How to Manage Stress While Working from Home from the Toolkit of a Lawyer-Mom of Three
By Brittnie T. Watkins, Esq., LL.M., Ph.D.
Some states and businesses are reopening, but many of us are still working from home. I have now been working from home for one month, three weeks, and one day. Rather than meticulously carving tally marks into a wall to count the passing days, I have incorporated other practices to stay well. I hope sharing them provides similar benefits to you as we continue to navigate work, family, and organizational responsibilities amid the various complexities brought on by our changing environment.
Many of us are surprised by the amount of stress we feel working from home. I certainly was. Working from home has its comforts, but it also has hidden stressors related to lack of structure, constant distractions, difficulty setting boundaries, increased social isolation, and impaired focus. Elizabeth Scott, How to Handle the Stress of Working from Home, verywellmind (March 17, 2020), https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stress-of-working-from-home-4141174. The practical tips below observe how we can minimize stress and enjoy the comforts.
Keep a schedule, loosely
If I were to take the work-when-I-find-the-time approach, work would never get done. Something always needs attention. Developing a schedule supports structure and focus. Ownership of your schedule can be liberating but failing to actually follow one can leave you feeling derailed by distractions that perpetually demand your attention.
On the other hand, strict adherence to a time-stamped schedule can be even more stressful than it is worth. I use a task-oriented schedule that sounds more in order of operation than start and stop times. For example: Morning—fold laundry and perform research; Afternoon—draft opposition brief and enter time; Evening—make spaghetti and take the kids for a walk. Most importantly, your schedule has to work for you, but you should work when you are at your best. I am at my best early in the morning, so I work first and play later (unless of course there is more work to be done, like drafting the CCBA feature due Friday). Inevitably, we get off schedule, but I feel encouraged and empowered by having a framework for the day.
Stay connected, but remember to unplug
Working remotely can make us feel isolated from our friends, family, and colleagues, taking away the systems and energy we once relied on to stay motivated. We can reclaim our social lives by scheduling Zoom meetings with friends and colleagues, creating text message groups, or utilizing social media. The goal is to create networks of people with shared perspectives and beliefs, who you can lean on when needed. We can continue to explore creative ways to celebrate milestones through virtual connections. I attended a virtual birthday party that boasted a game of Family Feud, a talent show, and even a Powerpoint complete with photo memories from the birthday boy’s previous parties, social distancing not included. To the point, physical distance does not need to mean social distance. But just as over-scheduling can be stressful, so too can spending too much time on our phones and computers. To stay connected while staying well, take time to turn away from social messages and return to in-person connections with your “quarantine buddies.”
Take a shower, and enjoy it
This is one of my favorites. Of course I enjoyed showering before COVID-19, but with a wandering one-year-old, argumentative five-year-old, and frequently distracted thirteen-year-old, I often rushed through showers with the goal of just getting clean. Now, with another adult home, additional shower time replaces commute time, and the goal of a shower is more therapeutic. Prolonged showers drastically improve my disposition and yield some of my best ideas. So, take as much time as you need, wash away stressors, and emerge ready to reengage.
Shut the door, when necessary
This one is the toughest. I feel guilty shutting the door to my room to work while my children are home. It feels like I am shutting them out, but for work that requires intense concentration, it is a must. This simple, physical barrier leads to increased efficiency and focus—things that have proven more illusory these days. Unless it sounds like an emergency, when they come knocking, I reply, “Go ask your dad!”
Be kind, to yourself
We are all doing our best in a challenging environment, and no one is doing it perfectly. Think about structure but understand that there will be chaos. After all, that is exactly what informed these tips. If we focus on doing what we can, working from home can be enjoyable. And we can only do our best.
This article was originally published in the “Mental Health” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (June-July 2020).
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