Working from home can be stressful. Even a temporary change to your daily schedule can throw your out of wack! Below are a few tips I’ve found useful creating a new normal for remote working.
After I began working from home two years ago, I had to shift how I worked independently and remotely. With nearly 20 years working in offices, I had almost zero experience working at home. And certainly, I was no expert with using technology to help me out.
I have had to learn how to self-monitor, create a schedule, and relax. It was stressful to figure out but it was important to create a ‘new normal’ to get through life. I hope these tips work for you, too.
Check-In Every Day with Yourself
So many times during the college closing I would just feel numb, disconnected from the work I was now required to do. All my plans were changing daily and I couldn’t focus on what needed to be done without a great deal of effort. On the days I was able to manage tasks, it was mainly because I closed my door and engaged in some focused breathing techniques we used to show to our student staff when they felt overwhelmed by stress. After I began to work from home, I found that doing a Body Scan was helpful to keep me focused on how I was feeling, both physically and mentally.
We could all learn a little more from Patrick on doing some self-care at home, just checking in with how our body is feeling from head to toe.
Exercise: The Body Scan
A popular exercise for practitioners of mindfulness is called the Body Scan. It requires very little in the way of props or tools, and it is also easily accessible for most beginners. Try this 30 minute guided narrative by expert and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Jon Kabat Zinn
The Body Scan begins with the participants lying on their backs with their palms facing up and their feet falling slightly apart. This exercise can also be done sitting on a comfortable chair with feet resting on the floor.
Participants lie very still for the duration of the exercise, and move with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust their position.
Participants begin by bringing awareness to the breath, noticing the rhythm, the experience of breathing in and expelling out. Nobody should try to change the way they are breathing but rather just hold gentle awareness on the breath.
Pay special attention to the body: how it feels, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the temperature of the body and the environment.
Highlight awareness to the parts of the body that are tingling, sore, or feeling particularly heavy or light, note any areas of their body where they don’t feel any sensations at all or are hypersensitive.
A typical Body Scan runs through each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels, the scan usually moves as follows:
From toes of both feet to the rest of the feet (top, bottom, ankle) then to the lower legs, knees, thighs and pelvic region – buttocks, tailbone, pelvic bone, genitals. From there moving to the abdomen, then the chest, lower back, upper back – back ribs & shoulder blades, hands (fingers, palms, backs, wrists), arms (lower, elbows, upper), neck, face and head (jaw, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, scalp, back & top of the head), and finally ending with the blow hole.
Create A Daily Schedule
Without having a daily commute to structure your day, it can be stressful to manage the day-to-day, hour-to-hour responsibilities we have. Do we still need to log in eight hours of work? Still need to take a lunch hour? Need to create time to be available online?
I recommend waking up and starting your day how you did when commuting. Avoid sleeping in and feeling rushed to start the day. Having a similar start to your day reminds your body and mind that you’re still on a work schedule. When you shift to a vacation mode – sleeping in, starting the day later – your body does the same. And after a vacation, it’s often challenging to re-start doing work during the day.
Reward yourself for making and keeping a schedule. A sticker, a favorite snack, an after-work drink!
It seems strange, but getting dressed for work is motivating. It can be very de-motivating to stay dressed in pajamas and slippers all day, when you’re feeling the stress of figuring out how to work from home. I know for me, just putting on a sweater and jeans, rather than lounge wear, put me in the right mindset to do work.
Finally, still make time to take a lunch. Turn off your devices. Put an away message on your messenger apps. Avoid checking emails if possible. But, again, its important to keep a structure to your day that reminds your body and mind that you’re working.
Find A Way to Relax
Staying indoors all day can be stressful, especially for extrovert. Being around people recharges our batteries, allows us to share ideas outside of our heads, and allows us to see ourselves reflected in others. Even introverts, who require less social contacts, need some contact from trusted friends and family. The stress of managing the time alone can make us feel ill at ease and amp up feelings of isolation and anxiety.
I recommend putting in time in your day to connect with friends, online if necessary, to just laugh. While social media may allow us to check-on with each other, there is nothing like seeing someone’s face and hearing someone laugh.
The link between laughter and mental health
Laughter stops distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
Laughter shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and diffuse conflict.
Laughter draws you closer to others, which can have a profound effect on all aspects of your mental and emotional health.
If laughing doesn’t make you feel better, perhaps a GIF of Chris Evans laughing will!
Most importantly, find time to go outside. During our commutes, we often have a short walk to and from the car or train. Put that time back into your day, even if its just a walk around the block. Even in our social distancing efforts, we can still take a break outdoors (as long as we keep our distance).
A New Normal
It can be stressful managing changes to your professional life and identity. It could be months before students return to campus, and in the meantime, you’ll need to adjust your life. Will students get to work in the office over the summer? Will orientation programs move on-line for the summer?
In whatever ways the world ends up, just know one thing: the students will be okay. And for now, it’s okay to focus on yourself and the uncertainty of the next few weeks. Put some time in what you can control to help you ease anxiety. And above all, take care of yourself.
The Body Scan: Adapted from Fleming, J. E., & Kocovski, N. L. (2007). Mindfulness and acceptance-based group therapy for social anxiety disorder: A treatment manual. From contextualscience.org
The link between laughter and mental health: Laughter is the Best Medicine (2019), Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.