How people on furlough can look after their mental health

Keeping up a routine can help bolster your mood and prevent sliding into unhealthy habits while you are on furlough, writes Liz Connor

Stepping back from work can easily trigger issues like depression and anxiety

UNTIL recently, you may not even have heard of the term 'furlough' – but coronavirus means it's become a reality for millions of workers.

Being furloughed effectively means you've been temporarily laid off from your job, instead of being made redundant.

Although several weeks of paid absence might sound like an ideal situation to many, the novelty can quickly wear off, and an undetermined period away from work can become a major source of anxiety for some people.

"As well as the worry of how you'll stay afloat financially, being furloughed can have an effect our self-esteem," says professor Craig Jackson, occupational health psychologist at Birmingham City University. "The term could be interpreted as an indicator that a job or profession was not 'essential' enough to be salvaged, and it will feel raw and unfair for many right now."

Jo Cresswell, careers expert at Glassdoor (, adds that work forms a major part of our identity, and having it temporarily taken away can knock our confidence. "Ultimately, no one wants to feel that their job is less valued or less business-critical than others," she notes.

Add to this your daily routine getting thrown off, and fears about future job security, and you can start to see how stepping back from work can easily trigger issues like depression and anxiety.

So what should you do if you've recently found yourself furloughed – and how can you cope with lockdown without the structure of work to keep you busy?

:: Finding out your financial rights can ease stress

"Although the primary concern of many people relates to their own health and that of their loved ones, thousands are understandably worried about their legal employment rights, as the crisis has created deep seated uncertainty that none of us could have predicted," says Mike Roberts, managing director at LegalShield UK (

"Thankfully, the government has introduced a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (, which is designed to provide support to UK employers to continue to pay their employees who would otherwise would have faced redundancy," says technical tax consultant, Jonathan Scott (

"It will pay a grant worth 80 per cent of the employee's monthly wage cost up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, and the government will now also cover the national insurance and pension contributions of the employees who are furloughed."

Employers can also choose to 'top up' employees' salaries, or they may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit. The scheme is currently scheduled to run for three months but will be extended if the government deems this necessary.

"Although this may seem like the end of the world, it's important to seek out as much information as possible and make sure you understand how the government can help you," says Roberts.

A recent survey by LegalShield found that up to 80 per cent of people have very little knowledge of their employment rights.

"This crisis proves that both employers and employees need to be more active when it comes to understanding their legal rights in the workplace, for their own mental wellbeing," says Roberts.

:: How can you fill your free time in a healthy way?

Although it can be very difficult at times, we can all take steps to minimise how much a situation that's out of our control affects our mental wellbeing.

"Having too much time on your hands can cause you to dwell too much on the uncertainty of the future and lead to feelings of anxiety," says Dr Dane Vishnubala, a GP and chief medical advisor for Active IQ (

Each evening, she suggests planning for the next day, as you would normally during the working week. "Ensure you include some time to exercise, call a friend or family member, and try and engage in a creative activity such as drawing or painting or doing some DIY.

"Write your plan down and leave it where you will see it first thing in the morning, as this will immediately give your day shape and purpose."

Here, Vishnubala shares some further tips for protecting your emotional wellbeing at this time...

:: Get up and get going

"Don't be tempted to take three weeks' worth of duvet days. Set an alarm for a reasonable time, get out of bed and get dressed. Open the curtains and embrace the day. This will set you up mentally for a productive day ahead."

:: Stay active

"Physical activity is great at reducing stress and anxieties, particularly whilst on furlough, so make sure to do workouts at home. There are plenty of great online workouts to try for free. Many are adapted so you don't need much space or any equipment."

:: Find a purpose

"This could be as simple as setting time aside to read each day, signing up to learning a new skill online or completing a jigsaw puzzle. Set yourself a goal. Take a moment to acknowledge when you have completed it, as that mental 'tick' is incredibly rewarding."

:: Eat and sleep well

"Good sleep and a healthy, nutritious diet are both important for your immune system. Aim for eight hours' sleep each night and try to eat fresh and healthy food. Think of this time as an opportunity to prepare food from scratch and slow the pace of life, if you're someone that's always on the go."

:: Try mindfulness meditation

"Staying at home for extended periods of time and with others can be draining, tiring, and can affect your mood. Take quiet time away from others to clear your mind. Apps such as Headspace ( or Calm ( are great introductions to short focused meditations. Simply lie down flat on your back, let your arms and legs relax and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and slow it down as much as you can. You'll be surprised how great it feels to just let all the tension go."

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