The COVID-19 pandemic has us all at home and if you’re working, it’s a huge change. In addition to being isolated from co-workers and friends, this disruption from regular working routines can cause added anxiety and stress. Here are some helpful ways to stay physically and mentally healthy while working from home.
Set a schedule
Setting a regular routine helps create a psychological barrier between your work and home life. You should try to keep the same pre- and post-work routine as you had prior to working from home, including setting an alarm, showering and getting dressed in the morning, working out before or after work hours, or whatever your typical schedule included. Working in your pajamas all day might be comfortable, but it can decrease motivation and productiveness throughout the day.
Be upfront about expectations
Communicate with your co-workers and boss about how you are going to work. This can include your working hours, your preferred method of communication with them, and your home situation (i.e., kids, spouse or pet). You cannot guarantee that your work or calls will be interruption-free, and that’s OK. Everyone is in the same boat. Being open and honest with your colleagues about the difficulties this new way of working poses will help reduce anxiety and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Create an office space
Creating physical boundaries around your work area can reinforce the message that you’re working, both for yourself and others in your home. If possible, find a space with a door that can be closed while you’re working. If that isn’t an option in your home, create a designated “desk” area that is only used for working. Whatever office space you create, communicate with your spouse and children that you should not be disturbed while in this space to help limit distractions and stay focused. Try noise canceling headphones or a headset for calls so others in the home know when you’re busy in virtual meetings.
Eat the frog
Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate if you don’t get it done right away. Start each morning by completing your most challenging task first so that it isn’t looming over your head the entire day. If you have two frogs, eat the bigger one first.
We are more likely to sit at our computers all day without taking breaks when we don’t have the social cues from the work environment, such as people leaving for lunch or getting coffee. Try to take a break every one to two hours for a cognitive recharge and to get your body moving. Engaging in unfocused activities have been shown to be most effective, such as chatting with someone, going for a walk or meditating. During these more stressful times, using your breaks for social connection or an activity you enjoy can be very beneficial.
Set work boundaries
It can be difficult to separate your work life from your personal life when they are under the same roof, but it can also be taxing on your health and well-being as it can lead to burnout. Make sure you are working reasonable hours and sticking to the schedule you created. For example, if you typically work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you should leave your designated workspace and start your “wind-down” routine once 5 p.m. hits. Turn off notifications from your phone and computer so you are not pulled back into work after hours.
Socialize and stay connected
Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Working remotely can cause people to feel isolated, making it more important to routinely check in with your team — and not just about work-related events. There are many tech tools available like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype to schedule video chat lunches, team happy hours or virtual birthday celebrations for co-workers.
Ask for help
In a recent study by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans said coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health. Professional therapists listen to you and offer tools to help you solve any identified problems, and virtual care provides access to professional behavioral health care providers for an online therapy session.
Ask your health insurance provider what resources are available to help you stay healthy while working virtually. For example, Priority Health provides members with information like what kind of help is available, what your plan will cover and how to find counselors or behavioral health care providers to meet your needs. An on-staff behavioral health team is available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call the number on the back of your member ID card (your call is completely confidential) or log into your online account. Priority Health members also can access the Wellbeing Hub, a great resource for tips and tricks to help boost your mental health.
Although working from home can bring about many challenges, it also allows you to get creative and explore new opportunities.
Kristina Rich, NBC-NWC, CPT, CET is a nationally certified health and wellness coach at Priority Health. She works with members to help them develop a personalized plan for their own health and well-being based on what is realistic and beneficial. She also is a certified personal trainer and cancer exercise trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine.