Many of us are now working from home to help contain the spread of COVID-19, but it’s hardly a vacation. Instead, we’re coping with not only the anxiety of an illness but with the adjustment to remote work. For some of us, this is our first foray into the work from home model. At first, we might enjoy the freedom to not wear shoes and to sit on our couch instead of at our desk. After the novelty of forgoing business casual wears off, we may feel bored, isolated, or in a low mood from this break from our routine.
The good news is there are a lot of achievable small steps throughout our at-home-work-day which mitigate the effects of social distancing on our mental health. If you’re curious about what “social distancing” means, I would recommend this excellent article. In this article, I’m going to take you through a few easy steps to cope with this sudden change.
Separate home from work as much as possible.
Now, this may sound silly, because you are literally working at home. The truth is, however, it helps us cope to make a routine and stick to it. Being at home, we may work well into the evening because we don’t have to commute home. We may forgo sleep and meals and stick to working – or we may barely work at all, distracted by our homes. Having a designated space to work (kitchen table, home office, etc) and setting boundaries on when and how long we will work will help us stay focused and stay healthy during this time. (Although it is tempting, if you can avoid working from your bed, do so!) I personally find it helpful to get dressed (more casually than I would if I went into the office), make my coffee, prep my lunch, and get ready for work in the same ways I do when I’m not working remotely. This tells my brain “Okay, time to wake up and go to work.” Then when I’m done, I like to take a minute to move to another part of my house, take a few deep breaths, and let my brain reset to not being at work anymore. Other ways to encourage space between work and home are to “commute” by taking a walk around the block before and after work, using a calendar to block off “work time” and different work activities, only answering emails during “work time”, and taking a lunch break instead of eating at your desk. Something my fiance has started doing is taking “lunch breaks” with his colleagues, where they all eat lunch on video conference together and chat! Maintaining the schedule of the workday helps us stay productive and disconnect at the end of the day to resettle into our home lives.
Remember to fuel yourself
Effectively working from home isn’t all about the work itself. If you’re anything like me, you forget to eat when you get outside of your usual routine. Let this serve as your reminder to go make a sandwich (or whatever your individual, specific dietary needs are) during your workday! Fueling your body remains important even when you aren’t going to work everyday. If accessing food is a concern with being out of work, many cities are working to help people access food and other basic needs during this time. If you need to, please reach out to the food pantries and other resources in your area (and reach out to others to help you access those if you need help). If you’re food secure and cooped up, consider donating to food banks in your area to help people survive the changes our communities are facing. This not only fuels your body, but your soul.
Move (in the ways that feel good for you).
When we’re stuck at home, it’s easy to sit on the couch and never leave, especially since many people now work at that couch. That said, exercise has significant effects on managing mood and anxiety. We don’t have to be star athletes to get these effects either! A simple walk around your house or neighborhood (like the “commute” discussed above, taking a break for a quick yoga flow, or even checking out some wheelchair yoga poses can give us boosts to our mood and calm our anxiety or benefit our health and self-image. Be sure to pick movements that feel good for you and work best with your body. If you have any questions about your exercise needs, please consult an appropriate medical professional.
Reach out to whomever you can
We all feel a little bit isolated right now – you aren’t alone. Maintaining our social connections when physically distant can be difficult, but we’re all in this together and we can help each other through this time. If you have friends you can call, call them. If you have family you can Skype with, Skype with them. If you’re feeling alone without existing connections, check out a Twitch channel or Discord server for your favorite RPG campaign (remember to use appropriate caution when interacting with internet strangers!) and meet some new folks. Isolation is a serious concern, and when we reach out to others, we’re helping them and ourselves at the same time. This is also a great time to send some letters the old fashioned way. Check out if your local assisted living center has a pen pal program (or if not, just send a card there anyway!) or look into becoming pen pals with someone who is incarcerated – helping people make positive connections and combating isolation. Although at the moment we are all feeling alone, communicating with others reminds us we are part of a broad community.
Although this is a time with many questions, few answers, and real concerns about community health, working from home helps us do our part to help flatten the curve and contribute to community wellness. Developing good self care strategies and structure while working at home could help us gain a sense of control in our situations, focus on our own wellness, and even get some actual work done during our social distancing.
Elizabeth K. Tate MA, LPCA, NCC, BC-TMH (She/Her/Hers)
Elizabeth works as a staff counselor and the telemental health coordinator at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. In the nerd spheres, she loves Dungeons & Dragons, Zelda, and Settlers of Catan. You can find her at www.elizabethktate.com.