Strong body, strong mind

Uzma Afridi, Head of Careers at NABS offers the organisation’s tips for looking after yourself this year, from celebrating small wins to connecting with people around you.

Uzma Afridi, NABS

Head of Careers


We’re only a couple of weeks into 2021, and life couldn’t already be feeling more exhausting than 2020, if that’s possible. Lockdown life is hard enough without the freezing cold weather, rising infection rates, the January blues and school closures that are present this time around. You’ve already endured an incredibly tough 2020. How on earth can you muster up a strong body and strong mind for 2021?

The good news is, with a lot of self-kindness, understanding and patience, you can build yourself up through these potentially dismal and difficult months.

It’s helpful to start by considering your feelings and the neuroscience behind them. Humans are simply not hard-wired for lockdown life. Uncertainty, in particular, is something that the brain dislikes, yet it’s been having to deal with it since last March. Your brain would rather know about a negative outcome than have to keep guessing at an unknown one. Dealing with constant change is therefore difficult and tiring.

Parents whose children went back to school at the start of this month, only to have the schools shut down that evening, will know exactly how crushing and frustrating unwelcome changes of plan can be. Repeated lockdowns have taken their toll, and ever-changing rules leave you less time to prep for them.

Even though the vaccine rollout gives and end in sight that did not exist last March, you might still feel as though the country has tumbled back to square one with lockdown three.

However, there are some practical things you can, and you must, do to fuel yourself through the next few months into, hopefully, a brighter 2021. These tips will help you to build essential resilience and confidence, two qualities that are central to surviving at work and at home.

Use your successes and challenges from last year to help guide you through 2021 and remember to be flexible and experiment.

Uzma Afridi

Practical steps for a brighter 2021

Set up small wins every day. This will help you to be realistic about what you can achieve and being realistic is essential right now. As small wins add up to big wins, this approach will also help you to get stuff done without putting undue pressure on yourself. Each morning, consider what you’d like to achieve, taking into account how you feel that day and any other factors that might help or hinder your progress. At the end of the day, reflect on how you’ve got on. This will help you to plan for the next morning. Are you able to do what you set out to do, or do you need to adjust your expectations?

Celebrate yourself. You’ve worked so hard to come through one of the hardest years in living memory. Surviving 2020 is your biggest achievement to date. Take stock of this regularly for a boost and a reminder that you can get through the next few months too. Considering your key learnings from 2020 can also help you to navigate the year ahead. Use your successes and challenges from last year to help guide you through 2021 and remember to be flexible and experiment. What worked for you last time might need refining or adjusting as we go through the next few months.

Connect with other people, from close friends and family to your wider work network. We’re hard-wired to be social creatures, so the isolation of lockdown is challenging. In NABS’ Masterclasses, group coaching classes, more and more participants are telling me how much they’re enjoying connecting with people during the sessions. Talking to others can be fun, reassuring, enlightening and a welcome break from the isolation of lockdown. With your close friends and family, be honest about where your head’s at; it will help them to support you. You can also register for NABS coaching or therapy sessions for structured support and social contact.

Give yourself constant support and compassion

Nutrition is essential. With more and more research demonstrating the link between the gut and the brain, it’s clear that eating well can give both your mind and body the support it needs. Joanne Bolger, NABS Senior Partnerships Manager and a qualified nutritionist, advises: “Our hormones and neurotransmitters are made up of protein and fat, so it’s essential to eat high quality protein, meat, organic tofu and healthy fats such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.”

She goes on to explain: “Around 70% of our immune system is in our gut microbiome, so keep it populated with good bacteria via a wide range of fruit and vegetables. Avoid quick fix detoxes and denial, which are difficult enough in this most challenging month and especially now in lockdown. Be kind to yourself and think about slow, sustainable change and lifestyle choices.”

That notion of being kind to yourself needs to be present throughout your life. You must ditch the negative self-talk that we all dole out to ourselves. This year, give yourself constant support and compassion by speaking to yourself as you would do a good friend.

Finally, breathe! Taking deep breaths is so easy yet so powerful when it comes to boosting our ability to cope with life’s challenges. Doing just ten minutes a day of breathing exercises or meditation for eight weeks enlarges the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that you use on a daily basis. By making this part of your brain larger, you make it easier to access information, make decisions and deal with difficulties. Check out NABS’ mindfulness videos for some guided relaxation.

Guest Author

Uzma Afridi, NABS

Head of Careers,


Uzma Afridi is head of careers at NABS, overseeing its expert trainers to deliver coaching that supports everybody in advertising and media. She believes that diversity, equality, and wellbeing are essential within the workplace. Outside of NABS, Uzma is a board member of the Association for Business Psychology and a mentor for Media For All (MEFA).

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