What COVID taught me about Wellbeing

“Working from home is not all unicorns and fairy tales, it’s hard work” was the sentiment of one of my team members in our daily morning call a few weeks ago. It got me thinking, and she is absolutely right. It is not easy, but still … we are all somehow adapting to this new normal and showing excellent human resilience by trying to thrive. So the real question is: what is that we are missing? Perhaps, more importantly: how can we make this present a better one?

I am an engineer, a mother, and an artist.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life in four different continents, passionately advocating and working on projects with a strong value in sustainability and human welfare. I had the honour to be part of some fascinating projects from slum developments in Southeast Asia to hospital buildings for Harvard School of Dental Medicine in Boston, Mass, USA.

Every day my work relates to sustainability in some way – from energy-efficient passive and active design energy modeling, wellbeing analysis of buildings and public realms, to sustainability framework and policy guidance for cities.

In my personal life, I do the normal stuff like most people: eat my veggies, exercise moderately, take vitamins and passionately overwork myself for the causes close to my heart.

I have been writing about my personal experience for the last five weeks during which, at the wake of a pandemic, I questioned my own health, my work as a Sustainability & Wellbeing consultant and especially observed myself – as how my own focus on wellbeing was slowly shifting from myself to my team and clients.

I never imagined that I would ever experience a pandemic in my lifetime, that I would have a file folder named “Covid 19” on my C drive and question human resilience in all shape and form. I am not a history buff, but I did read about the plague in school, but back then I could not really connect to the pain the people had experienced – not until now.

Four weeks ago, at the beginning of March, “Covid 19” was still happening In China and Italy – thousands of miles away from me. I did not really pay much attention to find out more, it wasn’t on my daily priority list. Within that very week, globally, our perception of daily routine was questioned by a virus that we cannot see. The entire global population was asked to stay home in order to save themselves and the world!

Suddenly, waking up and taking the train was a novelty; connecting with colleagues virtually to discuss team plans and deadlines was the new normal. 

Take Ownership of Wellbeing:

Anyone leading a team and managing people in such a business environment will appreciate it entails navigating through the unknown, blocking the noise whilst keeping clarity, protecting the client interest whilst preserving the wellbeing of our own selves as well as the team.

It means keeping our own selves and the team focused, agile, adaptable, and able to embrace vulnerability. Adopting true principles of resilient leadership whilst being conscious of the emotional cyclone that each one of us is facing when turning on the TV or social media or hearing about the latest Covid victims.

As wellbeing consultants, we often talk to clients about the 5 ways of wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) (https://neweconomics.org/2011/07/five-ways-well-new-applications-new-ways-thinking) Now more than ever it is a time for us to understand and practice these 5 ways – or better the 5 principles – during this time of lockdown. The principles are quite simple but immensely powerful. The key is to keep them in our mind and try to do something related to them every day in some kind of form. It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit; hopefully this can lead to better habits and discipline in our lives in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

I am no expert at this regard, but I would humbly like to share the following 5 wellbeing principles that I have been adopting during this lockdown period. My intention is: if this works for me, it might work for someone else somehow. 

5 Ways Of Wellbeing:

The 5 Ways Of Wellbeing are a set of evidence-based public mental health messages aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of the population. It was developed by New Research Foundation (NEF) commissioned by, Foresight – UK government’s future think-tank, as part of the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing.

The UK government had two goals:

1. To generate an increased understanding about the scope and potential of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing as a tool to improve population’s mental health and wellbeing.

2. To review how the 5 Ways to Wellbeing are currently being used by local and national agencies to help identify future opportunities for a population-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing.

This particular Wellbeing concept is regularly implemented by BuroHappold’ s Health and Wellbeing work on various projects – among others for The International Quarter, Stratford City in the UK, the Kuwait University and many others. And as we are in the middle of a lockdown, I have decided to opt for these guiding principles to increase my own wellbeing and test whether if it really makes any difference in the way I do things or cope with my daily tasks.

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing revolves around 5 key principles:

  1. Connect
  2. Be Active
  3. Take Notice
  4. Keep Learning
  5. Give
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Figure 1 Image Five Ways to Wellbeing ((Ref: https://networkofwellbeing.org/five-ways-to-wellbeing/)

My Version of the Principles during the Lockdown Time:

Principle 1 – Connect: This is about remembering to Be Human! There is a strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to and valued by other people is a fundamental human need that contributes to a personal sense of wellbeing when interacting with society. Many regulatory systems in our body, especially blood pressure, metabolism and stress hormones, are all affected by relationships and the quality of our social interaction.

That is why when we connect with a long-lost friend or speak with our loved ones, we feel a sense of happiness. Studies also suggest that sleeping next to someone you love, smiling and hugging someone can lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower levels of cytokines that can cause inflammation. This induces higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone shown to ease anxiety and to provide us with a sense of happiness. Therefore, the power of human connection is immense, therefore, taking some time to consciously connect with our family and friends, truly holds lasting benefit to our wellbeing.

