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Reduce stress while working from home
When it feels like every aspect of life is changing daily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the calmest person can be overwhelmed.
Working from home can be a big source of stress, as balancing family and job responsibilities is intensified by social distancing and other protective measures.
Alisha Hardman, family life specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said routines for everyone in the house can be a first step in alleviating stress.
“Feeling anxious or depressed from the loss of normal routines needs to be validated, followed by establishing a new, realistic routine,” Hardman said. “Routines can give people a sense of control, which is calming. Routines should not be rigid, but scheduling set times to interact with your children during the workday can prevent them from interrupting you because they know they will have your undivided attention at scheduled times throughout the day.”
Hardman said disruptions in every area of life necessitate picking which battles to fight.
“We can’t do everything at the same pace, in the same way, with the same results as we had before the pandemic,” she said. “We must focus our energy in productive ways. Engaging in self-care is one of the best strategies for dealing with the fatigue and anxiety many are feeling.”
Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, remaining physically active, engaging in hobbies, and staying connected with friends and family through technology are examples of self-care.
Make the most of the opportunities afforded by working from home, Hardman said.
“You can do loads of laundry while working,” she said. “Use the time you would normally chat with colleagues to check in with family and friends or walk around the house tidying up.”
Marina Denny, Extension program and staff development specialist, said proven methods for time management are more important than ever. She suggested dividing the to-do list into tasks, processes and projects.
“A task is something that you can complete on your own in two hours or less,” she said. “A process is something ongoing, such as email. A project is made up of many tasks over the course of several hours or days and requires input from other people. Schedule set times for the processes so they do not take over your day. Put your energy into what you can control and what is time-bound, so you can cross off those tasks on your lists and free up bigger blocks of time to work on projects.”
Even though colleagues are no longer in the same physical space, workplace friction may still exist and may be intensified by remote working.
“Adjust your expectations of your colleagues and give yourself and others grace,” Denny said. “Don’t rely on technology to communicate nuances that are best picked up in face-to-face meetings. Be more intentional and detailed. We are all dealing with the pandemic in our own unique ways, and work tasks are not always on the front burner during work hours, especially if we are caring for children or parents.”
Communicating group norms and expectations can help alleviate tension.
“If your sleep schedule has changed and you are sending emails at 3 a.m., be sure to say you don’t expect a response right away,” Denny said. “Facilitate meetings by identifying next steps and deadlines and establish team norms so people can self-correct.”
Setting boundaries is healthy for everyone on the team.
“Just because you are working virtually does not mean you should feel the need to be available 24/7,” she said. “Take your regular breaks. Don’t answer the phone during your lunch break. Turn off your computer and notifications from email and social media so you won’t be tempted to respond during non-working hours.”
Denny emphasized the importance of validating the experiences of others when they share their distress.
“Be an active listener, and do not assume that your situation is the same as everyone else’s,” she said. “Avoid giving advice, and, instead, ask open-ended questions to walk them through what might be causing their anxiety. Help them focus on what they can control, and, many times, they will come up with a solution on their own.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer resources for dealing with COVID-19 and related stress at https://bit.ly/2UZ3yFl. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates the Disaster Distress Helpline 24 hours a day, year-round. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.