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June 9, 2020

4 Tips for Maintaining Wellness While Working from Home

Since moving to a remote workforce, Julia Read and her coworkers at CMHAWW Self Help and Peer Support Team have had ups and downs. They shared their tips for maintaining wellness while working from home as workplaces continue to practice social distancing.

Today we’re living in unprecedented times. In the midst of a global pandemic, we’re facing rapid and widespread lifestyle changes. We have new social conformations, new work set ups, new health concerns….but what we don’t have is a clear guide to finding and maintaining wellness during this novel moment.  

In particular, many of us are suddenly working from home after years of going into an office. Like many of my peers, the idea of working from home sounded great at first. No commuting expenses, a home cooked lunch, and zero travel time are enticing offers. But after 12 weeks of typing away in my home office, I’m beginning to feel a little frazzled. I miss my co-workers, I miss the peer workers I support, and with clear no end to this pandemic in sight, I’m beginning to worry that I’ll need to accept working from home as my new reality.

I have been experiencing a shift in the way I think about work.  I begin my day with breakfast and then head upstairs to my make-shift office – a guest room with a fold up desk against one wall and a twin bed against the other. This is where I spend the next 8 hours (minus the hour for lunch when I cook a nice meal because, wow! I now have time to do that). At the end of my day, even though I leave my “work” space it doesn’t really ever feel like I have left my job. Without any commuting time, I feel I never really transitioned from my work persona to my personal life persona. I feel like I am switched on and in work mode all the time.

As a team, one of the ways we have adapted to this new set-up is by connecting each morning to check-in with each other to exchange ideas and trouble shoot any issues or concerns. During this morning huddle recently, I asked my team if they could relate to my dilemma.  We discussed the importance of having a work persona and referred to it as a force field. My teammates are truly the best, so naturally I wanted to share their insights into how they maintain their sense of wellness and manage work/life balance in this new pandemic professional landscape. 

Here are some of their insights: 

1.The importance of a routine

Humans are creatures of habit. Research has shown that establishing routine can help 

reduce stress levels, improve sleep and physical health and even increase productivity. Simply by reducing the number of decisions you need to make in a day, you can reduce the amount of stressand time involved with daily planning. Our Peer Navigator Tonya shared the routine they’ve established to help them cope with this transition to a new routine of working from home: 

“I transition in the morning by making my bed, feeding the dog, letting him out, a daily reflection reading, I take a few deep breaths, make a coffee, grab water and turn on the computer and phone.  At end of day, I write out a few things about the day that stand out and take a few deep breaths and a say small thank you prayer.” – Tonya Evans, Peer Navigator

Here’s a list of tips from Healthline how to maintain a routine while sheltering at home: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-to-keep-daily-routine-during-covid19-shelter-in-place 

2. Having clear work/life boundaries

Having clear work/life boundaries has been proven to reduce the risk of burn out and compassion fatigue. As helpers, we genuinely want to help the people that we support. This can sometimes lead to working outside of our regular work hours. We often take on the emotional pain from the people we walk alongside which can leave us feeling heavy and exhausted at the end of a workday. Meghan, our Site Facilitator, offers her way of leaving work at work. 

“I transition in the morning and end of day by going into my backyard. I visualize a force field or bubble that is flexible but keeps out a good part of the pain I hear about and potentially absorb each day. This helps me transition mentally. Then I come back in to my kitchen table where I assemble my computer and greet the work day. At the end of the day I go back to the backyard and visualize the bubble dissolving. Then I come back inside, put my computer away and start my personal life again.” – Meghan Shuebrook, Site Facilitator

Here’s a guide to using mindfulness as a way to enforce better work/life boundaries from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/biofeedback-and-mindfulness-in-everyday-life/202003/77-strategies-working-home-during-covid-192

3. Creating a workspace from home

While it is ideal to create a dedicated space to set up a home office, this is not always possible.  If you live in a small space, you have to get creative about how you can use a particular space for multiple purposes. Our Peer Navigator, Kayleigh, shares how she has been balancing living in a small space, homeschooling her child, and working full time.  

“I do not live in a space that has a setup for a home office, so I spend my days sitting at the kitchen table or closed in my room when I need a private space. This really blurs the lines between work and personal life sometimes. I do not have much of a transition into work mode. I get up, I do whatever for a little bit, make breakfast and set my child up to do his school work for the day. I try to maintain as much of our prior morning routine as possible, though that does not always happen.  I turn on my computers and its work time. It feels like the transition out of work mode back to my personal life is the area that I struggled with the most. I found myself checking emails all the time. Therefore, I made a very concrete plan. At the end of the day, I close my computers and tuck them aside – giving me back my kitchen as a kitchen, not an office. When the weather is nice, I get my child and we go for a short walk. This is my transition out of work to my personal life. Shut it down, walk away from it all and let it go for the night. When we cannot get out for a walk, the transition is to go and change my clothes. I need to something that is a physical shift from work to personal life. At the end of the day and at the end of the week, I put the computers in their bags and put them away in different room for the weekend.”

Here is a short video on creating a home office in a small space: 


4. Make a commitment to self-care

Self-care is our number one defense against burn out and compassion fatigue. Self-care can look like many things for many different people.  This highlights the point that it is really important that peer workers take the time to create a self-care plan that fits their unique and individual needs. I have shared my thoughts about the importance of self-care in uncertain times.

“At the beginning of the work day, I begin by checking emails and returning phone calls. This helps me transition into work mode. At the end of the day, it gets more difficult because I find myself continuing to answer emails. I catch myself thinking about my virtual interactions that I had during the day and I ask myself ‘was I empathetic enough? Was I actively listening enough, could I have done better?’ I find myself questioning my skill set now that all of my work has become virtual. I am learning to hang on to the new skills I am learning while letting go of the doubt.  I find that practicing self-care as part of my daily routine helps to mitigate some of my negative thoughts.’  – Julia Read, Practice Lead

Here are a few at-home self-care ideas: https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/healthnow/25-stay-at-home-self-care-ideas-during-covid-19

In a time where we are social and physically distancing, it seems that as a team, we are finding the need to create more social and emotional connection. I think perhaps connection might be the silver lining to the crisis we are living through. I have heard many people say ‘we are in this together’ but I don’t think that represents everyone. I think we need to make a concerted and an intentional effort to practice inclusivity and create virtual peer spaces where no one feels excluded. 

The peer workers from the Self Help & Peer Support team wish that you and your loved ones are safe, healthy, and well!

Thank you for reading,

Julia, Kayleigh, Meghan and Tonya from the Self Help and Peer Support Team, CMHAWW

Additional Wellness Resources:

For support around Mental Health and Addiction, Wellness Together Canada has a website to help people deal with the emotional, physical and financial stress relating to COVID-19. 

https://ca.portal.gs/

Wellness Together Canada has put together a few toolkits and is completely free of charge. The toolkit includes a wellness self-assessment and tracking tool, a self-guided course, group coaching and community support, and counselling via text or phone

The Chopra Center has a great guideline with suggestions on fostering wellness during the pandemic that includes strategies to help manage anxiety.

https://chopra.com/articles/at-home-wellness-guide-to-staying-healthy-during-covid-19

Psychology Today has written an article with an 11 step guide on wellness and coping during the pandemic.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/empowered-relief/202003/the-covid-19-wellness-and-coping-toolkit

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