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Two years of pandemic for our mental health: and now what? by Antonio Cobo


Covid-19 has changed the world. As someone working in IT I was one of the privileged who could work from home. It was not a choice, we had to work from home as a matter of survival. This situation has made an impact on our mental health. Things that were not important before, now they are critical. Others that were important before, they are not relevant anymore.
Lots of people have shared with me how the pandemic was for them and their families. I will share with you some of those stories. After this talk you will know how they survived and improved during this pandemic and you will be able to apply several tips so you can thrive and improve on this new way of living as they did!
About Antonio:
Antonio is a Principal Consultant at Contino with 20 years experience in the IT industry and specialises in Agile methodologies. He comes from a technical background, starting his career as a Java Developer in Spain in 2000, moving to different roles within IT in three different countries. Antonio is passionate about creating and implementing the best solution while continually seeking to improve work methodologies. He is convinced that most of the problems in IT are due to lack of communication!
Antonio usually speaks about Agile, DevOps, Project Management and Team management at conferences across Europe and US, such as DevOps Days, JAX and Voxxed Days.


Good morning. Okay, good. I was checking whether you are asleep or not. So thank you very much for attending my talk. I was a little bit worried. It saying, Oh, I'm going to start the day two at the GS Comps. We talk about mental health, knowing that it was a party yesterday. So it's hard to figure it out. It's going to be empty or not. And just ten minutes ago, the room was empty. So I'm Antonio Cabo, I'm principal consultant at Continuous in the UK. And I want to clarify a couple of things. I'm not a pandemic expert and I'm not a mental health expert. About the communication thing, I want you to tell me after the talk if what I've been told is true. I have some colleagues in UK on a previous job that they were from Hungary and they told me, you know, you only need four words in Hungary to leave here ten days. So you can tell me after if Egan, Kosanom, Gratulallok and Palinka are enough. So just on the Q and A, please let me know whether I have to thank them or not. So I'm going to talk about my family because it's important, talking about mental health, about the family. Well, I'm from Spain. That's the reason I have a weird accent. In 2005, I moved to Paris and I have to learn French there because honestly, they don't speak Spanish there. Maybe it was one of the reasons that I moved out in 2014, but to a wrong country, it's still not Spanish. But I'm there now and I'm even British now. I met there my wife, that she's from Slovakia. Cool. And we have a beautiful daughter, but luckily for her, she looks like my wife and nothing. So the rest of my family, I'm not going to tell you anything about the husband or wife of my siblings. And you will understand soon why. My mother lives in Toledo in Spain, and I have two sisters there on the same city. I also have another sister living in Saragosa, also in Spain. Most of the people with four siblings, it's okay, right? But I have one brother living in Grandmother, also in Spain, and another one, and another one in Seville and sister in Paris. So you can imagine six different cities, three different countries. It's really weird for us to be all together. In fact, I remember once talking on the family group that, you know, the last time we were all together, it was in 2013 when my father died. And we say, we need to change that. Let's try to be together on a happy moment and not on a sad one. And we found the ideal moment, the 75th birthday of my mother. We were going to be all together there. I was going to travel from UK, ten days in Spain. My mother was so excited, buying a lot of nice food and so on. Nice plan, right? I forgot to tell you one thing important. The 75th birthday of my mother was 19th March 2020. So it wasn't as we planned. It was like that. That was my mother's birthday. And I don't know if you ever been to Spain. A lot of blocks flat. They are usually like that, with a swimming pool in the middle and the play area. And there's some flats that actually you have the window there and you can see the swimming pool and everything. It's great. You don't have the noise of the road. But in a pandemic, you see now, once there is no one on the swimming pool, you don't see even cars. You remember all the business at the beginning of the pandemic, the guy with a sock eating cars. Like my mother wasn't able to even do that. So she was two weeks without seeing anyone at all. And it was really hard, especially the first two weeks. Remember at the time we didn't know a lot about coffin and it was always in two weeks we would know whether you have it or not. And that's the scary thing, those two weeks and see what's allowed. The good thing is we have a strange sense of humor, so at least we're having a lot of vehicles. And she was saying, you know, these two weeks, they're really hard. But probably it's the two weeks of my life that eating the best food because I bought everything for all of you. There was, I don't know, 20 people coming to see her. And I have turkey, a lot of crowns and everything. So probably I never buy these kind of things for myself because I'm alone. So it was good. And it's so important to have a good sense of humor and video calls all the time, right? I think that it was amazing surviving for all of us. We were able to do video calls. I'm really lucky or happy that we decided some time ago to buy an iPad to my mom so she could have a messenger and calling us. Otherwise, without that, it could have been harder, right? I'm sharing this with you not only because you are going to say, oh, Antonio and poor mom. It's just one story. But I realized after that that all of us here were privileged. We're privileged right now because we are here. Not a lot of people can say that we are here. Right? I also realized that with my work, I was having a good work before pandemic. During the pandemic, I could keep my work. A lot of people was able to even change jobs and