What I Learned After Week 1 of Working From Home & Social Distancing

So, how’s it going world? At this point, we are starting to see COVID impact almost every country in the world. I know many businesses are having to make tough decisions and people are losing their jobs. Many of those are people near and dear to my heart. I am grateful that all my loved ones are safe and I feel lucky that I have a job and team that I love. What gives me hope is that the world has come together like never before. We are all facing a threat to our health and having to socially distance ourselves when all we want to do as humans is connect.

Many of us are wrapping up Week 1 of working from home and practicing social distancing. The past week illuminated many aspects of myself that were interesting and surprising. I wanted to share these with a sense of openness and a pinch of humour to add some levity in our lives at this moment.

  1. My back hurts: Within a few days of working from home my neck hurt, my back hurt and I was generally miserable with body aches. The culprit was my home-office setup. Don’t be a fool. Check out how you’re sitting all day. Get a good chair with proper back support. If possible, grab your external monitor, keyboard, and mouse from work so that you’re not hunched over your laptop the entire day like the fellow from Notredame.
  2. I have crappy boundaries: Working for a company that provides employee wellbeing and EAP solutions, COVID has resulted in more incoming calls and requests from clients. We want to be there for our customers in this time of unprecedented crisis. That does, however, mean extra workload and longer hours. For the first few days, I had no sense of time and worked late into the evenings, ate late and hardly moved from my desk. That is not a sustainable way to live. As the week progressed, I slowly found more balance by scheduling in a set time for lunch, taking breaks and signifying the end of the workday by prepping a timely dinner.
  3. Being mindful has been the best tool for managing my emotions: We are part of an unprecedented global crisis, the likes of which have not been seen by our generation. Uncertainty breeds fear and anxiety. I have found my meditation practice an invaluable source of stability during the past week. Sitting with my thoughts and allowing space to acknowledge my emotions has helped me become aware of and to accept what I am feeling. Mindfulness practices can help in managing difficult emotions, allowing them to untangle and loosen their grip on us. Even taking 3 deep breaths in between answering emails or when you feel overwhelmed can help you feel more grounded and in the present moment. In light of this, my dear friend and fellow mindfulness instructor Emma Carbery and I will be teaming with my organisation, ICAS MENA to offer free live mindfulness sessions in the upcoming weeks to anyone who wants to join. We’ll be posting the dates and times on our social media channels – so watch this space.
  4. Exercise is my sanity: Being home all day means my step count is suddenly abysmal. If I am lucky I’ll get 2,000 steps. Since I am not prepared to come out of this period having doubled my weight, I scheduled in workouts every day. I’ve found that even 15 minutes of exercise is not just helping my body stretch and reducing pain, it’s keeping me sane. There are numerous benefits of exercise, and not the least is the boost in mood and production of endorphins. Exercise has definitely kept me sane and (fairly) balanced.
  5. Fresh air is essential: Call me crazy but at times I found myself going into the backyard and doing a few jumping jacks or walking around the block to just clear my head when I felt overwhelmed or unfocused. Going outside for a few minutes for fresh air is not just great for taking a break and getting some movement, it also elevates our mood and gives our brain a much needed periodic break. So go for a walk, and if you can’t do that, then sit by a window with a cup of tea. It will do your soul some good.
  6. Meal-planning is the only way I will get out of this without gaining 50 kgs: Although I am a nutritionist, I am also human and have struggled with my relationship with food. I eat when I am stressed, anxious, emotional or bored. Planning our meals has been a life-saver in many ways. It’s making sure that I am not eating through my feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Having only healthy options in the house means that I won’t emerge from social distancing 50 kgs heavier (let’s hope). Meal planning also ensures that we are being responsible with our weekly grocery orders by only purchasing what we need. During times of uncertainty it easy to hoard and over-buy. That only results in shortages of essentials (uh toilet paper anyone?), mass hysteria and food wastage. Don’t be a shmuck that hordes.
  7. Social connection is my oxygen: So it turns out I like (most) people. It’s been fascinating (read: amusing) for my husband to watch my reaction to the lack of human contact. He’s a quintessential introvert, and since he often works remotely, his routine has remained unchanged by this crisis. Although I clock in at borderline Extrovert in my Myers Briggs assessment, I found myself really craving face-to-face contact with humans. So I called friends here in Dubai and overseas, and yes, talked about COVID (is there anything else left to talk about?). Making video the “default” in our work calls has also really helped in keeping a semblance of normalcy for our team in all this madness. If you’re like me, don’t be shy. Call people, use zoom, see their beautiful faces and get your oxygen. And turn on that webcam!
  8. Everything my husband says is annoying: I’m lucky that I live with someone and have a companion to speak to (and to interrupt 20 times a day- sorry honey!). Those living alone are at serious risk of feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety. So I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it’s hard to have my husband here with me whilst social distancing. I love him and he is my best friend. That being said, China is already reporting a record number of divorces due to extended social isolation. That should not be surprising given that most couples (or family members) have never spent this much time together before. So what’s the solution? Have separate workspaces. My husband and I also proactively discussed chores, meal-planning and anything else that may be a source of conflict or frustration when we embarked on our social distancing journey. Regardless of that, there’s going to be times that anything that other person says will get on your nerves or they won’t be able to do anything right. When that happens, take a deep breath and remember “I’m not a delight to be around all the time either”.

As I dive into Week 2 of x, I do have some things I would like to approach differently:

  • More time for personal projects. Instead of always plopping down in front of the TV every night, having each day play out like the last, I’d like to make more time for home improvement projects, personal projects, reading, knitting and other hobbies that I enjoy (such as writing this blog post).
  • Less consumption of social media. Without face-to-face contact, a lot of us are turning to social media. I have been more active on SM in the last week or two than in years. Whilst virtual connection can be a source of comfort and comradery, I would like to limit my intake, especially right before bed. Social media can get overwhelming. It has been proven to increase feelings of anxiety, reduce melatonin production and impact our sleep.

So how was Week 1 for you? What did you learn about yourself? What do you like to do differently in Week 2? Please share your thoughts as I am keen to learn how everyone else is coping.

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