Anna Shea, Counsellor at the University Counselling Service shares her top tips for working from home during a global pandemic.
Many of us are now working from home, and if you’ve been finding it increasingly hard to focus on your work, you’re not alone. That’s not a surprise - we’re living in genuinely traumatic times, and it’s impacting all of us, in a variety of ways.
Perhaps you’re stuck on your own during the lockdown – or perhaps you’ve got a full house at home, including kids who need your time and attention. Maybe you and a friend or partner are now suddenly living together, 24/7, and both trying to work remotely. You may be looking after relatives or neighbours who need your practical help, or you may be relying on others if you’re shielding. There will be lots of tricky bits to deal with in any of these situations.
Other changes will include not being able to fall back on many of the routines, structures and strategies that we build up to help us get stuck into working when we need to – and on top of that, we can lose sight of how to enjoy our time off when we’re taking a break.
So we’ve all lost our ordinary lives, for the moment. Many of us will also have lost our plans for breaks at Easter or in the summer – and might be finding it hard to hold onto something to look forward to. You may even have found that staying at home quite suits you, and you’re dreading the change when we ‘go back to normal’. All of these changes involve loss, and whenever there’s loss to deal with, we feel grief. I think everyone is currently being affected by that feeling, on some level.
Here are a few ideas that might be helpful while we’re trying to get through this very strange situation.
- Acknowledge your feelings
We’d expect it to be hard for someone who is experiencing grief - and a whole bunch of other difficult emotions - to manage to be productive and organised, so please cut yourself some slack. It’s completely reasonable (if uncomfortable) to be feeling fearful/depressed/frustrated/overwhelmed/exhausted right now. It maybe sounds a bit odd, but - relax, and let yourself be anxious!
- Don’t keep quiet about the problem
Talk with colleagues/managers/mentors if you’re really finding it hard to keep up with your work – and do it today. Let them help you! Telling people that we’re struggling can seem like a step we’d rather put off until things are really bad, but often we’re just avoiding facing up to the problem – and in the meantime, it gets worse. It feels so much better to stop beating ourselves up for not managing to sort things out on our own, and instead let people know we need their support.
- Try to do less work
Yes, really! Sitting staring hopelessly at an open laptop for 12 hours a day is not going to get emails answered or projects written up. If this is where you’re at, things have gone beyond whether or not you have the ‘willpower’ to make yourself work. Instead, shut down your open documents and do something else. Or even - do nothing! It’s important to let your mind have a proper rest from the pressure and stress of the situation. It can help to set yourself a daily ration of time to work in, and tackle it in short chunks. Choose a start time in advance for each work period, and set a timer to make sure you stop working after, say, 20 or 30 minutes. It’s important to stop when your timer goes off, and have a break. If you’re stuck feeling unable to work, you need to re-set your ability to focus, and this is a good way to begin that process. Giving yourself permission to work in little bursts can also be useful when you’re trying to manage the often impossible task of parenting and working at the same time,
- You’re a social animal!
Humans need to be in connection with other humans – it’s crucial to our wellbeing. So think ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’, and interact as much as you can. Hang out, play, cook, dance and laugh with others if you’re not living alone. If you are on your own, or missing people you care about, make time every day to get in touch with friends and family. Use an app that lets you see each other if you can - it’s a much more meaningful connection than texting. If you’re thinking about setting up an online coffee time, a working-quietly-together session, a weekend drinks-with-friends evening, a quiz night – DO IT! The other people you invite were probably trying to get round to organising something themselves, and will be glad you asked. Doing things for others is the one thing that makes us feel most connected and less lonely - which makes us feel better, which makes it easier to cope with this weird time - and to focus on the work you need to get through.
- You need to move it, move it
Movement doesn’t just keep us fit, it helps us to regulate our emotions, especially repetitive, rhythmical movement like walking – our brains find it calming. Do two good things for yourself at once and call a friend when you’re out on a walk, or exercise together online. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, pay attention to your breathing – we tend to speed up when we’re not feeling okay. Concentrating on breathing in a relaxed and regular way helps to take the edge off the anxiety.
- Reach out!
Helping yourself is a great plan - and looking for external help when you need it is a great plan, too. The Counselling Service is currently open to Staff as well as students, and we can speak with you online or on the phone – please get in touch if you’d like to. The Multi-faith Chaplaincy are hosting a weekly virtual Staff café, to give you the chance to socialise and chat. Find contact details for the above here: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/students/support/index.php
- Remember: you’ll get through this
Remind yourself of other times when you’ve managed difficult situations – you can manage this one, too. Things may be really challenging now, but they won’t always be. Even after a trauma, everything can be alright again.