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Self Care in the Age of Working from Home

Even before the pandemic, working from home presented unique challenges to the work-life balance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges have become even more pronounced, as many of us have turned to work as a way to cope with the overwhelming feelings of social isolation, fear, and anxiety.

Even though working from home can push up against our work/life balance boundaries with uncomfortable friction, there are simple ways to preserve and take care of ourselves while working from home.

1. Schedule Self-Care Appointments & Keep Them

hand drawn illustration of a person ending a meeting to go walk their dog

Self-care as an antidote to burnout often gets over-hyped, especially in burnout-fostering corporate culture. In sustainable companies, workers’ boundaries are respected and appropriate support is provided to prevent burnout.

We all know that we need to take time for self-care, but often the pressures of work, deadlines, and meetings test our time boundaries and press into time that we need in order to get good self-care. To take care of ourselves, we need to take self-care seriously – and that means setting boundaries that preserve and protect our opportunities for self-care.

Self care appointment boundaries might mean:

    • Taking a walk every day at 5 PM, no matter what.
    • Making sure that we get up from our desk during lunch, even if working against a deadline.
    • Or setting aside an hour every week for therapy, a mindfulness practice, or a support group and making sure we don’t miss it.

2. Create A Transition Ritual to End Your Workday

hand drawn illustration of a person covering a full size computer monitor with a cloth cover

One of the most difficult parts about working from home is the bleed-over between work and rest, and a lack of physical distance between work and home. When we work in the same physical space that we rest and play, boundaries between these different categories can become blurred.

One way to create a clear division for our brains- and support healthy separation between home and work- is through simple rituals to start or end our work from home work day. Lots of people think about spiritual practices when they hear the word ritual, and rituals can include spiritual practices, but rituals can also include simple practices that invite us into mindful, intentional, sensory-engaged awareness.

For example, for many people, making the bed when they wake up in the morning feels like not only care for their home but something that helps them mark the end of sleep and the beginning of a new day.

A physical practice marking the beginning or end of a work day can help create stronger boundaries, internally, between your work-self and your home-self. One simple way to do this is by packing up your workspace, placing your laptop in a drawer, or covering your monitor with a cloth cover. If you have a separate home-office, you can be intentional about settling your office and shutting the door when you leave.

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3. Orient Yourself to a Self-Care Mission Statement

hand drawn illustration of a person looking at a coworker on a screen with art near their desk that says my health > my work

Self-care is an ambiguous phrase that means something a little bit different to every individual. Self-care practices can be more meaningful when you are intentional about what self-care means for you and what the goal of self-care is (check out my article on 3 ways to foster deep self care). Maintaining boundaries while working from home can become a little easier when we are oriented to a clear mission statement that reminds us why our self-care is important.

For some people, this self-care mission statement may be as simple as a photograph of loved ones on their desk, but many of us can benefit from a more explicit mission statement. This illustrated employee has a cross-stitch sampler reminding them that they are more than their job.

For many of us, our self-care mission statement could look similar: a piece of visual art, hand-lettered word art, or even just a simple statement about what’s important scrawled on a piece of paper and taped up next to our screen.

4. Assess Vocational Boundaries & Express Needs to Your Team

hand drawn illustration of a person looking at coworkers on a group zoom meeting

In some toxic work cultures, employees may often be instructed to prevent burnout through self-care (spoiler: research is clear that’s not an effective way for companies to reduce rates of burnout) but are not given the tools, space, or respect of boundaries to make good self-care possible.

Good self-care requires community care – and that care may need to be advocated for, and if you work from home you may need to be extra intentional about communicating your needs. If you find that the demands of your job, boss, or team make self-care impossible, brainstorm ways to resolve these challenges.

Letting your direct supervisor know that you feel like you may be in a position to burnout soon may be helpful, but often a better approach might be to identify specific ways in which your team and/or your boss could support you – or ways your specific job responsibilities could shift so that your vocational thriving is more sustainable in the long run.

Doing so not only provides care for yourself, but sets a precedent for your team that may help others advocate for their own needs and work more efficiently – this modeling for others is a leadership asset in any vocational field.

5. Participate in a Community Outside of Work

hand drawn illustration of a person making baskets with another person on a screen making a basket

Working from home can be all-consuming if we aren’t careful. For many people who work from home, work can very easily bleed into the evening hours and weekends. If we aren’t mindful, this work schedule can begin to impinge on our social community and weaken the social supports that we need in order to thrive both personally and professionally.

To be a better work from home employee, be intentional about connecting with other humans outside of work.

This can be challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of our typical places of community and connection are closed or have shifted in such a way that it’s difficult to regularly participate (especially if you are already burned out on screens from hours of work-from-home zoom meetings).

f in-person participation in community events, churches or places of worship, or interest groups aren’t possible, seek out virtual equivalents. Even the structure of a weekly online art class, support group, or community planning team can help support you socially and add diversity to your thought processes – which, in the long run, can help you return to your work with more creativity, ingenuity, and energy.

6. Find Ways to Play while Working from Home

hand drawn illustration of a person working at their desk with 5 toy dinosaurs nearby

Play is a powerful anecdote to burnout (source). When we play, we bring rest, levity, and creativity to whatever we are working on. Often, being playful is seen as a negative in professional work culture, but researchers on play know that it’s actually essential to a thriving workplace.

Play helps us relax, think creatively, and work more sustainably. Play can be humor and jokes, puns and silliness, or even just maintaining a collection of toy dinosaurs on your desk that occasionally cameo as consultants in team Zoom meetings.

When we’re working from home, play is even more important. The natural joking and camaraderie that happens in a workplace may occur less often in a virtual environment. Intentionally making space for humor and play can prevent burnout and help ease the some of the stress of working from home.

7. Notice Beauty, Explore Wonder, and Express Gratitude

hand drawn illustration of a person journaling about a plant sitting nearby

Many studies have found the benefit of mindful gratitude. Taking time to notice the presence of beauty, interruptions of wonder, and opportunities for gratitude can be a powerful way to not just break up the monotony of working from home, but boost personal and professional growth.

Creating a practice of mindfulness can help in many beneficial ways. For example, a mid-pandemic study of 66 female Italian teachers found that practicing mindfulness meditation daily during lockdown resulted in improved resilience and well-being. 

This looks a little different for everyone, but having a practice of thinking intentionally about gratitude, and what – even minor – things you feel gratitude for can help develop mental well-being that supports our self-care practices in being more effective and our work from home experience from being less draining.

TL;DR

Working from home can push hard against our work/life balance boundaries. Working and living in the same space can be especially tough.

Thankfully,  there are simple ways to preserve and take care of ourselves while working from home:

  • We can set boundaries that preserve and protect our opportunities for self-care.
  • We can have a physical practice that we do to begin and/or end the work day.
  • We can create a clear mission statement to remind us why self-care is important.
  • We can advocate for boundaries and ask for support in our jobs.
  • We can be intentional about connecting with other humans outside of work.
  • We can make space for humor and play.
  • We can create a practice to think intentionally about gratitude each day.

Self-care is important, especially while working from home during a pandemic. At the end of the day, be kind to yourself. We are all trying the best we can.

Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Vicarious Trauma
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