The impact of lockdown on body image and eating behaviours

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By Dr Helena Lewis-Smith, Senior Research Fellow, and Sharon Haywood, Research Associate, from the Centre for Appearance Research

Lockdown has changed our lives in unprecedented ways. Not only has it transformed how we study and work, but it has also impacted how we socialise. Social media usage has soared to new heights, helping us feel less isolated, but could spending more time on your favourite social media site bring negative effects?

Long before lockdown, researchers from various countries established that a significant link exists between social media use and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Since lockdown, the message of “bettering” ourselves has been persistent, bringing with it a surge of diet and fitness tutorials, usually featuring “ideal” bodies. Past research has shown that the popular social media trend of “fitspiration”—intended to inspire people to exercise—can lead us to compare our bodies with those we see online, which can then increase body dissatisfaction, so this heightened pressure to be healthy might actually be counterproductive to our well-being. Adding to these demands is Covid-related fat-phobic content, such as memes about pre- and post-lockdown bodies, making us feel ashamed if we’ve gained weight. When we combine all these factors, it’s unsurprising that early research has identified adverse impacts on people’s eating behaviours and mental health.

Researchers in Australia found that since lockdown began, adults in the general population reported engaging in more dieting behaviours and binge eating. They also found that individuals with a history of disordered eating were particularly vulnerable to maladaptive changes to their eating and exercise habits. In the US and Netherlands research revealed that people with an eating disorder are facing greater challenges in moving towards recovery. Not only did they report worsening of their symptoms, but they also noted increases in anxiety and concerns related to their overall mental health.

Collectively, this early research highlights the importance of providing psychological support to individuals with disordered eating or a diagnosis of an eating disorder (past or present). For those struggling with this, we recommend contacting Beat, the UK’s largest eating disorder charity, which provides free support to anyone affected by disordered eating. Here at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), we are currently running a study to explore the impact of lockdown on recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating to help inform knowledge of what support might be helpful. Although recruitment is presently on hold, additional participants may be required. If you (or someone you know) is interested in taking part, please add your contact details here.

Even though it seems that lockdown is coming to an end, the possibility of a second lockdown later this year is possible, so here are some tips on how to cope with body image and food wobbles—that you can also put to use when not in lockdown!

  • Avoid getting pulled into comparing yourself with others on social media. While it’s completely natural, it just makes us feel worse. Diversify the content you’re following so your feed contains a wide variety of body types and messages that promote self-acceptance.
  • Avoid viewing and sharing Covid-19 weight-shaming memes. Not only does it stigmatise larger bodies, it may also trigger negative thoughts about your own body.
  • Practice self-compassion. Difficult emotions are part of the human experience. Treat yourself with the kindness and patience that you would someone you love.
  • Remember that it’s natural for our bodies to change throughout different stages of life and when our routines change. Be kind to yourself if you’re eating due to stress, loneliness or boredom – this is a challenging time! Consider other ways to self-soothe, such as reading, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
  • Engage in movement that you enjoy and adjust your expectations about exercise. Instead of exercising to compensate for more sedentary behaviour or changes in eating habits, focus on engaging in physical activity that stimulates your mind and body. For example, you might want to play rounders with some friends, go for a walk with family members, or do an online dance class.
  • Appreciate what your body can do. Rather than focusing on what it looks like, shift your attention to the functionality of your body. Think of all the amazing things your body allows you do: Perhaps it’s playing football with your kids, taking in the fragrance of your favourite flowers, or restoring itself with sleep.

For more tips and strategies, listen to CAR’s 49th Appearance Matters podcast episode Managing Body Image and Food Wobbles During Lockdown.

Photo credit via Instagram @Meg.Boggs (www.megboggs.com)

Getting the most out of home-working during Covid-19

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By Dr Harriet Shortt, Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at UWE Bristol

We are all currently experiencing a situation we have never been in before, where society has had to change and adapt beyond recognition, and one of the biggest changes we have had to make is the one associated with our work spaces. Many of us are now working at home and this has meant a complete shift in where we work and left some wondering how to cope with these changes. This blog offers some thoughts and reflections for those finding themselves unexpectedly working from home.

