This guest blog is from Dr Reena Vohora, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist with 15 years’ experience of working in a range of mental health services. She completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford and also holds an academic post.
Lockdown 2.0 has just finished and we’re now into a nationwide tiered system of restrictions. The impact of Covid-19 has resulted in numerous changes to our personal, working and social lives. What a joyous way to start this I hear you say(!), however, there are things that we can put in place to establish and maintain those important barriers between our working day and personal life (this blog does get more positive I promise!).
Working practices have changed for many of us, which might mean that you are now working from home and finding that your time spent working is slowly encroaching into what would have been time to train, chill out or spend with loved ones. Routine and structure is comforting for us and research tells us changes to these (especially when guidance is constantly changing) can leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed or unsure how or where to start as well as activating different parts of our brains…argh! As a Clinical Psychologist and someone who is practising using different ways of adapting, I am sharing some tips that may help with managing changes to our working lives:
Try to stick to your ‘pre-covid’ morning routine
This might sound a bit odd and I am aware of the temptation of repeatedly hitting the snooze button but try to wake up and shower at the time you would have normally and follow your usual morning routine in order to get ready for your working day (even though you’ll be at home). Although it may be incredibly tempting to work in your cosy PJ’s or a big comfy hoodie, dressing in clothes that you associate with work can help with creating boundaries and preparation of our mindset for the tasks ahead. It goes without saying that a good cup of strong coffee is a part of our morning routines for lots of us and that first cup of steaming goodness is often something that we look forward to!
Try to create separate spaces for work and chill-out time
We are all going to have different home set-ups but if you can, it can be really helpful to create distinct spaces for work and pleasure. If you’re having to work in your living space (as opposed to a separate office), try putting your work related equipment or documents out of sight once you have finished working or use some sort of a screen to create a sense of separation. Although it can be tempting to cosy up in bed and send a few emails… don’t do it! It is important to keep any associations with work firmly out of the bedroom!
Plan in regular breaks and consider scheduling in periods of activity during the day
If you previously had to commute to work, you could consider adding in a walk or physical activity before you start work to get you moving and staying active! Also, ensure that you are having regular breaks during the day as screen fatigue is definitely a thing… can you add in a couple of walking meetings if you don’t need to be sat at a screen? Can you plan your day so that you are splitting up screen time with other tasks? Perhaps see this as an opportunity to be creative and try news ways of working and don’t forget time for those important coffee breaks!
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health!
It is really important that we pay attention to our mental well-being as well as thinking about ways to maintain our fitness and physical health. It can help to plan in a bit of time for enjoyment and relaxation each day (having things to look forward to is good!). Staying connected with friends and loved ones is important… yes, we need to physically distance but social connection via alternative means is key! There are also lots of apps with guided scripts for meditation exercises and relaxation. If that’s not something that appeals, how about trying a new hobby, listening to a podcast or doing something creative? Can you take time out to chill and enjoy a cup of coffee with a good book without rushing or being distracted?
Watch those ever growing to-do lists!
We need to keep our basic human needs relating to nutrition, sleep and psychological safety in mind. When our usual circumstances are turned upside down, it can be hard to continually push our levels of self-development and productivity. If you’re finding that your to-do lists are unmanageable or getting longer, perhaps take some time out to review the tasks you have written down and a realistic timescale for completing them. Does everything on your to-do list really need to be completed today? Are all of the tasks on your list as essential? Are there some tasks that can be broken down into more manageable parts?
Fuel your mind and body appropriately!
Some people say that they ‘forget’ to eat or drink when they are busy. Now, this I cannot understand as personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about coffee and food! In all seriousness though, it is really important that we continue to eat and hydrate regularly. Remember that having a few mouthfuls of something while sending an email is not a lunch break- try and step away from the keyboard and have a proper break. As well as breaks being important for our physical health and cognitive functioning, we are much less likely to enjoy what we are eating and drinking if we’re distracted at the time.
Try to keep to your working hours
Without as many social outlets it can be tempting to work a bit longer and then finding that you’ve worked long into the evening with little time to wind-down before bed. Not only is this likely to impact on your sleep, it is really important to have down-time to still do the things that you enjoy. If you find it hard to stop work at a decent time, can you plan something in for your evening? For example, can you arrange to train at a specific time and maybe arrange an online session with a friend? Can you schedule in a FaceTime call or catch-up with a friend? Can you ask your partner/family member to remind you to stop (or actually take your laptop/work phone away from you)?!
Hopefully the above tips might help but also remember not to be too hard on yourself - there are likely to be days that feel more difficult than others. We’re all in this together … stay connected with friends and loved ones and ensure you reach out for help if you need it (you can speak to your GP and the NHS website has some great resources - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/).
Dr Reena Vohora has a specialist interest in supporting well-being and resilience and can be contacted via the email address below for enquiries relating to either arranging individual or team based psychological support (please note that clinical support cannot be provided via email).