Lockdown anxiety during COVID-19

Greg Rhodes speaks to a landscape contractor about coping with lockdown anxiety.

Landscape contractor Richard Parkinson has just completed an exhausting 17-hour stint at his laptop, planning and posting material for his revamped website www.wildground.co.uk

Lockdown for Richard could have spelt a return to the professional and personal uncertainties that have dogged him since his early days working.

But it hasn’t. The 37-year-old entrepreneur has reinvented himself, as many self-employed professionals are having to do in the wake of the Government-imposed measures to restrict our movements during the Coronavirus.

A budding career employed in the electrical and gas industry abruptly ended four years ago when acute anxiety hit Richard hard. “I had lost my dad suddenly at just 53,” he recalls, “and was also suffering recurrent hand and arm issues.

“I needed a complete change of scenery – to refocus my energy and find an escape from my old career. I sought counselling and was told that I’d lost the love for my job.”

An avid gardener since buying his first house in Nottinghamshire at just 18, Richard cultivated tropical fauna, particularly palms and banana trees, continuing his love of exotic plants at his second home, a bungalow near Mansfield.

Indulging his passion, he established his Wild Ground landscape maintenance business in 2015 and rapidly gained relevant qualifications, while holding down family life with wife Donna and young daughter Freya.

“Within weeks of leaving my old job and starting work outdoors, I felt a sense of mental wellbeing,” Richard explains, a dramatic contrast to the bouts of sobbing that had plagued him when employed.

“My old job was customer-facing and I was bringing my problems with me into work and that caused issues for everyone. I was having a mental breakdown basically.”

News that he had suffered permanent nerve damage in his hands and arms, despite corrective surgery, didn’t help matters. “Severe depression set in but I began to warm to the flexibility of being my own boss and just got on with work.”

His anxiety has taken many twists and turns. “I’d spend sleepless nights at the prospect of working at a client’s site,” he states. “A strange thing to deal with but you just have to handle it.” 

That said: “It does me good to get out and about for business,” but cancellation of an important contract due to lockdown scuppered Richard’s plan to purchase a work vehicle. 

“A big setback but once again I’m refocusing – developing a fresh role as The Demonstrator, which offers the opportunity for me to test a whole host of turfcare and landscape maintenance power tools and machinery as an independent specialist.”

Brand-building under his “Passion is My Fuel” projection, Richard has undergone “a whole new thought process” in developing a portfolio career embracing landscape contracting, kit testing and demonstrating.

“Positive thinking and mindfulness of your surroundings are so important for me,” he reveals, “as are audio books. I listen to them while I’m working. ‘How to win friends and influence people’ – those kind of titles. It’s like having your own therapy session.”

Creative thinking is one of Richard’s other passions and self-employment gives him the freedom to practise it in spades. “I very much believe in the mantra that ‘Thoughts become things’, he adds.

“In a funny way, the Covid-19 outbreak has proved a blessing in disguise for me, although it continues to have tragic consequences for so many of us. Home schooling with Freya [now 9] is challenging but fulfilling while helping support Donna, who works full-time in child protection, is really important.

“I’m someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and being open with business colleagues and clients about issues such as anxiety is a vital part of my career progression. It pays to be above board about it.”