Before we think about space, it’s worth thinking about work more broadly first. I have seen the use of the word ‘productivity’ floating about a lot recently. Be cautious of using this word (and this goes for employers/organisations/team leaders as well as us as individuals!). Whether it’s to ‘prove’ you are being productive at work or being productive in other ways – like taking up a new hobby or learning a language or suddenly taking up running – we need to remember we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are not out of it yet. Trying to set never-ending targets for how you are going to self-improve and working to unrealistic expectations is not good for your mental health or work – it is known as ‘toxic productivity’ and we need to recognise when this creeps into our working lives. Productivity does not look the same as it did before Covid-19, so adjust your goals, your boundaries, and your breaks from work to reflect this challenging period of time.

Let’s now turn our attention to home spaces. Our homes have now become a complex shared space. It’s an office, a gym, a place to relax and for many of us, a classroom. This can make it hard to find a ‘dedicated workspace’ that also encompasses everyone else’s needs in your household. Even for those who are used to working from home, this will be a new challenge as the routine of perhaps working at home alone will have likely changed and you’ll be sharing your ‘work’ space with others. This is going to require negotiation and open conversation about how, where and when we work with a house full of people. Be mindful that everyone’s boundaries have been broken and need to be re-established carefully.

Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is going to take time. We have all been dumped into this situation and working from home is more complicated than just finding a dedicated workspace, so don’t expect to get it right straight away. Try working in a particular space and if it doesn’t work, that’s ok – try somewhere else. Some work activities may work well in some home spaces, and others will need alternative spaces, so don’t feel you need to stick to the same place every day.

So, some thoughts on creating and thinking about our ‘new’ home-working spaces:

Free up different spaces for different tasks

This might mean adapting or re-appropriating your home spaces at different times of the day, for example, currently my dining room is a classroom by day and a family area at the weekends. I often take work calls in the kitchen or the garden so I can keep an eye on my daughter, but my work that needs concentration is done in quieter spaces.

Think about your space creatively

Could you use liminal spaces (these are spaces ‘in-between’, like landings, hallways, stairways) in your house as a make-shift office, a place to take private calls, or as a place to find a few moments of quiet and reflection? I recently wrote a blog for Work Wise UK that explores this very topic and how the liminal spaces of our homes can provide some important and unexpected uses whilst we’re working at home during this crisis.

‘Own’ your space

Wherever you do choose to work from, make sure you make it yours, even if this is just temporary. Research shows that the more you are able to have a sense of ownership over your workspace and create a sense of identity, the more positively it will impact your sense of wellbeing and connection to your work.   

Re-claim your ‘normal’ spaces

If you are having to appropriate a ‘normal’ space (like a kitchen table) into a workspace, try to turn it back to a ‘normal’ space at the end of the day. This might help you to manage the boundaries between work and home, and with your sense of work/life balance.

Visual communication tools and ‘being on show’

For many people, technology has enabled them to make this transition to working from home easier. However, this still comes with its own problems. It has been clear since the majority of UK businesses have adopted remote working, that being ‘visible’ and ‘on show’ in our home spaces has brought many advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s worth reflecting on some of these issues as an individual or as an employer; having your camera on for meetings is a great way to connect socially with your colleagues and the backdrop of your home can be a conversation starter! Lots of people have been commenting on the backgrounds of their colleagues’ homes, the pets that accompany the meetings or even the children that might make a brief appearance.

Having spoken to a lot of people about home working spaces over the past few weeks, there is a real sense that this has made us all more ‘human’. Seeing inside other people’s homes has made them more ‘real’ and people have enjoyed seeing this informal/ private side, rather than the typical traditional/formal interactions we are used to in the office. It is this that has brought people together.

Nonetheless, let’s be conscious of privacy and visibility when using these audio/visual communication tools. Others I have spoken to feel they are inviting people into their home spaces that perhaps they would not choose to. The blurring of the work/home boundary has been emphasised by our current use of technology. So, be respectful of asking colleagues to turn on their videos during meetings – there is a case of being social and connecting, but there is also a case for privacy and managing boundaries so that we keep some of the sanctuary of our homes to ourselves.

