “brain fog” as allostatic load. This is the wear and tear on our bodies living under a constant stressor and refers to the adaptive process our body undergoes to cope in such circumstances. This action of releasing hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline and other chemical messengers, is our bodies attempt to return to homeostasis (McEwen, 2005). 

With these expectations in mind, it would be pragmatic for workplaces to focus on ways of reducing stress in the working environment, helping to ensure employees avoid allostatic overload during periods of increased stress. The Centre for Mental Health (2017) estimated a £35 billion cost to employers due to mental health problems in 2016/17 financial year, equivalent to about £1,300 for every employee in the UK. Figures such as this make it clear that looking into what the general population have been doing during lockdown and using this information will certainly be advantageous to organisations financially. For example, the increased interest in exercise, health and mental wellbeing could be examined and utilised to implement strategies that continue to encourage a more health focused mindset. 

Are the General Population Becoming More Concerned with Fitness?

Recent Google search data has indicated that fitness has been very big on the agenda during the coronavirus lockdown period with searches for “resistance bands”, “yoga” and “running apps” hitting peak levels in April when compared with the past 5 years of data (Google Public Data, 2020). In addition to this, sales of fitness equipment in the USA have shot up by 55%, with a similar trend shown in the UK. This could be a fantastic positive of the coronavirus lockdown – people are showing active intent to engage in physical activity which has the potential to raise mood and reduce the chance that allostatic overload may occur.

Furthermore, despite a poll of 2000 people, commissioned by the Yorkshire Cancer Research (2020) suggesting that adults are exerting themselves for 30 minutes less a day than before the lockdown, the poll also found that 4 in 10 people would like to do more exercise again but were unsure how to go about it. These trends seem to suggest an intent to exercise, which workplaces may benefit from should they encourage it. Studies have demonstrated that exercise can increase serotonergic and noradrenergic levels in the brain, similar to the effects of antidepressants (Praag, 1982; Veale, 1987; Chaouloff, 1989; Meeusen and De Meirleir, 1995) and can also lead to improvements in mood through increases in endogenous opioid activity (Harberand Sutton, 1984; Morgan, 1985; North et al., 1990; Thore´n et al., 1990). Therefore, it is important this increased intent for fitness amongst the general population is harnessed and supported when individuals return to normal working life (Craft & Perna, 2004).

So, What Can Workplaces Do to Harness This Intent?

Workplace initiatives can be put in place to support individuals to turn intent into action, increasing satisfaction in the workplace and productivity in the process. For example, a recent WHO study found that for every $1 put into scaling up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity (WHO, 2019). Some examples of these initiatives could involve:

  • In-house Health and wellbeing initiatives
  • Health Promotion events throughout the year
  • Departmental or ‘hot spot’ musculoskeletal injury prevention training
  • Goal planning and emotional regulation
  • Lunchtime running clubs and yoga initiatives

With the recent changes to lockdown measures on the 10th May, it is vital that businesses and industries try to harness this new interest and help their employees continue to invest time into their physical and mental wellbeing, reducing stress through positive, proactive management.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

Amaechi, J. (2019). Stress: Can't Live With It... So What Should We Do About It? https://www.bps.org.uk/blogs/john-amaechi-obe/stress-cant-live-it-so-what-should-we-do-about-it

Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in psychiatry4, 27. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027

Centre for Mental Health. (2017). Mental Helath at Work: The business  costs ten years on, 3. https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-09/CentreforMentalHealth_Mental_health_problems_in_the_workplace.pdf

Cooper, S. B., Bandelow, S., Nute, M. L., Dring, K. J., Stannard, R. L., Morris, J. G., & Nevill, M. E. (2016). Sprint-based exercise and cognitive function in adolescents. Preventive medicine reports, 4, 155–161. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.06.004

Craft, L.L., & Perna, F.M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104-111.

Google Public Data. (2020). https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&geo=GB&q=yoga

Jayakody, K., Gunadasa, S., & Hosker, C. (2014). Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(3), 187-196.

Lse.ac.uk. 2020. "Mapping Happiness? There's An App For That" - 08 - 2010 - News Archives - News And Media - Website Archive - Home. [online] Available at: <http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/newsArchives/2010/08/mappiness.aspx> [Accessed 22 May 2020].

McEwen B. S. (2005). Stressed or stressed out: what is the difference? Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 30(5), 315–318.

Pozen, R., 2020. Exercise Increases Productivity. [online] Brookings. Available at: <https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/exercise-increases-productivity/> [Accessed 22 May 2020].

Yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk. 2020. Physical Activity Among Adults Has Fallen By A Quarter Since The Lockdown | News | Yorkshire Cancer Research. [online] Available at: <https://yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk/news/physical-activity-among-adults-has-fallen-by-a-quarter-since-the-lockdown-national> [Accessed 22 May 2020].

World Health Organisation. (2019). Mental Health in the Workplace Information Sheet. https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/

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