With so many of us working remotely and generally spending time apart, how can we take care of our mental, emotional and social wellbeing?
Working from home…
This used to be a statement of freedom and flexibility. In the era of COVID-19 it’s becoming a phrase that brings up mixed emotions and logistical complexity.
Here in the UK we don’t yet know a timeline, but likely in the coming weeks and months many people will be working remotely either by requirement or by preference.
Reframe the phrase
It may seem minor but the language we use can influence our experience of this situation. Terms like “isolating”, “lockdown” and “social distancing” sound like fast tracks to anxiety and loneliness.
For the sake of our sanity it’s important that we get clear about what we are really doing and for what purpose: physically distancing ourselves to help minimise transmission risk. We can choose to talk about it as being physically distant and socially connected.
Which leads us to …
Get socially creative
The ability to maintain social connection is fortunately right at our fingertips. I’ve taken heart hearing inspiring stories of people pulling together and lifting each others’ spirits, such as through the musical stylings of these apartment residents in Italy.
This unique situation is becoming an opportunity to reach out to people and be together in ways we might never have considered.
Phone calls just might be coming back in style — we can call and talk to simply check in and share how things are going. We can ‘dine digitally’ and share a meal with loved ones through a video chat. We can watch tv shows or movies simultaneously with friends and family and debrief it over group chats. (If it’s a silly show…even better. We may need some good distraction from the other aspects of this situation that are beyond our control.)
Be generous and reach out
Chances are that someone else we care about is feeling anxious or overwhelmed during this time, too. Who might need to hear from you today? A message or a call to check in with a teammate, relative, or friend can add up to keep our social fabric strong.
It’s also one way to take us out of unhelpful rumination or thought patterns that don’t serve us very well. Equally it can let us process out loud with a trusted person some of the more decisions and emotions we’re navigating.
Care for the basics
This could be a chance to to focus in on basic building blocks of good health and to experiment with new routines.
What works for each of us will vary, but in general there are some key places to pay attention when we’re working remotely.
- Take many breaks during the day to move and stretch, especially when feeling cooped up or tense.
- Reach for nutritious foods.
- Keep glasses of water near your work area to stay hydrated.
- Support your sleep hygiene (e.g. probably wise to steer clear of terrifying news articles right before bed.)
- Lean on soothing meditation practices such as those offered in apps like Headspace or Calm.
Caring for our basics is not only physically healthy — it can help us feel more in control and proactive during an uncertain time.
Connect to your environment
This could mean many different things. If we’re working at home we can do some small things to make it more pleasant to be in. Music in the background can be used to relax or energise us. (Yo-Yo Ma radio has been my selection lately.) Look out at your window for nature; even in the center of a metropolis we can find tiny yet mighty displays of nature like plants pushing through cracks in the pavement, flower buds forming, or the texture of clouds overhead.
These things can serve as reminders that we are part of a much bigger web and help to keep a more balanced perspective.
Set boundaries to be on duty / off duty with work
When working remotely it’s easy for the work and home elements to bleed together. We don’t get the same transition and separation as we would when venturing out.
If you’ve ever had a work-from-home day where you look up from your laptop after several hours of calls and it’s suddenly noon and you’re still in your pajamas and haven’t yet eaten breakfast or showered, you know what I’m talking about.
Experiment with ways to define for yourself when you’re “on” for work and when you’re switching off. I find that I have to change rooms in my flat to mark when I’m in work mode vs. not. And I have to close my laptop and leave it in the other room to separate from it and wind down.
Ask for help
We are in a fluid and unknown time in many respects. We may need to actively remind ourselves that even if we’re not in our usual forms of being together, we are not by ourselves. Raise your hand if you’re struggling and let a trusted person know. Notice who and what are reliable support resources for you. Working with a coach and / or a therapist may be other important avenues during this time.
Caring for ourselves mentally, emotionally and socially isn’t trivial. It’s exactly what will help us buoy ourselves and each other instead of sinking into a state of scarcity, disconnection and depression.
My hope is that we will use this as an opportunity to collectively recognise how vital it is to care for our health and our relationships. In doing so we may just shift our post-pandemic culture for the better.