get a better job. They lose it, but it was a lot of opportunities. And now I feel privileged. I can work for a company that says you work where you work best in UK. So if you don't want to go to the office, no one is going to force you. That only if you want to go, that's a privilege. And every day that we open our eyes, that's a privilege. This talk is not about me sharing all my experience and all the tips. It's about a lot of people that willingly they share with me their stories and the small tips. I have a lot of people from different countries, a lot of immigrants living in UK, like myself, sharing a flat in the UK. I don't know if you ever live in London, but there are some flats that you don't even have a living room. The living room is a bedroom from someone else. So you are sitting in a flat and you only have a kitchen and your room. And of course, you're not going to talk to the daughter because you don't know whether they have covered it or not. Right. One of the privilege is to have a house with a garden. I don't know who have a garden here. I have a small garden and that was a liverage. All the stories that I'm going to share and the small tips, you can see that it's a little bit to keep saying your body, your mind and your soul. And of course, everything that I'm going to share, I haven't followed everything I have to prioritize. You could see between body minus and soul, which one I didn't prioritize. Right. Because I couldn't all the sea at the same time. It was too hard. Right. So another story that is not for me. Well, I live in the UK. End of 2020, we have a UK barrier of covet and the UK wasn't a great place to be in the world. So one of my colleagues, he wasn't from the UK. The school already announced the whole year is going to be home schooling. So he said, I'm going to send my wife and my two kids with my family, my home country, because here in UK is not going well. And it's all right. I think it's a good plan. Right. You could do the same, probably to try to keep your family safe, especially when you don't know what's happening. Something happened, of course. Can anyone say, what's that? Delta. Now, I forgot to say, like my birthday of my mom. He was from India. He sent end of 2020, his family to India, because India at that time was really good and all the statistics and things like that. And he had every night thinking, wow, I've sent my two kids and my wife there. He even lost two of his uncles there while his family was there. So it was really hard for that person, after working hours, to think about his family. So what did he do? I think that he managed to get nearly every possible certification. He was studying all the time. He was trying to keep the mind completely busy, so I don't have to think about my family only when they call me. And he was trying always to talk with a colleague, myself and things like that. And it's keeping your mind busy, trying to learn every day something. It helped him help a lot of different people. And now that it's at different times with a pandemic, it's something that we should keep. It's a little bit like try to become a better person of yourself every time. That's the reason I usually like to wear this, to sort, because for me it's try to level up every day, try to become better. Other problems are space in London. Flats and houses are really expensive. That the fences that I don't even live in London. I live really far from London. I know a lot of families, they share with me that they were renting really small flats or small houses because on weekends they could go to any park, a lot of things, because London has a lot of offering. And I assume that it's like in every capital, in every country. The capital has a lot of theaters, a lot of parks, a lot of activities for kids. So it's not a problem if your house is really small because you can live outdoors, but then you have the home schooling, being at home, the kids all the time, and both parents needing to work from home, that changed our lives, right? And then you need to find a space in your house and you don't know how. One of them since a lot of people told me it's with the set on the garden, a lot of people started working on the shed. The problem is if you didn't have the shed already ready, it was impossible for two months to get any material for DIY because it was completely sold out. So a lot of them started to work on the shed without anything, just putting a long cable of electricity or just working 2 hours there. Then I go, I plug my laptop, my wife can work 2 hours there and I stay with the kids. And that was their way to actually have a little space for themselves. And then little by little, they were improving, they said. I've seen some people tell me that it's better than some flats that I lived in Paris. It's incredible. But I'm unable to do DIY. I have two left hand for that. The key thing for them and for everyone that you have, the home schooling is everything that you are getting that you didn't have before. So I remember when I was commuting before, there was a lot of days that when I left home, my daughter was sleeping. And when I ride home, my daughter was sleeping. So from Monday to Saturday, because luckily I was able to work from home on Friday, I didn't see my daughter only on videos and pictures. And now, with all the situation, she's five years old now and I've been with her since every day, having lunch with my wife. It's a good thing. So it's those small moments that probably we didn't realize before that the sense of life for me now is to enjoy those small moments because the work is going to be there tomorrow. Those are small moments. We don't really know if we are going to have them tomorrow. So just enjoy that's a small moment. I can literally give a full talk about Impostor Syndrome, like some of you know, but I'm not going to do that. A lot of people that share stories with me, they were all sharing a moment. That is one of the traits of Imposter Syndrome. So it's comparing yourself with your teammates. Normally Imposter Syndrome, you're comparing the others with you, and your self esteem is really low, that you always think that they are really great and you're the one that is just getting the team down. It was worse during the pandemic because a lot of people have a feeling that I don't understand. I don't have force to smile on the