The world is in pandemic mode and we are all scrambling to adapt to the new normal. Many of us are already working from home, and multi-tasking like never before. Unfortunately, it looks like we might have to continue to work remotely for months, if not years. In this new world, managing our mental health—how well we cope with the isolation, our happiness quotient, and the degree to which we're stressed—is more important now than ever. Also, Many of us are first-time telecommuters or have worked from home rarely, so all of this is leading to higher levels of stress and anxiety.
Here are 7 Ideas to Chase the Quarantine Blues Away:
1. Set a routine and stick to it.
The secret to being productive while working from home is a well-structured routine. Everything from the time you wake up and the hours you spend on a task to your snack and social media breaks should be planned in advance. Rolling out of bed and heading straight to your work desk? Not a good idea. Your morning routine, breakfast, coffee, bath, exercise, etc. are very important. And if you didn’t have these habits, now is the time to start.
Routines work because they leave little space for daydreaming, random catch-up calls with friends, and mindless scrolls through Instagram—all distractions that reduce productivity and induce panic and stress. Instead, account for chores, personal calls, afternoon naps, etc. in your schedule. This way, you will be able to have your cake and eat it too.
Tip: don’t cram personal tasks into work hours. If you’re expected to work an 8-hour day, you’ll probably need to set a 14-hour schedule to include work as well as personal tasks like cleaning, cooking, taking the dog out, etc.
Being attentive and productive during the afternoon is our biggest challenge—scheduling all your video calls and group huddles at this time should help. Try to avoid writing or reading tasks during the afternoon.
Dress up for work, even if you’re not stepping out. You don’t need to go all suit and tie and Oxfords, a clean ironed shirt with trousers or chinos will do. At the very least, this habit will save you from scrambling for better clothes when your boss suggests an impromptu video conference with a client. Plus, dressing up for work puts you in work mode faster. Because what you wear and the attitude you have about it affects both the quality of your work and the time it takes to get it done. Don’t simply take our word for it, this research says clothes can have a positive effect on cognitive performance—so simply slipping out of your PJs and putting on something more office appropriate, can make you feel smarter and perform better.
2. Eat right and exercise.
Fighting off Covid-19 requires a strong immune system and that requires us to eat healthy. Instead, too many urban dwellers are hard at work binging on those chips, colas, and cookies like The Rock on cheat days. Call it stress-eating or cheat days, it’s not an ideal diet if there’s nothing healthy or nourishing in the fridge. Let’s not forget, stress eating has severe negative effects on your health.
The WHO suggests including a good quantity of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. These can be easily frozen and stored for longer periods. Dried and canned pulses, whole grains and starchy roots, dried fruits and nuts, and eggs are good if you want to maintain a balanced diet Consider reducing your intake for salt, sugar, fats, and alcohol during the quarantine or otherwise.
In India, we prefer freshly cooked meals thrice a day, so meal prepping hasn’t gathered much momentum. However, the current circumstances demand that we plan our meals in advance, buy groceries for at least a week, and cook portions of an entire week’s meals in one go. This saves you multiple trips to the supermarket plus time you can use doing other tasks.
Tip: Schedule breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner times on a calendar to get timely and regular doses of nourishment. Plus, you can also use apps like Plant Nanny to get your water reminders.
Staying healthy starts in the kitchen, but a lot of it also happens on the mat or the treadmill. While you can’t head to the gym or your favourite pilates studio right now, there are numerous exercises and activities like online yoga that you can enjoy within the comfort of your home.
In addition to protecting your body and boosting immunity, physical exercise also helps you stay mentally healthy. Plus, if you’re having difficulty sleeping, the right amount of exercise will tire you enough to get you a good night’s rest.
3. Keep your body and mind healthy.
Going to office each day creates a physical separation between your personal and professional life. While working from home during the pandemic, this distinction has become blurry—we work at night and do chores during the day; we take calls while bathing the children and join in on conferences while cooking. This is turning us all into anxious wrecks.
One simple way to solve this problem is to create a separate space where you’ll do most of your work. Call this your work-station as long as the lockdown lasts. Got a spare room? Set it up with a table, a comfortable chair, your books, laptop, and other work accessories. Living in the city in tiny apartments? A tea-table in a nice corner near the window should do the trick.
Moving into your working space will switch you on for the day and moving out should switch you off. Once you’ve logged off for the day, avoid using this space for other activities. The temptation to check your inbox is stronger than you think—just once and, before you know it, you’ve spent a few extra hours on work.
Being stuck in quarantine with children, dogs, parents, and the TV means a lot of loud distractions. To avoid being disturbed and having occasional fits of anger, use noise cancellation headphones or tune in to these peaceful nature sounds when you work.
