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.
Communication Is Key
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.
Create Transition Rituals
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:
- Get ready every morning. No you don’t need to blow out your hair and don your office best just to sit alone on your couch all day but you shouldn’t be wearing what you went to sleep in the night before.
- Use your usual commute time to practice a habit that nourishes your wellbeing such as taking a morning walk, reading a book, listening to podcasts, journaling or meditating.
- Since you’re not physically leaving an office, create a shutdown ritual that marks the end of your workday. A shutdown ritual consists of a series of tasks you do at the end of each workday such as processing your inbox, reviewing your calendar, setting your tasks for the following day, tidying your workspace, and checking in with colleagues to let them know you’re signing off.
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.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
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.
Set Your Work Hours… And Actually Stick to Them
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.
When You’re Done, Stay Done.
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.
Manage Stress with Mindfulness
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:
- Meditation. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, instead of shoving down your emotions or trying to change them, take time to be present with them. Practicing meditation (like this 7-minute mindfulness meditation by HNS Co-Founder Dr. Ellen Keithline Byrne) can help you tune into your mind and body and bring awareness to what you’re feeling in the present moment.
- Don’t react – S.T.O.P. and respond. In HNS Accelerate, we teach the S.T.O.P. method – a simple but powerful mindfulness strategy that can be used to mitigate the negative effects of stress in less than a minute. When you find yourself becoming triggered or overwhelmed:
- Stop and take stock. Ask yourself, “What am I experiencing right now?” Really tune into your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judgment.
- Take a breath. Gently direct your attention to your breath, noticing each inbreath and each outbreath as they follow, one after the other.
- Observe & expand your awareness. Expand your awareness beyond your breathing so that it includes a sense of your body as a whole (including your posture and facial expression) and then further outward to what is happening around you (such as sights, sounds, smells, etc.).
- Proceed toward new possibilities. Let your attention now move into the world around you, sensing how things are right now. Rather than reacting habitually, move forward with curiosity and openness.
- Practice Intentional Consumption. It’s okay to stay informed, but be mindful of how much time you spend consuming and engaging with negative news or social media. Limit your time with toxic or draining people, even when they’re well-meaning. (We all have that one colleague or family member who is glued to the headlines and insists on sharing real-time updates on everything that is going wrong in the world). Instead, make time to read inspiring books, listen to podcasts and spend time with others who positively contribute to your wellbeing.
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″.