Updated: Jan 19, 2022
By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC Posted on May 3, 2020
Welcome to Q&A Today, the second edition of a new column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times.
Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column.
Q: Hi Eileen, I am having a hard time adjusting to working from home, amid the pandemic. I find that I am often unproductive and feeling guilty about that, or that I sit at my desk for far too long and work overtime to compensate. Do you have any advice for navigating the work/home life balance when the physical place is the same? Thanks for your column – Jan
A: Hi Jan,
Welcome to the new upside down normal. In what seemed like an instant, you went from a predictable office setting to working from home. There is a learning curve involved with figuring out how to make these pandemic times as comfortable as possible for yourself. It’s going to take time to adjust to new schedules and routines.
Let’s explore why that is. If you’re one who thrives working in a traditional environment, complete with peer collaboration that feeds your creativity and enjoys the stimulation that comes from the exchange of social repartee with colleagues, you’ll likely be missing the routines, people and activities that existed when you worked in an office setting. Innovative planning can satisfy your needs that were previously met in the office and reduce the stress that accompanies working from home. You described a common but disruptive emotional reaction to working at home: falling into a pattern of underworking, followed by guilty feelings, and then compensating by overworking. Uncertainty of how to cope with the many new and unknown challenges can trigger these responses. I caution you – this cycle can be detrimental to one’s mental health. You can prevent feeling emotionally overwhelmed by starting off each day focusing your energy on challenges in a productive way. In other words, focus on what you can control, such as your daily work related goals. Having a daily list of things to do with specific goals will shift your thinking from worrying about potential disappointments to being more focused and optimistic about what you want to accomplish that day.
Part of your struggle to find a good work/personal life balance may be influenced by the loss of social interaction with colleagues with whom you share respect and trust. Researchers believe that when people feel socially isolated from others, the area of the brain that is activated is the same as if physical pain had been experienced. Don’t allow this to occur to you.
Do what you can to maintain these interpersonal relationships. Connect with colleagues via phone or videoconferences. Contact them on your scheduled breaks and compare notes on how each are doing. Such activities will leave you feeling refreshed.
Celebrate accomplishing big goals with a personal ‘attagirl’ moment: The celebration can be brief – treating yourself to a walk around the block to feel the sun on your face or notice a tree in bloom. Or it can be a few minutes listening to music or reading the newspaper.
In the office setting you probably got up from your desk and walked to different locations, having hardly noticed that the breaks and social interactions in your routine allowed you to recharge.
But now, at home, you will need to intentionally build these recharging moments into your routine. Reflecting on your accomplishments during the day allows you to create positive feelings about yourself and your situation, which in turn will help with the productivity you seek.
Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to commute to work. Use this time to rethink your working hours. Do you have any flexibility in your work hours that would be advantageous for you? Perhaps there is an online exercise class you would like to join in the middle of the day. Or a religious organisation that has midday online services, which would provide spiritual grounding during these troubled times.
Strengthen the boundaries between work and home by wearing work related clothing for work and casual clothing when you finally log out of your last work email for the day. View the outfit change as an imposing stop sign. Nothing from work gets beyond it. Resist the temptation to slide in to work mode or check and respond to work-related emails until the next workday. You may find this difficult to do, but with time this new habit will reinforce boundaries between your work and personal life. These boundaries will help retain your inner balance and calm.
At the conclusion of each day reflect on your accomplishments. Your goal may not be to attain perfection. If your mind wandered from work during the day or you threw in a couple loads of laundry when you should have been completing a report, don’t beat yourself up. Keep in mind that you’re still learning this new routine. Be kind to yourself. Creating new rituals that will help you work at home is a process. In time you will develop stronger practices in your work/home life balance that will bring you comfort and both personal and professional satisfaction.
Yours truly, Eileen
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events.
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