4. Challenge and reward yourself.
When you find yourself lacking motivation and energy to get through the day, a challenge and reward system will help. Set this up when you’re scheduling your day.
This system works because when we feel appreciated at the end of a task, it lifts our spirits, and we’re more energised than ever to do more. Appreciation works better when it comes from other people, but practising self-motivation with rewards, positive comments, and a smile goes a long way too.
Whenever you complete a small task like replying to an email or calling a colleague for some data, treat yourself to a 10-minute stretching routine or a coffee break. Rewards for more challenging tasks like completing an article you’ve been writing or analysing data for a sales report can be bigger—think movie night with your spouse, an extra hour with your PlayStation, an at-home spa, or an extra serving of dessert.
Tip: Try not to reward yourself with food and snacks every time you accomplish a goal—we certainly don’t want that extra quarantine-weight.
5. Get your dose of (virtual) meet-and-greets.
One of the biggest problems of working from home—few, if any, in-person meetings with your team. But with lockdown in effect and a virus on the loose, we can’t hangout with colleagues, friends, extended family—anyone but the people already in our home. This has left us wishing for more personal interactions with everyone from close family to not-so-favourite colleagues.
There’s an easy solution—regular video calls to exchange office banter and talk about new ideas and projects.
Your friends and colleagues might be taking this quarantine a little hard too. Be sure to check on them and help them release the stress and anxiety they’ve been piling up. Now is the time we offer our assistance, even if it means a simple phone call, to everyone in our circle.
Tip: Create a group with your colleagues where everyone can discuss problems they’re facing and offer to help one another.
6. Develop a post-work ritual.
Successful people do several things differently, and one of them is carving out time to rest. It’s natural to think that the most successful people are always working—how else do they make so much money? The truth will surprise you. The world’s most successful people not only invest time relaxing and rejuvenating, but they also schedule and plan for it. We’ve heard it several times—all work and no play makes Jack one hell of a dull person. With the quarantine and never-ending piles of chores, we tend to carry forward our work tasks into personal time. This obviously leads to elevated levels of stress and anxiety when working from home. But that needs to stop. One way to draw the line is to start a post-work ritual that tells your brain to switch off from “work-mode” completely.
We’re talking anything that relaxes you. Maybe an exercise routine or a nice long bath does the trick. Some find reading a book relaxing, others choose to cook a family dinner. You can tune in to the radio, dance to your favourite tune, or hop on to a call with a loved one. Simply changing into some comfortable pyjamas can signal your brain to shut-off from work.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Thinking, says his routine includes making a list of all the remaining tasks, shutting down his computer, and then saying the magic phrase, “Schedule shutdown, complete.” He goes on to explain that if a work-related task pops into his mind, or he gets an email post the shutdown, he simply tells himself that he’s said the termination phrase—no work in my personal time!
For professionals in extremely demanding jobs, completely shutting off from work might not be possible. At such times, you can stay available for any emergencies, or if you have to attend a call with a client half-way around the world. What you shouldn’t do is try to complete other tasks while you wait—it’s okay to work on them the next day.
Tip: Watching 6 hours of TV after work and listening to every Covid-19 news on the planet isn’t the most ideal way to relax.
7. Be yourself.
We all have that friend or colleague who has suddenly become a chef, a fitness enthusiast, a minimalist, an interior designer, or a DIY guru. All this while acing work. Keeping up with these colleagues and the million social media trends today is probably one of the biggest stressors for people working from home.
But don’t be so hard on yourself. This is the time to look inward and understand your true needs and desires. Set schedules, meals, goals, and rewards to match your requirements—it’s okay if they are not worth boasting about on social media. Remember that you’re new to working from home and plan accordingly. Things will only get worse if you try to bite off more than you can chew.
Meditation and breathing exercises help you find your core and deal with sudden anxiety attacks. Find solace in a friend or talk to a qualified therapist about any issues.*
Above all, be kind to yourself. Trying to match pace with the world can leave you seriously fatigued, stressed, and anxious. If you feel you’re losing track of yourself, take 30 minutes off your schedule and pen down what really makes you happy, some of your strengths, and maybe even your weaknesses. Remind yourself of your life’s vision and plan for when the current situation becomes better.
COVID-19 isn’t going to be around forever. Use this time to build some skills, reconnect with friends and family (or just with yourself). The tough times will soon be behind us—stay strong now, and stay safe.
Further Reading: 'The Road to Happiness is Paved With Positive Storytelling' by Akhil Kakkar in YourStory.com