Stressed out? You’re not alone. 70 percent of workers say that COVID-19 is the most stressful period of their career, topping major historical events like 9/11 and the Great Recession. What started out as a temporary excuse to sleep in an extra hour, wear pajamas all day and spend extra quality time with family has morphed into a work-from-home lifestyle that blurs the boundaries between personal and professional life, with no clear end in sight. Where do you seek refuge when your home has become an office, a classroom and a daycare? As a woman leader, you face the unique challenge of not only supporting yourself through this difficult time, but also being a role model for those who rely on you. In this post, we’ll explore how to find balance and manage your stress levels so you can confidently lead others through these uncertain times.
As offices and schools make reopening decisions, you may find that the rest of your year looks completely different than you’d imagined, requiring you to rethink your work-from-home strategy. If you haven’t already, sit down and share your work plans with the members of your household and also find out what they need from you to be successful. Are there certain hours of the day that require silence? Are certain areas off limits? Are there shared resources that need to be allocated? Establishing an open dialogue will help create a collaborative environment that allows everyone to make the best of the circumstances.
Without your morning commute, your usual routines may have fallen by the wayside. However, practicing daily rituals helps facilitate a mental transition between your work and personal life. “Our brains run in patterns and have associations with what we do,” explains psychotherapist Teralyn Sell. “If we throw our routines off, our caveman brain detects a problem. And right now, the world is a problem, so our fight-or-flight responses are on fire and the caveman brain is running the show.” While your pre-COVID routines may no longer be practical or possible, here are a few rituals to consider:
By creating these daily rituals, you build new associations that send signals to your brain indicating when it’s time to work and when it’s time to stop.
When you work from all over your home – from your bed to your desk to your couch or kitchen table – your brain begins to associate work and play with all of those locations, making it difficult to fully do either. One important step in creating mental boundaries between your work and personal life is creating physical boundaries. Create a space that is solely dedicated to work, whether that’s a home office or a corner of a room in a common space. If possible, try to make it a space that can be easily avoided when you’re not working. Once you’ve decided on your workspace, make sure to keep it clean and clutter free. This is important since physical clutter decreases your focus and productivity, while elevating your stress and anxiety levels. If you have children or are in a common space, use visual cues such as a closed door or a sign to help indicate when you’re available and when you are working.
With no office to go to, it can be difficult to figure out when the workday ends and your personal life begins. Having kids and other family members at home may mean that your traditional hours aren’t suitable for your current circumstances – and that’s okay! Despite the need for flexibility, setting (and more importantly – actually sticking to) a work schedule will keep your days from turning into one never-ending work session where you’re never fully on or off. Being available 24/7 – both to family members and colleagues – is a recipe for burnout. Having a schedule helps you enforce boundaries by making it clear to your family and colleagues when they have access to you.
Sure there may be occasions when you have to work late or complete a task on the weekend just as there were during pre-COVID times, but don’t make working late a regular habit. Commit to disconnecting just as fully as you commit to being present when you’re working. Avoid the temptation to do seemingly “little” tasks like checking email, voicemails or notifications that can quickly cascade into hours of extra work. You may think you’re being productive or a “team player”, but not taking time to recharge only hurts your performance in the long run.
If you struggle with disconnecting from work, enlist the support of an accountability partner. Share the hours you’ve set and then commit to checking in with each other every day. If your partner is someone in your household or nearby, you can even commit to a daily activity together like a walk or zoom call to mark the end of the workday and help facilitate the transition to personal time.
Practicing mindfulness is a powerful tool for lowering stress levels, increasing your awareness and supporting your ability to respond calmly and intentionally in the face of crisis. Here are a few ways to bring more mindfulness into your life during this time:
For more tips on how to effectively manage stress in times of crisis, watch our free webinar “Strategies and Stress Relief for Women Leaders During COVID-19″.