Never thought you'd see the day you were not only working from home, but so was your partner, or roommate? All perhaps alongside some impromptu home schooling for your kids?

Coronavirus has changed our work day. How to navigate and maintain your mental health?

1. Accept you will have to be flexible.

Advice to ‘keep as much routine as possible’ looks good on paper, and might work for some people.

But for the rest of us, particularly those with kids? It’s also pretty unrealistic. In fact trying to be all ‘routine as usual’ in times like these can just lead to frustration, meltdowns, and feeling a failure.

Accepting that there will be new challenges and it might be messy at times, on the other hand, frees up your headspace to find new and creative ways forward.

So yes, it does make sense to get up at the same time as usual, and perhaps make effort to get out of your pyjamas (most days... it’s okay to benefit from the occassional joy of knowing your boss can’t see over Skype that despite the ironed shirt, beneath the table you have on sleepwear!).

But it might also make sense to 'tag team' with work hours and 'kid hours', meaning some days might start earlier or end later.

2. Be all about priorities.

On a work level, this means choosing a limited number of priorities each day then accepting that many others might not get done and that that is okay. You can only do your best.

But it's also prudent to make a list of things that just are not life priorities in general right now, and post it where you see it often, to remind yourself to relax. These can include good hair and makeup, responding to every email, being a perfect Mum or Dad, having a six pack, quitting swearing, and impressing your colleagues.

In other words, be all about priorities, and lower expectations. A global pandemic is not the time for perfection.

3. Use the best tool you already have.

Hand sanitiser? Well, sure… but when it comes to work the answer is…. the free timer function on your phone. Time and the loss of it drives a lot of our daily stress.

Perhaps you are already using a timer with a ’45 on, 15 minute off’ kind of productivity routine. Great.

But a timer can also work to maintain wellbeing. Consider things like:

  1. Integrating a five-minute wellbeing activity when the timer goes off each hour, like mindfulness, exercise, deep breathing, or muscle relaxation.
  2. Timing how much time you spend on ‘urgent’ emails and calls with friends and family so you don’t feel drained during your work day.
  3. An alarm going off for ‘social time’ with a partner or flatmate and stipulating no talking until then.
  4. Buying good behaviour from kids by timing things for them and making it a game including rewards ("five extra minutes of TV later for each 40-minute stint of homework or reading quietly").
  5. "Challenges" with partners or roommates to keep you going... for example, seeing who can answer the most emails in 15 minutes.

4. Delegate.

If you are working for a company from home, then there will of course be the same delegation with colleagues as ever.

But a pandemic and working at home is a time to delegate things you usually don't. What matters is getting work done, keeping your job, and keeping afloat. So this might mean more of the housework goes to your partner now, even if you are better at it. And more of the childcare, or all of it, if they don't have to work.

And delegate things to the kids, even if they don’t do it perfectly. It can be good for their morale to feel they are helping, so an imperfect sandwich for lunch made by your ten year-old can be a double win.

5. Keep boundaries.

Yes, it’s a complicated time. And yes, depending on your job, perhaps you might have to do a bit of overtime, accommodate work calls outside of normal hours, or cover for a sick colleague.

But just because it is a pandemic does not mean you have to become a carpet, saying yes to everything until you are drained and jeopardising your wellbeing.

If your manager or boss is making unreasonable demands, then you have to speak up. Keep calm, let them know you are doing your best, but stipulate what you can and can’t do, and what hours you need to yourself to maintain good health.

6. And make some of those boundaries literal.

Also consider space boundaries in your household. If you are working with several people in one room, this can mean using tape on the floor or rearranging furniture.

Consider giving your younger kids a ‘work space’ as well, so they can feel part of things as they do their homework.

And make a boundary between work/not work space. Perhaps keep one couch as ‘relax only’, or make sure nobody works in your bedroom.

7. Have an exterior ‘download buddy’.

If your 'go to' person for work stress was usually your partner, and now you are stuck at home together? It's best to find someone outside the household.

The secret here is to have clear limits and both participate equally, so nobody feels used. Keep it professional. Have a two-minute timed ‘negativity dump’ about work that the other can’t interrupt. Then they take their turn. If it has to be by text due to lack of privacy to talk? Then still have limits, such as ten texts only, that you promise to delete immediately after. Let yourself be outrageous, you'll feel lighter for it.

8. Accept differences.

Yes, maybe you've found a perfect 'working at home structure' for you. But if your partner or roommate has a different style -- if they wake up late, work in the night, or work lounging on the couch -- that's up to them.

One of the biggest differences to accept can be if you are stuck working at home, but others in your household have been given time off and are in 'lounge mode'. Instead of being resentful, admit to them you are jealous and ask for their support. They might help you in ways you didn't expect.

9. Make a daily check-in part of your routine.

At the office there is a daily check-in with colleagues. A similar tradition can be helpful to try with everyone you are now locked down with.

Consider five minutes checking in each morning not just around daily goals, but also with how everyone is feeling on a scale of one to ten, and what could raise that number. This can be followed with another check-in at dinner that can touch on how things are and aren’t working for everyone.

Feel you have nobody to talk to now you are with your partner and family all day? Really need unbiased support from someone who 'gets' your stress? Book an online therapy session now.

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Andrea Blundell is an editor and lead writer with Harley Therapy, with training in coaching and person-centred counselling. She has worked from home for over twenty years.

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