March 23, 2020
Taking your work from office to home can be an adjustment, especially if you’re sharing the space with a partner or kiddos. Try and use this new working from home reality to create a healthy routine and keep your mental health top of mind.
How can you establish a healthy routine while quarantining or working from home?
Many of us have quickly shifted to home offices and might feel ill-equipped to work from home. We long for a sense of normalcy as we try to work while sharing spaces with family members. Despite the tricky transition, there are some steps we can take to establish a healthy routine when working from home.
First and foremost, designate a proper workspace free of distractions. You might laugh at this suggestion as you think of the toys strewn all over the kitchen or everyone else in the family vying for private space. Where in your home can you arrive at work ready to focus? It might not be best to work from your bed because you might be tempted to doze off. If you work in front of a TV, you might be tempted to sneak in your favorite show or sports center. You might work best in front of a window with natural light or in the back of the house, far away from everyone. Having a workspace with a door is ideal. Especially if you have little ones who don’t understand that mommy or daddy is working.
If you are fortunate to have a desk, what does your desk look like? Is there anything on your desk that inspires you and makes you happy? Maybe it’s a picture, a calming scent, a plant or special artwork. Whatever the case, put something on your desk that makes you smile and supports your best work.
Keep a schedule in your household, just like you do at work. Routine is everything! Set a start time to your day as well as an end time. Dress for work by changing out of your pajamas into something that gets you into work mode. It doesn’t have to be a suit, but something that gives you confidence and sets the tone for work, especially if you will be video conferencing throughout the day.
Make your favorite morning meal or beverage before you get settled into your desk. This may be a solid meal or simply a large cup of coffee or a juice. This eliminates a reason to go back and forth to the kitchen, which can be a huge distraction. As you arrive at your desk, think about the sounds you hear that encourage best work practices. Do you need background noise? I read about a guy who works best with the History Channel in the background. What about silence or a work playlist? Maybe you are surrounded by kids that require you to put on your noise-canceling headphones to work.
Schedule breaks throughout the day and use them to get away from your desk. Go for a walk outside to get recharged. In my neighborhood, there are folks everywhere, at all times of the day, walking since many are now working from home. Spending 15 minutes chatting with a neighbor, while keeping in mind appropriate distance, could be the jumpstart you need for a mid-afternoon break. Your break might also include stretching or meditation. There are apps that remind you to take time-outs. Think about other ways to stay connected with others. Meaningful engagements decrease isolation and loneliness. Maybe you could schedule a virtual lunch or facetime with a colleague.
End of the Day
Leave the office when you are done for the day. Try not to continue working on your laptop, and definitely don’t take it to bed with you. How does your brain know work is over? Do you work out or turn on music? Maybe you clean your workspace at the end of the day by disinfecting and throwing away trash. If your workspace is in a common area, cover your monitor with something visual and pretty, so that you don’t look at a computer screen when you are in the room after work hours.
What can you do to maintain your mental health while on quarantine?
Social distancing is hard, really hard. We are in uncharted territory and we don’t know how long it will last. Spending time at home, whether alone or with family members, can test the strength of our mental health. This is where self-care comes in. Here are some tips to remember as we transition to a new chapter on social distancing.
Humans are communal, we want connection. Think of ways to be intentional while staying connected to family and friends. As I write this, my teenage daughter is having virtual lunch with her high school lunch table. They are giggling and playing games. My teenage son has gone running most mornings with friends since being out of school. And I’ve taken a couple of outdoor yoga classes which have reset my mind and spirit. Staying engaged with coworkers, neighbors and loved ones is meaningful and needed to keep from feeling isolated and disconnected. You might be the one who needs to check in on others. I remember an image I once saw that said “Check in on your strong friend, your busy friend, your happy friend or your ‘seems to handle everything really well’ friend.”
Setting up a daily schedule for movement can help you feel strong and energized. This will look different from one person to the next. There are apps to guide you with ab workouts, step challenges, yoga flows, stretching, and on and on. Here is a chance to try a new form of exercise that has been on your mind. Movement can be an afternoon spent organizing a closet or garage. It can be walking your dog—anything to get your body moving.
It’s important to stay focused on the present so that you don’t go down the rabbit hole of fear. If you find your mind wandering off into the what if’s, try focusing on the environment. Pay attention to the things and people immediately around you. You might try walking into another room or outside. Maybe this means that you take a break from watching the news or reading the news on your phone for a lengthy period of time. Maybe you set up an app to send you affirmations throughout the day. I like the app Motivation. Motivational quotes are sent to your phone throughout the day. You choose the category and how often to receive.
Answers provided by Amy Waltz, LCSW Program Therapist with Employee Wellness at Memorial Hermann