It may feel like life during Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an insurmountable challenge, with demands to work from home, worries about people you love, and a feeling of hopelessness. While I can’t make this all go away (I’d have to be more than an ordinary psychotherapist!), I do have some tips for coping on a daily basis and how to feel better.
Working from home may sound great: PJs, Netflix, and baking all day. For some people who are furloughed because they can’t do their jobs from home, that may be reality. But most people will be expected to actually work and be productive.
Tips for working from home productively.
The following tips for working at home during the coronavirus outbreak are also useful for people who routinely work from home. How do you manage the inherent lack of structure in working from home?
Impose your own structure!
Unstructured time is no one’s friend! Works fine for a few days of vacation, but it you’re not in a new city or on the beach, it can be unsettling. So impose your own structure, to help organize your day and thoughts.
Make your bed in the morning. This small act of discipline sets the tone for your day and can help set a boundary for yourself, so you don’t nap during the day or work from your bed.
Have a set starting time for your workday. Not just whenever you amble over to your computer or your colleague calls. Work with your boss, colleagues, and clients to determine what makes the most sense.
Take regular coffee breaks. Coffee breaks are a type of structure. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, take that time to check your personal emails, take a walk, read a chapter of a book, listen to some music you love, whatever you would normally do on a coffee break.
Make time for a relaxing lunch break and don’t eat at your desk while you work. Plan ahead and make it pleasant, so you know what you’re doing and eating. Take your lunch to a nearby park or other outdoor space, weather permitting. Or move to another location in your home, and use silverware and china, so you make it a bit special and have a separation between your work and home. If you have an Instant Pot or other slow cooker, set it up in the morning to make a comforting soup or other easy meal, so you have a lovely lunch waiting for you without taking away from your work day to cook.
Set a quitting time for your workday. Set it after discussion with your coworkers and supervisor. Notify your coworkers, supervisor, and clients about your quitting time. Working from home doesn’t mean being available 24/7. If appropriate, set up out-of-office email notifications and outgoing voicemail messages. Setting a boundary is important when working from home, to ensure your work doesn’t bleed into your personal life.
Have a dedicated work space. Make it comfortable and, if possible, not your bedroom. You want to have a separation between your sleeping area and your working area, to help prevent work concerns from keeping you awake at night and to avoid napping when you need to be working! Gather the things you need to make it work for you: reference books, an end table or chair to put things on, etc. If you and a partner, roommate, or child are sharing space during work hours or both working at home, work together to divvy up the space or stagger your work times, so that if one of you needs to be on a conference call, the other one doesn’t have to hear it. This requires communication and planning.
Set achievable goals each day. Maybe your goal is to finish a report, complete a section of a presentation or pitch, translate a document. Plan your workday accordingly.
Yes, to social distancing. No, to social isolation.
Nurture your workplace friendships. Check in by phone or video conferencing at times you would normally get together in person. Drink coffee and/or eat lunch together by phone or video. These connections don’t have to be work related, just as when you worked together in person, not every interaction was about work.
Get some fresh air. Take a walk for a break by phone with your work friend. Take the time to catch up and avoid the excessive solitude that working from home can sometimes involve, if you’re not careful.
If coffee shops and cafes are open in your city or town, work from there for a change of scenery, if not crowded and if your work doesn’t disturb the other patrons. Be sure to order something every hour and tip generously to support the business.
Take a break and call a good non-work friend who lives elsewhere to check in. Think of it as meeting a friend for lunch.
Maintain your professionalism.
Dress at least at a business casual level everyday. No starting the workday in pjs. You’ll feel better and remind yourself that you’re working. This makes it easier to be productive.
Dress appropriately for your business. This is especially important when video conferencing with clients, colleagues, and supervisors.
Set up a business-like space to hold your video conferences. If you live in a studio apartment, make sure your video partners don’t have a view of your bed! Curate your space to make sure it’s as professional looking in the frame as possible. Remove personal photos, etc. Close a door, so there are no kids or animals wandering in. Who will ever forget these charming young children wandering into the room when an expert was being interviewed for a news segment?
While we laughed watching it, we cringed for the expert being interviewed.
Check out your video conferencing set up ahead of time. Make sure you have something to prop your computer on, so it’s the right height and angle (not looking up your nostrils!) and the lighting is good. It’s not going to have the production values of a professional studio, but you can put some thought into making it work as well as possible.
Minimize distractions so you can be productive. Let your partner, roommate, or children know when you’ll be working and when you’ll be able to take a break to interact.