Image Credit: Fahmi Khan, https://twitter.com/fahmikhan?lang=en

Photo Credit: Artist Fahmi Khan, http://www.fahmikhan.com/

During the lockdown we can

  • Truly embrace the power of this simple healing method to consciously connect with people; in an official, professional scenario, it is important to regularly connect with our colleagues, discuss, share ideas with them and thoughts either through a morning or evening call to start or end the day;
  • It is also important for the leadership to regularly and transparently interact with the wider teams and offices in order to make sure that everyone feels part of the decision making;
  • Team’s virtual coffee breaks or WhatsApp group to connect with each other and
  • Team online workout sessions or virtual team breaks.
Photo Credit: Roksana Akhter

Photo Credit: Roksana Akhter

Principle 2 – Be Active: It is important for us to understand the meaning of key performance vs. lethargy or procrastination. Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins, it gets oxygenated. The reward: this keeps us energised, focused, and allows us to be in our mental performance peak throughout the day. This helps reduce depression and increase energy levels. Along with regular exercise, laughter is also one of the easiest ways to induce endorphin release.

During the lock down it can be

  • Doing some easy exercise like stretching, standing cardio, Kriya yoga, Tai Chi in the morning before work to get the brain full of endorphins and kick start ourselves;
  • Take small breaks during the day and have a stroll in the apartment or short cardio session can boost our state of mind and focus;
  • Finish the day with few minutes of reflection time or gentle yoga, team call or any mindfulness exercise via an app or online with friends.

Few Relevant Links:https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=8700405760690098659https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=8182069026773736674https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=7088719902328790440

Principle 3 – Take Notice: Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present time directly enhances our wellbeing. Being present and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm our life priorities. We are bombarded with distraction, therefore, keeping our mind focused and reminding ourselves to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness and our sense of being. This can be a simple mindfulness exercise, daily gratitude or take a step back and just breath into what we are doing.

During the lockdown it can be

  • Staying present in the moment and not get distracted by the noise around us;
  • Practicing the act of gratitude;
  • Practicing mindfulness;
  • Staying focused.

Some guidance from National Health Service (UK)https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=7711098200474582271https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=7431987652928269914

Principle 4 – Keep Learning: When we procrastinate, have feelings of self-doubt or lack enthusiasm, it could be because our brain is telling us that we are low on dopamine. This is a hormone responsible for feelings of bliss, pleasure, euphoria and motivation. It’s a pleasure hormone that is energised when we strive towards a goal or learning something new. Therefore, every day we can take simple actions that can give us moments of bliss and keep our mind focused.

This can be in the form of

  • Setting goals for the day and the week;
  • Organise the day and break it into small task/wins;
  • Sign up for an online class (Harvard Ed Ex, Etc), webinars from EGBC, GBCI, WELL, CIBSE etc.;
  • Discover something new every day – a new word, a concept, developing new ideas;
  • Read the news (non covid related) or a book;
  • Research something you have always wondered about.

Principle 5 – Give: For decades, in wellbeing research the people who had participated in social and community life showed higher levels of wellbeing and contentment. Individuals who engage in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. This can be in the form of an act or financial contribution. 

Kindness is a quality that can come in many shapes and forms. During the lockdown we can show kindness with our friends, elderly neighbours and colleagues by giving them the most precious gift – the gift of our time, of our attention and of our presence. This could be in the form of a phone call or email to all those close to us who might feel and alone in this time. 

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However, there are few charity organizations have been set up to support victims of Covid 19 in different parts of the world, incase a financial contribution is of an interest to some of us, there are few links below.

§ WHO: https://covid19responsefund.org/

§ UAE: 

Emirates Red Crescent Society Website: www.rcuae.ae Contact number: 800733

The Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation

Website: www.zayed.org.ae Contact number: 026577577

Al Maktoum Foundation Website: www.hamdanfd.ae Contact number: 043988668

Beit Al Kheir Society, Website: www.baitalkhair.org Contact number: 042675555

Dubai Charity Association, Website: www.dubaicharity.ae Contact number: 042083999



In summary, in a time where we are all forced by a microscopic virus to really step away from our daily routine, we need to re-adjust to a new way of working and re-define a new normal. I am not a leadership expert nor a doctor or an inspirational guru – I am like any of you and most probably going through the same f emotions, uncertainties and conversations

As no one really knows what will happen tomorrow, those of us, who are healthy and able to work from home, should really take this time to reevaluate our priorities, reflect, recharge and make the best of our time

The key takeaways for me resulting from this pandemic are:

  • Prioritise what is important;
  • Taking responsibility for my own wellbeing;
  • Take conscious steps to boost my mind and body connection;
  • Integrate the 5 Ways of Wellbeing into my daily routine;
  • Practice daily acts of gratitude towards myself, and the people around me;
  • And finally, being kind.

This is something I have been applying daily and sharing with my team, family and friends aiming at a well-balanced routine and a strong mental health for all of us.

I am sharing my view and ideas and welcoming your own tips, ideas and thoughts, so together we can stay home, safe and sane! What is your best strategy to make it through these challenging times? 

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#Farahnaz #workplace #linkedIn #WFH #5ways @NetwrkWellbeing #Ramadan#COVID19 #inspiration #Motivation #WorkFromHome #cibse #wellness #5ways #uae#lockdownnow #mentalhealth @WHO @HHShkMohd #happy