Self-Care Best Practices for Suddenly Working From Home

  • Create an Ergonomic Workspace

Are you suddenly working from home? One of the best ways to maintain a work/home boundary is to set up a dedicated office area.

Watch this video from the Wall Stree Journal about how to set up your workspace ergonomically.

You’ll need a desk and chair setup where your elbows can bend to 90 degrees. Try not to sit too low or too high in relation to your desk.

Where your hands naturally land is where your keyboard and mouse should be.

If your chair isn’t adjustable, you can always improvise with a pillow. Grab a footstool if your feet don’t touch the floor. Make sure that you’re not putting pressure on your legs and lower back.

The top of your monitor should be eye level, so you don’t strain your neck.

If you can’t raise it, use a few reams of printer paper or books to elevate it. If you’re using books, as I have done, make sure the bindings are relatively straight so that your jerry-rig is stable.

Even when people don’t have a room in their home to allocate as an office, they can still try to carve out a corner of the living room or kitchen table. When you’re in that area you’re at work… and when you’re not, you’re at home.

This will also help you maintain an ergonomic setup that’s better for your neck than slouching on the couch.

  • Use Your Technology With Your Body in Mind

If you use a laptop, the same principles apply. The essential idea is to raise the computer screen to your eye level. You need to invest in a separate mouse and keyboard so you can keep those on your desk while your computer is propped up.

The problem is that laptops are much lower, and people tend to bend forward at the waist and curl over and look down at the screen, and over time, that can cause neck and back pain.

If you’re working on your sofa for more an hour or two, that’s too much. And when you are working on your couch, you want to use your eyes to look down; don’t keep tilting your neck and head. Otherwise, you’ll cause neck strain.

This next thing is critical…every hour, get up and move around  — stretch..get a snack, walk around the room, go to the bathroom, walk around the room, stretch, get a drink of water, etc. Break up your routine every hour.

  • Tighten Your Digital Security

Don’t risk introducing new vulnerabilities into your home office routine. Otherwise, you may have another virus threat in your home.

Change your passwords on all your personal computers, review the security on your WiFi routers. You don’t want to pass along a computer virus to your work network.

Ramp up on your digital hygiene… asap.

It’s not been discussed sufficiently in the media, but cyber-criminals are working overtime to exploit the coronavirus crisis. Research by  Seattle-based information security company DomainTools shows that hackers are creating more coronavirus-related websites, apps, and tracking tools. Some of these apps are ransomware.

Only go to the CDC website for Covid-19 updates.

Be mindful that hackers know that millions of knowledge workers suddenly working from home is a unique opportunity. They know that because you’re suddenly working from home, you may be highly distracted right now.

. Don’t make it easy for them to compromise your company’s data.

  • Refine Your Time Management and Self-Care While Working

Take a good look at the Pomodoro Technique. 

The Pomodoro Technique is an Italian time management/self-care regime that was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. Some many websites and apps will help you apply this technique. This is amusing because the Pomodoro Technique is very low-tech…all you need is a kitchen timer.

The “Pomodoro” is a 25 minute unit of work time.

Here are the Core Ideas:

  1. Decide on the task at hand.
  2. Set your kitchen timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four Pomodoros (the “Pomodoro” is a 25 minute unit of work time), take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go back to step 1.

During each break, try doing a different bodyweight exercise: push-ups, crunches, squats, tricep dips, jumping jacks, burpees (although maybe hold off if you have downstairs neighbors), walking lunges, planks, sun salutations — anything that gets your body moving is a good idea.

Time management won’t get you very far without self-care. The Pomodoro Technique has been popular because it helps you accomplish tasks, exercise your body, and give your mind a break as well. You’ll also benefit from an improved memory and attention span.

  • No, Wearing Your PJ’s is Not a Good Idea.

This is my opinion, and I’m sure it’s not a popular idea, but here goes.

Don’t collapse into a slacker vision of working from home.

Don’t revel in relaxation. Skip the Pajamas, bathrobe and Gleswein slippers. Wear your standard business attire and skip the Hugh Hefner look.

This is a time to raise your sartorial standards, not to lower them. Working from home is merely a change in location.

Keep your standards and boundaries intact. Dressing for work is a “stimulus cue” to your nervous system.

It will make it easier for you to transition in and out of your work mode if you dress the part. Rituals like dressing for work will help maintain a structure at a time when you might sorely need it.

  • Accept the Notion that Your Productivity May Slide. 

Any way you look at it, we’re all in uncharted territory. You may have kids, dogs, and other living creatures to attend to. Have a sense of humor, and expect others to do likewise.

The ideal stance is focused, but flexible. Don’t expect to be perfect, but project a professional demeanor. Accept the notion that you won’t always be as productive as you set out to be, but don’t try to assuage your guilt with working overtime. Your family needs you too.

  • Alone Time

Each day, give yourself 30 minutes of solitude.

One of the advantages of suddenly working from home is that you’ve reclaimed some commuting time. Gift this time to yourself.

Go out for a walk. Meditate. Turn off your phone. Whatever you do, liberate yourself from work thoughts. One caveat, you may get good ideas as you’re resting your brain. Just jot them down and tease them out later. Don’t slide back into work mode. You got this good idea because you’re taking care of your brain… don’t slide into work mode during your 30 minutes of “me-time.”

  •  Go Outside

Keep a social distance, but get outside. Feel the sun on your face. Take a brisk walk. Now, more than ever, you’ll need to take extra care of your physical and mental health.

Exercise can help you do both. And walking outside can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.

Research tells that that when you exercise outside…you tend to exercise longer.

Being outside modulates stress hormones, increases endorphins and also increases the secretion of serotonin. You’ll feel better, and you will be refreshed when you return to work.

  • Stay Connected

 We have an international team of therapists all over the world.  Slack has been an essential tool for all of us to network and maintain open channels of communication.

But it also helps to just pick up the phone and call. Or video chat with a co-worker from time to time. Think about the people in your office who you enjoy having lunch with. Keep those relationships going with the occasional Zoom chat.

We will all be battling loneliness and Social isolation. The more extroverted you are, the harder time you will have working from home. Establish a ritual for your team to video conference. But keep it loosey-goosey. Have some virtual water-cooler time to chit chat and share perspectives.

  • You’ll Need R&R…Routines and Rituals

Now, more than ever, your daily routines and rituals will define your quality of life.

Set boundaries on your time. Start and end work on an agreed-upon schedule.

It’s particularly important to end work, and transition into family time.

Don’t let your new reality of suddenly working from work encroach on your family. Routines and rituals will help you establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

While having a healthy work-life balance has always been important, it has never been as important as it is right now.

  • Pick Healthy People to Connect With and Follow on Socia Media

Be more discriminating about who you interact with on social media. Stay with folks who are upbeat and positive and avoid people who will drag you down. You might have to clean up your social media contacts. Unfriend, unfollow, or mute anyone whose social media activity is distressing to you for any reason. Focus on the folks who delight, interest, and amuse you, and only look at their feeds when you’re on Twitter or Facebook.

  • Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude…and Notice the Positives in Your Partner

“Being together in a small space for a much longer period than usual under stressful conditions means more opportunities to amplify both positive and negative dynamics.” David Cates Ph.D.

If you and your loved ones are healthy, be grateful. If you have meaningful work and an income be grateful.
Emotions can magnify in close quarters.

Now more than ever, the quality of your intimate relationships matters.

Your fondness and admiration for one another are the bedrock of lasting love in ordinary times, but now it’s what will help you get through these tough times.

Keep the challenges of suddenly working from home in its proper place, and don’t rely on it to distract you from your thoughts and feelings. Share them with your spouse instead.

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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