Working from Home in the Age of Coronavirus
Working from home in the time of Coronavirus
If you have suddenly found yourself working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might find you are experiencing a range of emotions including fear, stress and anxiety. You might feel relieved, and safer, for being at home. For some people the demands of work and home life can take their toll on their mental health. For others, you may well be at home with your children, as more schools shut down or have pupil free days. If you are working remotely, you can take steps to protect your mental health and remain resilient during these uncertain times. Here are a few tips and strategies that may help you:
Acknowledge the impact. Working from home can be challenging – our homes are filled with distractions that we don’t encounter at work, especially if there are others at home doing their work or schoolwork as well. Give yourself time to adjust to your “new normal”; work out a schedule and find out what routines will work for you.
Maintain perspective. Most people are very concerned about the pandemic. Try to remember that public health, medical and scientific experts are working hard to manage the virus and control its spread. Experts around the world are working hard to treat people and to develop a vaccine. Work out what you can do to assist in keeping yourself and family safe. We have faced epidemics and infectious diseases in the past such as SARS, HIV, measles and so on. Remember that humans are resilient and smart, and we will get through this in time.
Create a routine. The virus and its impacts are beyond your control and life has lost some of its predictability. You can exert some control and predictability by creating and sticking to a schedule. If you have young ones at home with you, a routine will be good for them too, and many children find predictable routines very comforting. Be careful not to “over-schedule” though and include breaks in your working day. Establish a dedicated workspace at home and take regular breaks.
Get ready for your day. As comfy as your pjs might be and tempting as it is to stay in them, especially if no one else is home, it is important to get up and get dressed. Have a shower and do your hair. Putting on “work clothes” helps you adopt a mindset for your work role.
Manage your intake of information. It is important to stay informed and when we are at home, it is easy to leave the TV on or to frequently check social media. However, if you constantly face a barrage of news and updates, your stress and anxiety may rise, and your mental health may suffer. Try checking the news in the morning and then mid-afternoon. Turn the news alerts off in between, unless it’s part of your job. Make sure the information you access is accurate and of good quality as well.
Recognise your needs. Some people who are working from home will enjoy the relative quiet that this presents, while others will miss the social connection of working and interacting with others. Make sure you connect with colleagues and friends with phone calls, videoconferencing and group chats – for both work and social interactions. You might organise a call with a group of colleagues at the beginning and end of each day to share information and de-brief. It’s essential that you make an effort to overcome loneliness and feelings of isolation. If you prefer to work in private and suddenly you are at home with your housemates, or your spouse and children, work out when you can have time and space for yourself.
Physical distance, not social distance. Maintain contact with friends and family. Check in on your neighbours and others. We live in an age where we can communicate in so many other ways when we can’t do it in person. Group chats, videoconferencing, social media, email and phone calls are among the myriad methods with which we can talk and interact with other humans. Social isolation can be a trigger for adverse mental health. Supportive relationships with others are good for us and can boost our well-being.
Schedule some time for yourself. Schedule time for exercise, for self-care and for non-work activities. This helps you to maintain a balance and continue to do those things that support your mental health. If you feel anxious or stressed activities such as yoga, stretching, and meditation can help enormously. You might like to do some writing, read a book, do a crossword or something creative for a while. For most of us, physical activity is vital. Make sure these activities are part of your routine, make space for them in your daily schedule. What gets written down gets done!
Keep up healthy practices. It’s very important that you keep up healthy habits while you work from home. For many of us, increased stress can lead to over-eating (hello sugar and carbs), overdoing it on caffeine, and increased alcohol consumption. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoid too much sugar and alcohol. Get some exercise in the fresh air if you can. Vitamin D from the sun can boost your mood too. Practicing deep breathing for a few minutes several times a day can help you stay calm and focussed.
Gratitude. It might seem incongruous to feel grateful in a time when people are anxious, or ill, or stressed and lonely. These are uncertain times indeed. However, research has shown that gratitude can assist us to shift to a more positive mindset. Cultivating feelings of gratitude helps to release stress hormones and increase positive emotions such as happiness, joy and calm. Remind yourself of what you have – such as a job, a home, family, friends, hobbies, the internet, your pet/s, your health.
Monitor your mental health. Be mindful and aware of any changes in your mood. This is particularly important if you know that you are prone to anxiety and depression. Signs and symptoms might include – inability to focus and concentrate, you can’t shake a feeling of deep sadness or low mood, you are frequently overwhelmed, you are more irritable than usual, you are not enjoying activities you previously looked forward to and enjoyed, you find yourself withdrawing from family and friends, or you are struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep. There are many online resources to assist you if you feel your mental health is suffering. It is essential to take action to manage your health. Take steps to activate your support networks, acknowledge your distress, and seek support sooner rather than later if you are finding life difficult.
Sources of support and assistance
- Family, friends, neighbours and colleagues
- Your GP
- A mental health professional such as a psychologist, mental health social worker, counsellor
- Your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Crisis lines:
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Mensline Australia 1300 78 99 78
Open Arms (Veterans and military) 1800 011 046
For other helplines https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-health-helplines
The Black Dog Institute www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Department of Health www.health.gov.au
World Health Organisation www.who.int