The global pandemic and the lockdown which followed drastically changed the daily lives and routines of the world. For some, a regular routine is a sense of safety and comfort, the restrictions which have been put in place have had a profound effect on people's mental health, not being able to see loved ones and having the freedom to travel taken away, adapting to the conditions has been difficult for many. Commuter Nieky van Veggel was kind enough to send over how he has handled the lockdown and the compromises his family has to had make...
For those of us who commute by bike on a daily basis, not being able to do so can be hard. For many of us, cycling is not just about being green, saving money or exercise, it is also great for our mental health. Sometimes it is the only healthy way to cope with work-related stress and signs of depression. This means that not being able to ride to work can be hard. I am writing this during mental health awareness week, which seems like a fitting time to reflect on how not being able to cycle commute due to having to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting my mental health.
I normally commute 4-5 days per week, 45 km (or just under 2h) per day. My normal routine involves getting up around 06:15, have a coffee and breakfast, get changed and set off around 07:15 to be at work around 8:15 latest. I then change into non-cycling clothes, have another coffee and a snack and start work at 08:45. Depending on when I finish work, I change back into cycling gear around 16:30-17:00 and get home 45-50 min later. Quick shower followed by dinner and time with the kids and wife. Because of COVID-19, all of this is now gone. No routine, no exercise, no time to clear my mind after a stressful day at work.
The first week of UK lockdown and working from home was hard. There was no gentle change to a new routine, it quite literally was a change from all to nothing. I struggled. I lost my focus, I was grumpy (enough to even notice myself), I had little patience, and generally didn’t know what to do with myself. I had trouble switching off and kept mulling over work-related stuff for hours after finishing work, to the point where I couldn’t get to sleep or woke up multiple times during the night. I tried to go on a few rides, but I felt guilty because my wife was stuck at home with the kids, not being able to work, while I was locked up in an office unable to help. Safe to say, it wasn’t working and we had a few grumbles.
A week later, my wife and I decided I needed a new routine to prevent life from getting even worse. Finding a balance between work, home and my doctorate programme was (and still is) hard, but we settled on a schedule where I ride early in the morning (07:00) 3 days a week for an hour. This time works as it allows me to exercise before work, which helps deal with the stress. Additionally, it is also the time where me not being home affects the rest of my family least, as everyone is still waking up. I can still have breakfast and help my wife sort the little ones out before I start work at 09:00. Effectively, it is my commute to my work-from-home.
The new routine has now been in place for 5-6 weeks, and it seems to work. Don’t get me wrong, it is far from perfect, as I still really struggle with switching off after I finish work, and on the days where I don’t cycle I do struggle with stress and some episodes of low mood. My leaving to go on a ride is not always appreciated by the rest of my household, and having young kids means I have to be flexible and sometimes sacrifice a ride for them, but I feel a lot better than I did before. The weather getting better helps, as I love exploring new routes and roads, and have enjoyed some beautiful views just around the corner from where I live.
The Essex countryside offers some brilliant views, which definitely provide a boost to my mental health. A bonus of quieter roads during lockdown has also been that we have been going on weekly family rides in the weekends. My wife likes to cycle, and used to ride her mountain bike off-road to work, but did not like riding on roads, especially with the kids in tow. This has now changed. Our confidence to ride as a family has increased, and being out doing what I love, and sharing it with the people I love has been amazing.
Sharing my feel-good activity with my family during rides with the kids in tow (literally). Nobody knows when or how the pandemic is going to evolve. However, I have found a way to cope with the change, and have prevented my mental health from spinning out of control. Rides are solo or with family for now, but they are still great. They keep me healthier both physically and mentally, and that is what matters. After all, it is all about the ride!
Nieky van Veggel