webcams and I have some of my teammates. They're smiling all the time. They feel like they are interning and their life is great. And I cannot feel a reason to smile. With everything that is happening. You have to stop comparing yourself with others. There is only one comparison that it matters. It's not about the people putting on Instagram and nice things or on social media. The real comparison that matters is how you were yesterday and how you are today. You have to thrive. Micro improvements. If you feel like you are like three out of ten today, don't try to be four out of ten tomorrow. That may be too hard, but try to be 3.1 tomorrow and try to feel, how could I know if tomorrow I'm going to be that small? Better once you figure it out how, then you can make it happen. And don't try to aim to be a ten out of ten. You're on a three. Come on. You cannot be a ten. And probably if you're already on a seven and eight, you are okay. You don't need to be a 10th. Perfection is an enemy of great. We only need to be great. Right before pandemic, did you have a fixed desk in your office, that it was your allocated desk? Among all of you, did you have anything that it was a picture of your family, a little toy, a little Lego, something that was different, that it was too do you do the same on your work space at home or do you have just a laptop? Because that's one of the key things. Even if you were working from the kitchen table at the beginning. A tip that a lot of people told me is they were putting the picture of the family or the little Lego that they were having on the office or a different Lego just to find like it's my space working like before. I have something that is a personal story. So you see all the aloe veras there? I like to put them there so that's my working space now, it wasn't like that at the beginning of the Pandemic, but it got better when I got them, they were that tiny and I got them in Forte Ventura on my honeymoon. So when I'm feeling a little bit down, I can always look how they grow. I have grown as well since 2016. So I have one Lego that you cannot see the Star Wars over there and also it's a little bit messy, I know, but well, I cannot be perfect, right? The thing is, if you personalize your desk, you feel like working. Sometimes it's not working, it's something that you feel confident, you feel comfortable and that's a good thing, right? Morning exercise or exercise? I'm really good finding excuses to avoid doing exercise. This one tip that it didn't work for me because on Fridays, when I was working from home before Pandemic, I was always on sport clothes. So for my mind, being on sport clothes, it didn't mean not to be working. But for some people, especially some, that they were always working in the office, they never dared to have sport clothes in the office. So for them, if I'm sport clothes, I'm going to practice sport. For the brain, it was working like that. The problem is you can find excuses to avoid doing that. And more than one I was my surprise found really trick. If you have your mind already used that when you are on foreclose, you are going to do exercise. How do you ensure that you don't find excuse like it's raining or that is cold? Because in UK it's raining, I don't know, 400 days every year, right? They change the first thing in the morning without opening the courtesy or without even checking the weather. So I changed and then I opened but it's raining. But I'm going to do it anyway the exercise, because I have the scorecloths and I found that genius. When you have that mentality that whatever you're wearing, I'm doing it. And it was probably the same people that for them, they were always getting the rest of work instead of a normal teaser, things like that. It was a cert and things like that, because it was helping them. I was like Wow, that's really cool. It doesn't work for me, but I know that it was working for others and maybe it will work for some of you. The work life balance and the time for yourself. One of the things that I was missing the first month of the Pandemic I have a long commute in to go to London. It's 1 hour train, it's 20 minutes walk, 1 hour train and between ten and 20 minutes walk. I didn't like the commuting itself, but it was really important for me because I was able to switch between working mode and home mode now, during the Panamaic change, didn't have that time, I was able to get calls at seven a and 07:00 P.m. And so on. But now we are back to the office. But maybe you are back one day a week. That's one thing that it works for me and it works for a lot of people. I block the commuting time, whether I'm going to the office or not. And also coming back on the lunch time, the time that is for you and not for working, you keep it. If Monday you're going to the office, then you know what, that train walking and everything. If you are not, you can use that to do your morning exercise, the bike, to read a book, to do nothing at all. But it's your time. And normally if you tend to block your calendar, people are nicer now and they don't put meetings, or at least you can actually reject meetings because sorry, I'm busy at that time. Right, they don't need to know what you're doing, just putting private meetings. And that really works. That's helped me ensuring that I'm not working seven till seven with a desktop, because that's important. And ensuring that I can have time for me, that my mind can actually do the switch for me right now it's really great. But my daughter is five years old, first year in school, I can bring her to school every day, four days a week, because one day I'm going to London. But even sometimes I do the five days and I'm just going late to the office because why not try in terms of priorities, go to the school with my daughter or working for me, it's pretty clear, and you should probably do the same disconnects from work. The end of the working day, a lot of people share with me that what they do when they want to finish work or start work. They go out, they open the door, go walk to the block and come back. Sometimes it's only five minutes, but that's enough for them to let them the brain, I need more than five minutes, probably my brain is a little bit slow, especially in the mornings, but that helps a lot for a lot of people. That also helps to do the same when you want to do regular breaks. Did