Capturing this experience in photographs

Apart from workspaces, my other area of research involves visual research to explore the everyday lives of workers. I use an approach called ‘participant-led photography’ and this includes asking people I work with in my research projects to take photographs based on a brief e.g. ‘what work spaces are important to you and why?’ and then they talk to me about their images.

This method elicits rich stories from participants and gives them the opportunity to talk about what is meaningful to them at work. Over the past 8 weeks or so I have seen so many images being shared on social media that picture what it’s really like to work at home. Social media platforms are a rich source of data at the moment and images captured and posted by workers all over the world depict the complexities, the joys, the difficulties and the juggles of working from home. I think this could be a great opportunity for organisations and employers to do their own visual research:

  • Organisations can collect data about the complexities of employees working remotely. Ask your team to take pictures of what it’s like working at home, where are they, how are they sharing their workspaces, what do they enjoy and what are they finding difficult. This could be a creative way of engaging your team, but also getting feedback. Remote working is here to stay in some form, so the more information and data we have about how people are doing it and how they experience it, the better.
  • During the current crisis, these images could be part of weekly catch ups and individual conversations with your line manager or be part of a performance review session. Or, they could be collectively posted on a virtual team noticeboard and discussed as a group. Either way, it might help people to reflect and share, and for organisations to sense-check how their employees are coping with working from home.
  • Post Covid-19, these images could also help us learn from this experience, as part of our recovery – teams or organisations could hold an exhibition of people’s images that document what working from home looked like for them. We will, at some point, need to come together to reflect and heal from this experience and a good way to do that might be through the eyes of employees and their photographs.

Hosting a hospital – how an NHS Nightingale hospital was created in three weeks at UWE Bristol

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By Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor at UWE Bristol

As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of the country, universities have radically changed how they operate to best support students and staff, and UWE Bristol is no different. But alongside all of our efforts to ensure that our students’ academic and student experience is able to continue virtually, we have also found ourselves as one of the hosts for an NHS Nightingale Hospital on our Frenchay campus.

Creating a 300-bed hospital in our Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) has been no mean feat, but when we were approached by the NHS, it was a very easy decision for us to offer everything we could to help. Along with many universities, UWE Bristol has a very long history of being embedded in its local community, and if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of community support and collaboration to tackle the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. Universities are uniquely placed to help in the current crisis, so we knew that no matter how complex the creation of this hospital would be, we were ready to get involved.

Although the prospect of having a fully operational intensive care bed hospital on our campus has been daunting at times, the reality of the construction has been remarkably smooth. I have been on the project from the outset with fantastic colleagues at all levels and disciplines playing their part in delivering this facility. Our collective effort has given hope to NHS frontline staff, and the hospital is now ready if needed to treat the sickest patients battling COVID-19.

We were first approached in late March, when a team from land surveyors CBRE, the NHS, plus the Army Logistics team, arrived onto campus to survey the ECC and surrounding area. A project team was established and after that things began to move extremely quickly, with a full project Board established two days later and increasing numbers of Kier, NHS and contractor staff arriving on site.

We collaborated with the NHS and Kier leads from the very beginning, which was essential as there was an ambitious 15 day build plan to deliver 300 fully ventilated beds in one building – one that is usually put to use for everything from student exams to events to weddings, so it has been incredible to witness how it has been turned into such a different facility.

For me, one of the most important aspects of this whole project has been ensuring that we are not simply a geographical location for the hospital but a partner in this endeavour, consistently looking for new ways to support and adapt to having this facility on campus. To that end, we provided a bespoke 2 day training programme for volunteers to be able to work safely in the Nightingale which was designed and delivered for over 350 people over the Easter break, and UWE Bristol Academic and Technical Teams also started to train clinical leads and staff in the Nightingale protocols. We have been providing 1000s of litres of disinfectant and hand gel to the site, GP, practices, pharmacies and even the local businesses such as Rolls Royce and Airbus to keep the economy moving, and now we have begun making face visors in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

For now, the hospital stands ready if required, and the NHS continue to have our full support. Following the official opening of the hospital last week, we are now working very closely with NHS colleagues across the region to determine how the facility might change and adapt as the disease progresses and clinical needs change.