Tips for feeling better in a time of uncertainty.
How many of us experience uncertainty and upheaval as exciting? Very few! Most of us feel a sense of imbalance and disturbance. Here are some ways to feel better.
Be kind to someone else.
It sounds like a cliche, but the giver has the pleasure of giving, which is its own reward. Here’s a 2015 resource from an anonymous blogger. Many of these suggestions aren’t relevant for COVID-19, but plenty of them are. See which ones appeal to you.
If you can afford to, patronize your neighborhood places that are being hit hard with closings, reduced hours, reduced density. They probably had smaller profit margins to begin with, and are now feeling financial pain and uncertainty. Many of the owners of my favorite small neighborhood businesses are supposed to temporarily close, but the some of the owners I spoke with said that they may not be able to reopen. If you can order deliveries from your local restaurants, that may allow them to keep enough income to eventually reopen after the crisis.
Be creative in your methods of helping. Some restaurants and venues are selling gift cards that provide income during the closing, which will help with ongoing expenses, so they may be able to reopen.
If you can afford to, continue paying the service people that regularly help you during the times that they are unable to work. When they are able to work again, you can double up on service or have a credit that you use as you see fit. Talk with these professionals and propose how you’ve thought of helping. For example, I see a physical therapist every week for some chronic physical problems. He’s worked with me for many years and is unable to work during this period. I’ve offered to pay him for the sessions I’ll miss during COVID-19, and when he reopens his office, I’ll either see him twice a week or will just look at the payments I’ve made during COVID-19 as prepayments for later service. This is something you can do with your personal trainer, physical therapist, massage therapist, manicurist, hair stylist, etc.
Give the largest tip you can afford to give to cabbies, Uber and Lyft drivers. The work-from-home mandate is killing their business. A cabbie I spoke to yesterday said that the day before, he worked twelve hours and made less than his expenses for the day.
If you’re able, donate money to a local foodbank. They generally buy in bulk, so your dollars will have more impact than donated cans or beans will.
Pay to have a meal delivered to an elderly neighbor. If you make food and deliver it yourself, it may be contaminated if you’ve touched the container, etc.
Do what you can to boost morale—your own and others! I’ve watched these youtube videos from Italy more times than I can count. And I’m moved by the generosity and spirit of the Italians who are so creative in expressing their optimism and solidarity.
Remember: this is a time-limited hardship!
Keep your perspective. It’s challenging now, but there may be humor in it with the passage of time. During the blackout of 2003, it was hard. I had a kindergartener to keep occupied and I lived on the 17th floor of a NYC highrise with no elevator access. It’s funny to my daughter and me now, but at the time was much less so. We were walking back from a playground, as traffic lights weren’t working and stores couldn’t ring up purchases. I told her that we’d need to walk up the 17 flights of stairs, and she saw it as an interesting challenge, because she knew that I often ran up the stairs as exercise (it was a looong time ago!). She was up for the adventure. Till we got home and she said, “Mommy, let’s watch a movie,” and I had to explain that we couldn’t do that because there wasn’t electricity. She said, “Okay, then we can just listen to music.” Um, no, for the same reason. “Okay, then we’ll read.” Can’t read well enough by candlelight. We finally settled on telling stories and singing.
There will probably be some things to laugh about in years to come with today’s hardships. But they are hard to find at the moment.
Look for the bright spots and focus on them. There’s a darling dog named Molly in my building. When I see her, she immediately goes flat on her back, even in the snow, for a belly rub, and it’s a wonderful day. Yesterday I saw a former neighbor with his toddler, whom I had not yet met. It was such a pleasure to see the bond between this new father and his growing son! There are many bright moments in all of our lives, if we are paying attention. And these moments help lighten whatever else is going on in the world. Remember: Mental health isn’t about constant unfettered joy. It’s about finding the joy in everyday life.
Take a break from the news. It may be tempting to listen to the news or read the latest developments in the pandemic, but it’s healthy to step away from the onslaught of information. That being said, you may want to read this article titled “COVID-19’s Mortality Rate Isn’t As High As We Think” that has a less gloomy outlook than many. Now you can walk away!
Take care of your mental health. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or beaten down by what’s going on in the world, get help! Many therapists offer therapy by phone or video. Help is available. The point is to develop your resilience, so that you can face your life with confidence that whatever comes, you can handle it.
I hope that these tips for working from home and feeling better during life in the time of the coronavirus are helpful to you. Please feel free to leave comments in the comment section about things that you’ve found helpful for working from home and/or dealing with life in the time of COVID-19.