This is a strange and scary time for all of us. Many of us will be working from home for the first time. Others, such as the retired or elderly, are also having to practice the new art of social distancing for the first time. Whether you are part of a family or live alone, the strains are going to be enormous on us all.
Here are some basic rules and tips I have gathered from speaking to experts in coaching, meditation and neuropsychology – as well as a few homespun ideas from me – to ease the stress and lighten the load.
1) DRESS UP.
Always get washed, put make-up on ( if appropriate), brush your hair, put on scent/cologne and dress as though you are going to the office or a meeting. If you wish, practice the famous Superman pose in front of your mirror. This is the puffing out of the chest stance used by presenters and politicians to make them feel powerful, because it helps you feel confident and also lowers cortisol levels. Dressing up makes you feel better. It’s also a sure way to avoid making a fool of yourself being caught out in your pyjamas – or worse, trackies – if a colleague or client suddenly wants a Zoom or Skype meeting and you have forgotten to turn off the video.
Thought: A famous French designer once said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Karl Lagerfeld.
2) ESTABLISH STRUCTURE.
Give yourself the discipline of a start to a “working day” – whether it is six in the morning or at midday. When up and dressed, go for a walk if you can. That’s your commute. Then go to your home office with a good strong cup of tea or coffee, big bottle of water, and settle down. Nothing wrong about reading the news online, sipping your drink and idling away a few moments as you most of us do in the office. Then be bold, switch your mindset to work mode. And get started on the daily task.
Thought: “No to sofa lounging. Get dressed. Your self-esteem is important. Be sure to give yourself a daily structure. Start your day with a walk in place of your commute. Set yourself a task, however small, and then reward yourself with a break or a cup of tea.” Ian Robertson, Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Co-Director Global Brain Health Institute.
Get up every 40 minutes and do a few stretches. Deep breathing exercises or 5-10 minutes of meditative relaxation is a great thing to do to change the pace. There are numerous apps available online. Here’s a great stretch that everyone should try: it’s the Goddess pose in yoga.
You put your arms up in mid-air as though you’ve been caught by a sheriff demanding you put your hands up for an arrest. Place your legs apart, and bend your knees. Stick your tongue out, cross your eyes, open your mouth as wide as you can and exhale as loudly as you can. Do it a couple of times. Be as noisy as you can.
Thought: “You will look demented but you will be amazed how much better you feel after doing the Goddess a few times. And don’t forget to walk outside as much as you can as the fresh air boosts your immune system.” Naomi Smith, Yoga teacher and acupuncturist.
4) GOALS AND REWARDS.
Set yourself small, achievable goals. Do not try to do too much at once. Focus on one issue at a time, then reward yourself with a coffee break or hanging the washing out. Stick to your working hours, only focus on a task at a time and get it done. Outside of working time, be good to yourself and others. We all complain how busy we are. Now is the time to learn that instrument, or read the book you have promised yourself you will read for years. Learning a language used to be top of everyone’s list and maybe it is not so relevant now that travel is a distant dream. But the discipline is great for the brain and fun too.
Thought: “Treat yourself as you would treat someone you care about. Be kind to yourself, and be strict about stopping work at a certain time. Set yourself deadlines at the beginning and end of the day. Separate your work and family life: for everyone’s benefit. Remember nothing is constant in life but change, so this bad period will pass.” Hugo Yadi, business and personal coach and mentor.
Don’t let yourself get hungry. Have a proper breakfast and lunchtime and don’t let it stretch into the afternoon.You need regular sustenance. That’s when you can put on the radio, listen to your favourite music or TV on and take a proper break. If you have a garden, go for a walk.
Thought: “Look at the plants, put out food for the birds. Dig a bit, or whatever…My best thoughts come while digging the garden – it is how I meditate.” Maggie Pagano, me.
6) KEEP IN CONTACT.
Stay in touch with colleagues, even if you don’t have to. Many companies are holding regular daily online meeting times even if they don’t need to talk. At Reaction, we have been “virtual” working for two weeks and each morning at 10.30 we have a news meeting via Zoom. These chats are constructive and creative, and inspire a new kind of camaraderie during this period of the unknown. Video when you can.
Thought: “We are so lucky to have brilliant technologies that allow us to communicate with our friends and family wherever they are. I’m currently playing three way virtual chess with my son in Paris, a friend in London and me in Dublin. Call all your friends and family whenever you can. Don’t talk business or virus. Talk about everyday things.” Professor Robertson.
Humans are a highly social species so need social contact. Use Zoom, Skype and FaceTime to talk regularly to friends and family who are in the same position. Don’t talk too much about work or the crisis but have a laugh. This is an anxious, and indeed, frightening time for us all. Make a list of everyone you know in your circle and broader network and ask yourself how you could be helping out – in however a small way. Do shopping. Make a call. Write a letter. Doesn’t matter what. Just do something.
Thought: “This is a great time to escape the tyranny of the ego. Do something that is tangibly unselfish and for others. It can be tiny – giving them a call or doing the shopping. Helping others is known to be beneficial to overall health and boosts oxytocin levels.” Professor Robertson.
If you are a parent working from home for the first time and have young children running around at home and screaming outside the door, get yourself some top noise cancelling earphones. Set rules, and get them to help you out. Explain to them carefully that you are in your “new” office and that you will play with them at lunchtime: or when you are “home” from the office.
Thought: “Don’t ever tell children off for being noisy. They will sense these are strange times and will need to feel secure too. Put a sign on the door maybe, saying ‘My Office’ and ask them to knock first. Make this new norm fun for them.” Maggie Pagano, me, from past experience of working from home.
9) PLAGUE DIARY.
Keeping a diary is known to help emotional health and give us a sense of continuity and history. Skip writing the novel about pandemics, for now anyway: there will be hundreds of them.
Thought: “Humans forget quickly so having a record of this extraordinary time will be fascinating and valuable.” Professor Robertson
10) WATCH YES MINISTER.
If all else fails, put the British Whitehall satire Yes Minister on repeat, put your feet up and pour yourself a whisky or wine. Stop being busy. And start reading those books you promised to read which have been patiently waiting for you on the shelf.
Thought: “There are 38 episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Prime Minister. That’s quite a lot of wine and whisky. I’m trying to pace myself.” Iain Martin, editor of Reaction.