The fact that we are host to such an important part of the UK’s fight against COVID-19 is a source of great pride to our staff and students. While having a hospital spring up in the space of two weeks across from my office is not something I could ever have predicted at the start of the year, everyone here has risen to the challenge with all the energy, willingness to collaborate and community spirit I’ve come to expect from our students and staff. This is us at our best, and demonstrates how we and the higher education sector can play such a vital role in the current pandemic.

This article was first published by Universities UK

Isolation – Film & TV drama might be best coping mechanisms

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By Professor Jane Roscoe, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education

The world is streaming more than ever before as millions of us are living in lockdown and turning to television, films and gaming to fill our time. But immersing ourselves in TV drama and film is not just about relaxing or being entertained by our favourite shows, turning to Netflix or a drama boxset provides us with the opportunity to explore and evaluate our anxieties over the coronavirus and helps us to deal with the challenges of our new reality.

TV drama is the perfect cultural site in which to explore and work out our anxieties over Covid-19. As we are self-isolating, or consciously limiting the time we spend outside of the home, we are left with our fears and anxieties – could screen drama help us?

Television and film have always been a site in which we tell stories about the world around us. Watching and talking about those stories has given us many opportunities to build our own narratives and rehearse our thoughts and ideas. Many have argued our collective memories of key events such as the holocaust, have been in part, built through the screen representations of those events.

Fearful

Facing a pandemic and fast-changing circumstances has made many of us feel anxious, fearful, uncertain and isolated. These feelings are not new, the screen industry has produced a lifetime’s worth of content that explores, exploits and engages us in these very emotions. Importantly, it has also created a safe space in which we can engage in ways that can help us understand the very things that frighten us.

Not surprisingly, many of us have been watching Contagion (Soderbergh, 2011), Outbreak (Petersen, 1995) and Pandemic (Suits, 2016) alongside all the news and documentary productions exploring Covid-19. Documentaries and news provide us with facts, statistics and commentary on what is happening around us, but dramas give us the opportunity to explore how we feel. We are allowed to be scared and horrified as we watch.

While we may have to ‘keep it together’ for our family and friends in our day to day of lockdown life, these moments, when we deeply engage in the narratives of these films, provides the relief of feeling. We also get to see how it might feel to follow through different scenarios. What happens if I get sick? What happens if……

Screen drama is a safe space because it is a site of the imagination, of make believe, magic and the suspension of disbelief. We talk of ‘losing ourselves in a story’, of the ‘dreamlike qualities of a drama’ and often refer to the pleasures escaping into and through a complex narrative. Drama opens up the freedom for producers, actors, and audiences to go deeply into this space, to make sense of the world with no other obligation that to explore the story. In an era of fake news, drama doesn’t need to pretend to be anything other than it is. We are free to explore the narrative, the characters and the scenarios. Perhaps the relief is that we can watch and feel without any obligation to act.

Reinvents world

Screen drama brings the world to us; places, people, events that we may not have experience of, or sometimes, even want. Drama reinvents the world every day, minute by minute, building screen worlds of fantasy and strangeness, alongside those that are more realistic and familiar. Costume dramas create versions of the past allowing us to imagine what was, and science fiction presents versions of our future and the possibility of imaging what could be. Every day, drama is creating a space to imagine aspects of our lives, and those of others in the world around us. Watching these dramas connects us with characters dealing with some of the fears and worries we are also experiencing. That is both a comfort, and the start of a journey to think about how we might cope with those fears. The beauty of these screen dramas is that we can do this in our own space, and at our own pace.

So as we face this new reality of Covid-19, watching those dramas about pandemics, the apocalypse, the end of the world, is not just about judging whether the dramatists got it right or not, but more about allowing us to feel the fear, and use it to help us understand how to get through it.

This article was first published in The London Economic