With the arrival of COVID-19, daily life has changed dramatically for all of us. Social distancing and stay-at-home requirements have altered the world as we knew it, and even veteran remote workers have had to adjust to unexpected conditions.
Now, a few weeks in, we have the basics figured out. We don masks, order groceries online, and homeschool our kids. Yet anxiety lingers as we face an uncertain future and endure the mental toll of non-stop video calls. That level of stress can make it difficult to function effectively.
Taking a few measures to maintain your mental well-being can make all the difference. To help you do that, here are some tips from Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) faculty and staff along with outside experts on how to establish your own wellness best practices.
Top of the list for managing at-home stress is making a schedule. Segmenting your time helps tether your thoughts and keeps them from straying into the worry zone. “Working from home can be a challenge,” writes Karlyn Borysenko in Forbes. “One way to navigate it is to come up with a routine and stick with it. This will help you be more productive when you're in work mode and will also help you to detach when it's time to clock out for the day.”
You might not think detaching would be a problem, but boundaries can blur when work shifts to the home front.
Reshan Baqi, marketing research associate, recommends leaving your work area at regular intervals. “To support personal goals for work-life balance, I find it helpful to take a full lunch away from my computer and to take breaks throughout the day,” she says.
The accessibility that laptops, tablets, and cell phones provide makes it possible for many of us to work anywhere, anytime. Our digital lifestyle allows for flexibility and, with stay-at-home restrictions in place, permits businesses to continue.
But with it can come an expectation of 24-7 availability — if only from ourselves. “Increasingly, the connection these tools provide can also make us feel expected to respond," says Nelson Baker, dean of professional education. "It is important to remember how crucial it is to do the downtime, too.”
That includes not just unplugging from work, but from the constant influx of news and social media. Staying informed is important, but a non-stop news flow can become overwhelming. Don’t leave the television on as you go about your day; avoid constantly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter posts. Instead, opt for silence, music, or conversation.
Even if you’re an introvert, you need social connection. And in trying times, you need it more than ever. Indeed, interpersonal bonds are important enough to warrant mention in The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) COVID guidelines, which advise readers to “share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and build a strong support system.”
This can be especially challenging as social distancing has completely shifted our typical routine and limits our opportunities to engage with friends, family and co-workers. Even for experienced remote workers, it is even more important to create opportunities to intentionally connect with others.
Christoper Williams, digital learning support specialist, suggests making a commitment to using the video feature on your conference or chat applications. “This has been essential in keeping the connection with my co-workers,” says Williams.
“You don’t realize how much you appreciate being able to say hello, see smiling faces or have a passing conversation in the office until it has been removed from your work lifestyle.”
Research professor and best-selling author Brene Brown emphasizes that taking time to actively practice gratitude is essential to dispelling unease in difficult times. “When I say practice gratitude, I don’t mean ‘the-attitude-of-gratitude’ or feeling grateful," says Brown in a recent podcast. "I mean practicing gratitude.”
She suggests writing down three things every day that you are grateful for. They can be as small as the smell of freshly-brewed coffee or as big as the lifetime love of a partner. Maybe project communication is proceeding better than expected on Slack. Or your son took the trash out without being asked. Whatever made your heart sing. The point is, by directing your thoughts in this way, you become conscious of the positive elements in your life that might otherwise be eclipsed by problems.
Like gratitude practice, mindfulness focuses your thoughts on the present moment. As a stress management tool, mindfulness calls for you to zero in on your immediate surroundings in order to rein in runaway thoughts.
"Our mind is our most powerful asset in not just managing stress but increasing the amount of time we spend feeling contentment and happiness," says Tiffany Andras-Myers, certified mindfulness teacher and Georgia Tech alumna. "Through the practice of mindfulness, we grow our capacity to know what's happening right now, without which we have very little hope of influencing the way we experience our lives."
"The more mindful we become, the more we create the space to breathe gentleness and peace into every moment and have the capacity to intentionally re-soften and deactivate as stress rises."
The most common mindfulness tool is simple: concentrated breathing. When you feel stress mounting, stop and sit quietly for a few minutes. Put your attention on your breath, inhaling slowly through your nose and letting the air expand your stomach. Then exhale in reverse through your mouth. As you repeat this, keep your awareness on the sound and sensation of your breath. Your tension should lessen as the mental whirl subsides.
You may have heard the term; now is your chance to learn what it’s about and incorporate it into your life. In short, “radical acceptance” means wrapping your arms around reality, warts and all. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because when a situation is unacceptable to us, we often respond by trying to change it. This makes sense, but when the objectionable circumstances are out of our control, fighting against them is not only pointless, but it creates additional unhappiness.
Accepting reality includes not denying your emotions. It’s normal to feel unsettled right now. “We’re anxious, we’re uncertain, we are, a lot of us, afraid,” says Brown. “And it’s okay to feel all these feelings.” Don’t fight them, she warns. “Embrace them. If you don’t feel the feelings, they will eat you alive.”
Finally, remember the fundamentals. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, exercise regularly. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to let those things go. But don’t beat yourself up if you eat a whole bag of potato chips or stay up half the night watching Netflix. Be kind to yourself. That is perhaps the most basic - and important - well-being consideration of all. This is new to all of us, Brown says, and “new is hard.” Remember to give yourself a break.
For more tips on how to handle life during COVID, visit our remote work landing page.
Written by Laurel-Ann Dooley