you find when you were working from home, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, that you were doing three or 4 hours in a row without any breaks? Because it was happening to me, I wasn't realizing and then I was really icky. I'm too tired, man, 4 hours. So now I'm always trying to do the same breaks that I was doing in the office. In the office, I only needed to see if someone that I like is going to the coffee machine and say, oh, time for a break, and then you talk. Right now I do the same, but I put an alarm actually on the clock, coffee time. And I go to the first floor of coffee and I start now that it's spring, I have a garden, what's in the bed for five minutes. If you put food, it happens quite often. And that helps also to try to focus your eyes on a distant point because it's not good to be full time without any break just in front of the screen. So I focus on the bird at five or 10 meters and my eyes are actually resting while I'm enjoying the birds fighting between them. Now, sometimes I have to run because around, I don't know, 80% of my neighbors have cars. And I just realized that even the traps with the ultrasounds, they know now what are the ultrasounds. And the cuts are really so in the morning they usually hide in an active run. Maybe that's my morning exercise. You can see clearly that's not going to the advice that I do, even though I love someone. If you don't do exercise and you don't do healthy food, you're going to get some kilo. I have proven that. So you don't have to try when you need it to go to the office. Before, for me, it was really easy. I wasn't cooking, I was just going out one of those ready meals and eating. I don't have to prepare food. You're working from home, you need to prepare food. But in 1 hour, I cannot prepare everything. I end up eating sandwich all the time. And a lot of people that they were actually cooking before, they told me, oh, I keep cooking on Sundays for the whole week and put it on the freezer. And they said in the morning I just put the food exactly as I was doing before. That helps me to be relaxed on Sunday and to have the time to enjoy food. And I found really nice that I'm not really good planning my weekly food. I'm good planning how others can work or how others can improve you. But for me it's complicated always, right? One of the good things, even if you are doing healthy food all the time, and that is what I did some years ago, some diet, even the nutritionist say you cannot be doing all the time the boring food. So they allow me at that time, once a week to have a nice dessert, or even twice a week, depending on the moment, because it's literally reward that you are making for yourself. So it's the same if you do the best cooking, but before you were going on Fridays to your teammates, nice food, you can even prepare that and have a nice food every Friday, right? That's controversial for some people. I don't know why make friends at work. So it's one of the things sometimes we can be a little bit weird when we're in front of the computer all the time and we don't like people to come to us. But for me, I realized that when I find someone that I can talk about anything, we have affinities I'm working better and I'm even more willing to help the rest of the company. Only because there's one or two that I feel better. Right. It's like Craig was saying yesterday, to find a working wife or husband. It sounds a little bit too extreme for me, but it's the same thing, right? And now when I go to the office, I don't do it really for working. I'm doing it because I want those personal interactions and that gives me the energy for the rest of the week. So I have the choice to go or not to the office. And I decided because I can see the people. It's a lot of small teams that probably you already done doing a lot. If you have a new one, I'm more than happy if you sell it with me. So I put some together. For me, work by life balance is the most important for me from my context, because I don't know whether I have the opportunity to do that on my personal life tomorrow. And the work is going to be always tomorrow and the day after and so on. If for any reason you are not here tomorrow in the work, they will find someone to replace you in your personal life. They won't find someone to replace that's to. Think about it, don't stop learning or to improve micro improvements all the time. That keeps me saying and sometimes it's good. I cannot learn anything new today, but I'm going to try tomorrow. That's at least that feeling customize your workplace or something that makes yourself the work is fun even when I'm working from home, so it may be anything. And it also gets a lot of conversations when someone sees on the web what's that those guys are books. And I say, Oh, that's graphic novel from Marvel or DC. I'm revealing that I'm a geek to everyone, but at least I'm talking about something else, right? Daily exercise or exercise. Maybe daily is a little bit optimistic. Walking is also exercise if you don't do it normally and it's easy to do, at least for me, I can do that one. So try to do it especially on that commuting time that you have locked on your calendar. Because you're going to do that now, right? Healthy food and treating yourself from time to time. Yeah, we all like pizza from time to time. Right. But every day it's not good. Regular breaks that's key before when I was wearing one of the feedbacks before I was using it. I like it when you can put it that it's going to vibrate if you haven't moved for 1 hour. That's the most amazing thing that I have used in the past, just to ensure that I'm standing up and going out and coming back and make friends at work or even on the train or something. One of the things that I do now, I have a friend that we try to do every two or three months, and we say we have salad time. After everything that you're talking about healthy food, you are right. For those in London, there is a chain of sushi and chicken katsukari that we love. And when we were talking before pandemic, let's have a salad. It's a chicken katsu curry because it has chicken, vegetables and rice. And you can do salad with those three, right? So that's my trick to help him, and it's my friend, so he's always doing that. And we're on different companies now, and I had salad last week and it was amazing. Got some.