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The importance of self-care, routine, and creativity in times of uncertainty

In honor of Friday and the end of the traditional work week, I’m taking a break from my focus on crisis planning and turning to a related but lighter topic, our human need for “normalcy.”

I’m in no way an expert on human behavior but I have some helpful tips for you today based on my own experiences. I’ve seen a lot of change in circumstances in my career with many ups and downs. If my nearly two decades of professional experience had a tagline it would be: “the only thing that is certain, is that there is no certainty.”

All in I have spent about 5 years working virtually, first as a team member in a small business, then as a team member in a larger company, and now for myself. My current situation, running my business online while also raising my toddler, has been the ultimate challenge. But it has also been the most rewarding. I’ve been reading a lot of posts from people struggling to adapt to working virtually and (for some) being home with their children. I know it can feel like a big adjustment, but there are plenty of great things about it too. Over the years I’ve come up with my own list of strategies that help me stay (at least somewhat) calm, optimistic, and focused during difficult times.

As you read my tips below, please know that I really am in the trenches with you. I understand that “just a minute, Mommy has to send one more email…” is often met with domestic disaster. Like when my 2-year-old responds by peeing all over our newly renovated bathroom. On purpose. Those experiences are my “normal” life, but that doesn’t mean I always embrace it with enthusiasm.  

Here are a few of my best tips to help you get through the challenging days.  

Tip 1: Maintain as much normalcy as possible. This is a valuable lesson I learned when I was laid off in 2009 during the global financial crisis. At that time, I was single and sitting around my house all day was a nice break from things, until it wasn’t. I fell into an unhealthy pattern of staying up really late and sleeping half the day away which did not help my mental or physical health. I kicked that habit to the curb and forced myself to maintain a reasonable bedtime and wake-up time. I also exercised daily and put more energy into creating healthy recipes. These healthy habits became my new normal and helped me feel like I had some control over my routine (and thus life) even when I had little control over my job situation.

These days I’m doing my best to create normalcy at home for my family. My son and I still send my husband off to work (upstairs) by wishing him a good day, and he still gets a hug when he “comes home from work” at the end of the day. The dog still gets walks at the same time of day, and dinnertime is the same, too. While our regular activities might all be cancelled, I’ve tried to maintain as much structure as possible so that we all feel secure in our day to day routines.

Tip 2: Find pleasure in the small things. This is my absolute favorite thing about working from home as a mom. I love that my workday is punctuated with hugs from my son, or that I’m greeted by my pup who is excited to see me. I appreciate being able to text a friend without scrutiny and when my back gets stiff, I’ll take a minute to hop on the foam roller and stretch. I would never have done those things in any of my office jobs.

Two years ago, I made the switch to virtual work from a long commute and I thought, what if I used my “commute” time in the morning as personal time? What would that look like? This little question has created life-changing results for me. Instead of sleeping until I hear my son call for me, I get up, exercise, and follow a routine that helps me feel centered despite what’s happening in the outside world. Taking time for ourselves is especially important right now and I encourage you to think about how you can start your day with even a few minutes to yourself. This small thing could lead to big changes for you, too!

Tip 3: Prioritize self-care. I know everyone’s lives are crazy right now. Some of you have been in virtual situation rooms trying to save a business, some are stuck on conference calls all day, some are out of work and desperate for a solution, and many people are figuring out what virtual home schooling looks like in their families. Most importantly of all, some of you are on the front lines, in professions that require you to risk your health so that the rest of us can stay healthy. None of this is easy which is why it is important now, more than ever, that you take a few minutes out of your day to care for yourself. Find one thing that you can do for yourself, and no one else. Maybe your one thing is that you manage to take a shower today, or maybe you meditate 20 minutes a day. Whatever self-care looks like for you, commit to something and do not compromise on that one thing.

Tip 4: Connect with others outside your home. This is a good time to embrace the benefits of technology. Video calls with friends and family aren’t the same as being together but it’s still a great way to connect with loved ones. I’m also using group messaging apps like WhatsApp more now than ever. Start a group text with friends or use voice messaging instead of text to keep conversations going with friends in different time zones. I’ve been doing this a lot over the past few months and I love hearing a good friend’s voice and feeling like we’re having a real conversation, even if the format is different. I’m also encouraged by the number of people on social media sharing messages of positivity and offering support to each other. It’s important now more than ever to protect yourself from negativity. Now is a really good time to unfollow accounts that aren’t aligned with your values or make you feel insecure in any way. If you find yourself going down unhealthy rabbit holes online, then consider a digital detox. I’ve done a few in recent years and it has done a lot for my mental health and overall happiness.

