Maximise your day while shielding
The current international pandemic is an unprecedented situation for our generation. It has changed our lives drastically in both personal and professional spheres. Who would have thought that working from home could be so hard?
People who are shielding are faced with additional restrictions in their behaviour during the pandemic. Rules are much stricter about social interactions (even in one’s home), exercise and going out are advised against... Humans are social creatures and there is scientific evidence that we function best in social groups. Social isolation has negative effects on both physical and mental health. Depression, low mood and anxiety are common amongst people living in isolation; immunosuppression, muscle deconditioning and sleep disorders may be further consequences. At the extreme, social isolation and loneliness, if not managed appropriately, significantly increase the risk of premature mortality.
Managing and planning our day while shielding is crucial for maximising our achievements and reducing the negative effects of social isolation. Most of us are lucky to have the support of our employer and colleagues, and are able to work from home. This takes some adjustment. It is quite easy to surrender to what we usually do at home – relax, watch TV, enjoy the sofa... but this may be deleterious if we end up doing it all the time.
There are some simple strategies to maximise the day and maintain physical and mental wellbeing.
Maintain a routine
As highly functioning professionals we are used to living with a schedule, and in time this turns into a routine. We like that! We feel productive and organised, which gives a sense of achievement and contentment with our work. Maintaining this when our office is just a few steps away from our bedroom is not easy. Plan your week on Monday and then make a schedule for every day. Tasks that need to be completed are more easily done when there is a deadline, so set up deadlines. Tick jobs off. It may feel strange to start with, but stick to it. This will make it clear for you when your workday has finished, and it is time for relaxation.
Just as important are regular breaks. Take breaks and stand up. Protect your back. Move around the house or the garden. Make a cup of tea. In general, try and mimic your work schedule at home as much as possible - even the days off! If you take a day off, make sure it remains that way. It is easy to just check a couple of emails or do a tiny task because it is over there in your study. Do not do it on a day off!
Stay in touch
Luckily, we live in a technologically amazing world! Use it. Stay in touch with your department and your colleagues. Take part in video meetings and interact. Feeling the support from your team will calm you down and put anxieties to rest for a while. Some patient-related work can be done remotely, and you should embrace that. Health care workers love the job because we love our patient interactions, and having the ability to do this while staying safe is just amazing.
Do not forget your friends and family. Our social network fills us with positive emotions and a sense of belonging. It is nice to call them, but even better to use video chats. Seeing faces works wonders to our mental health – we smile, we frown, we laugh, we cry, we stare, and most importantly we receive the same information back. Now doesn’t that sound normal…
Maintain healthy sleep hygiene
It is surprising how tiring staying at home can be. Sleeping is crucial for resting our minds and bodies, and we must ensure a healthy sleep schedule. Go to bed as usual and use your alarm. We all like sleep-in mornings, but when they become the norm that can be counterproductive and clashes with the aim to maintain normality and plan for the day. Importantly, use your bedroom for the things it is designed for and avoid eating and working in bed.
It is a bit petty talking about diets and alcohol restriction when life is so strange and unpleasant now. Unhealthy habits do creep back in and treats become justifiable. Now is not the time to give in to unhealthy behaviours. Try and keep your food healthy and colourful. Have eating windows (just as you would at work) and avoid constantly reaching for a snack - it is easy to do without even noticing. Another culprit for an unhealthy coping strategy is alcohol. Its negative effects on our health and daily routines are well known. Maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, and seek help if you struggle.
Limit your screen time
All of us working from home are using our laptop significantly more than usual. Limiting screen time and blue light is even more important now. Take advantage of the sun in your garden instead of sitting in front of the television. This will reduce the information bombardment that comes from news feeds and social media. Stay informed, but do not give in to the constant searching for more numbers and opinions than needed. Take a respite from COVID-19!
This is probably the best time to take up a new hobby or refresh a long forgotten one. Learning new skills will give the satisfaction of usefulness to oneself. Learn a language (maybe finally start on the Welsh...), teach yourself to play an instrument, become a keen baker or cook, that DIY will not do itself, why not start drawing...? Even just lying in the garden in your pyjamas is not a bad thing every now and again.
This is not forever! So, try and make the best of a bad situation and still be a valuable member of your society. Everyone has a role to play and we are also doing front-line work, even though it may not feel like it. Not all superheroes wear capes.
On the first day back at work
Remember the 3 ‘C’s:
- Control what you can
- Cope with what you can’t
- Concentrate on what counts
The night before you start work, get a really good night’s sleep - ban the phone from the bedroom. There are only two things you should do in the bedroom and they both begin with S...
Leap athletically and enthusiastically out of bed. Have a good breakfast. Pack your stress management kit - nice food, lunch, fruit, snacks, a book, bike repair kit, juggling balls…
If you can, cycle to work. On the way empty your stress bucket so that you arrive at work relaxed.
Throughout the day smile at your fellow workers. Consider the various ‘what ifs’ of the day and the strategies that enable you to deal with the various potential difficulties that you may encounter. Look at improving your decision-making skills, remembering the WRAP model:
- Widen your options
- Reality test your assumptions
- Assume some distance
- Prepare to fail
Have a mindful lunch (no phones!) and maximise your rest. Every time that feeling of panic builds up consider a short session of box breathing - breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4, and repeat four times.
At the end of the day thank your fellow workers, unlock your bike and empty your work stress bucket, heading home with a nice empty stress bucket. As you cycle home think of three things that you are proud of achieving in the last 24 hours, resetting your mood to positive as you arrive home, and greeting your partner or your pet with a delightful smile.
What three things are you going to do to maximise your day?
Locum Consultant Obstetric Anaesthetist
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Cardiff
Anaesthetist Associate Dean, Health Education and Improvement Wales
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Cardiff
British Medical Association. BMA guidance. COVID-19: your wellbeing, 23 April 2020. https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/covid-19/your-health-and-wellbeing/covid-19-your-wellbeing (accessed 7/5/2020).
The only risk from learning Welsh will be a headache, but extreme DIY in inexperienced hands can be catastrophic. Stay safe – and not just from COVID!