Tip 5: Do not bury your anxiety in unhealthy food and other things – at least not every day. I am not a health expert but I have discovered for myself that the foods I often turn to for comfort or as a special “treat” (aka, chocolate, processed foods, caffeine, sugar, wine) end up making me feel more anxious, even sick. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the things you like all together, but I do encourage you to evaluate how you’re fueling yourself during stressful times. I had to break the pattern of stress-sugar-stress-sugar myself to recognize how much it was contributing to my overall feelings of anxiety and illness.

Tip 6: Embrace the opportunity for something new. You might be feeling right now like you have less time, but you have the same amount of time as before, it’s just different. This tip is for those of us at home, safe and healthy. I recognize there are plenty of people with a completely different reality right now.

For those of us lucky to be home, consider including something new to your routine. Is there a hobby you’ve been wanting to try? Why not start now? Can you adjust your schedule and get a little extra sleep? Do you have time now to learn something new? If you’re a parent, what can you do differently as a family? In our home, we don’t do screen time with our son. Recently we decided to start the ritual of having a family movie night. The little guy is entirely wrapped up in the movies we have introduced him to so far. And we’re having fun watching some of our favorites again through his eyes. (Side note: The Frozen 2 soundtrack is really catchy!)

Tip 7: You absolutely can multitask – depending on the task. If I had to say that there was only one thing that I have figured out about work from home life it is this – you can multi-task! The key is to make sure you are coupling the right tasks to do simultaneously. My best advice is to make the voice memo on your phone your best friend. I noticed that I have a lot of my best ideas while doing mindless activities like chopping vegetables, doing the dishes, folding laundry, and taking a shower. In fact, most of my blog posts get written in my head in the shower. (You can ask my husband; he’s always looking at me puzzled while I dash around in a towel looking for a pen.) I also have a notepad that I keep in our living area, where I spend the most amount of time playing with my son. This way, I can easily right down a quick idea before I forget, and then get back to implementing it later.

I understand that if you work for someone else you might not have this flexibility. But I still encourage you to take these concepts and figure out how you can make them your own. Can you fold laundry while listening to a conference call where you don’t need to contribute much? Can you keep a notepad nearby and write your to-do’s or grocery list while on Zoom with your team? I’ve found the more I can take care of the little things when they pop into my mind, the more I can focus on the critical things that require more of my time and energy.

Tip 8: Communicate often. I’m writing this tip for myself today because I always let my personal communications fall to the end of my to-do list. Now more than ever we need to support each other. Reach out to your friends and family to say hello. Ask how they’re doing and then listen to what they’re going through instead of piling on with your own situation. Say thank you, a lot. Say I love you, a lot. Do your best to be supportive and understanding of everyone in your personal and professional circles. We all deal with stress and fear differently. If someone is not their best selves, do your best to let it go and stay focused on being the best version of yourself you can be during this stressful and uncertain time.

Tip 9: Get some fresh air. If at all possible get outside for some fresh air, if only for a few minutes. Even before the pandemic there were days that I would not realize until bedtime that I never went outside that day. That is not healthy! Even a short walk or (yes I’ve done this) sticking my head outside the back door, does wonders to make me feel refreshed and invigorated. Do your best to get out with nature (or at least in the elements) when you can. And drag your family members out with you, too.

Bonus tip for parents with school age kids, my nieces (in Pre-K and First Grade) still get ready for school (although they’re at home) and then they take a “magical school bus” around the house before arriving at “school” (opposite ends of the kitchen table.) They love this routine every morning. Give it a try!

One final thought, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our world will look like on the other side of this crisis. I’ve been a champion of virtual work and online business for years. I’ve always felt that our current corporate model in America isn’t working and it’s stifling innovation as well. One bright side to this is that we are all showing our children what work can look like beyond the traditional office. I know they’re paying attention, it’s my hope that they’re able to innovate and create better professional opportunities for themselves as a result.

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