How to make your WFH experience more comfortable, whether you live with kids, roommates, or alone
In the last couple of months, people across the world have had to adapt and change their lifestyles due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While some people still need to go into the office each day, many others are working from home to socially distance themselves and prevent the spread of the virus. But even if you’re one of the lucky few who has the opportunity and privilege to work from home, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get into a work routine that feels comfortable and productive for you.
During an uncertain time like this one, it’s important to have a work environment (even if it’s in your home) that feels as stable and safe as possible. “There are a lot of unknowns about how long we will be working from home, whether or not expectations of work will change, how finances will be affected, etc.,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Kim Chronister. “As such, it is more important than ever to use this opportunity to work from home as a haven for self-care. Fostering an environment that feels like an escape is key.”
So how exactly can one create a work-from-home environment that feels safe and stress-free? We asked Dr. Chronister to provide her expertise on doing just that, no matter what your situation is like. Here’s what she has to say.
How to feel comfortable working from home:
If you don’t have a desk…
Working from home can be incredibly difficult when you don’t have a desk and are sitting on a couch or bed instead. It’s easy to get distracted by things like a TV and lose all hope of getting anything done. But just because you might not have an actual desk in your home doesn’t mean you can’t create a makeshift workspace for the time being.
According to Dr. Chronister, you’ll want to find a place in your home that will make you feel most productive. While some people might choose to sit upright in their bed underneath their covers, others might need to work in a separate room to get into the right work mindset. “The choice of where to work inside the home is very individualized. If you notice the part of the home you’re working in is making you more irritable or distracted, it’s time to change it up,” she says.
Her suggestion? Clear your dining room table (or your coffee table if you don’t have one) and make that your designated workspace for the day. Or, consider purchasing a space-saving desk to mount on the wall.
If you live with roommates…
While it might not seem like a big deal to be working at home with your roommates, dealing with each other’s work habits can easily disrupt the routine you’ve developed as housemates. However, one way to avoid conflict is by directly communicating with your roommates about your needs.
“Tell them what areas of the home you want to use for work and what time frames feel reasonable for you to use. Then ask them what they are thinking and make it clear that you want them to be comfortable as well,” Dr. Chronister advises. “The last thing you need is passive aggressiveness by the other roommates, which would become a distraction to you.”
Ultimately, you want to be warm, flexible, communicative, and creative with your current work situation. Compromise and understanding is key when things feel new and uncertain.
If you have children…
Trying to create a new routine when you have to work from home can be especially difficult when you also have your kids home from school. They might not fully understand why they can’t play with you or why you can’t give them the attention they desire, which can make things even harder for you because that may be all you want to do.
Dr. Chronister suggests teaching your children about “mindful playtime” so they can be more in the moment with their toys while you work with ease. All you have to do is tell them to notice the colors, scents, textures, and sounds of a particular game or toy and encourage them to describe these elements in an order that allows them to focus on each individual sense one at a time. Next, you can tell them to let all their other thoughts float away so they can be in the moment with their game or toy and let them know that the more mindful they are, the better they will be at it.
“Now, when it’s time to work, make it a game for them to be as mindful as possible,” Dr. Chronister says. “Not only can it keep them more calm, but children who perform mindfulness perform better academically and have improved social skills, [which can allow them to] apply these techniques to anything they do in the future.”
But if you’re still having a hard time focusing with kids at home? Opt to put on some nature sounds in the background. “Listening to nature sounds while you’re working has been shown by research to boost your mood and your productivity,” Dr. Chronister says.
If you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from…
It’s not easy to work with a scarcity mindset. When you don’t know where your next paycheck is going to come from, or when you’ll be able to pay your bills, it can be tough to put 100 percent in your craft. Dr. Chronister’s suggestion? Stay busy and get creative.
“Staying paralyzed by fear by simply ruminating on what might happen will only make you feel more depleted. If there are items in your home, sell them on platforms like eBay. Or, check work-from-home sites like Gotranscript.com, for example, which pays you to transcribe audio files. The point is to stay active and solution-focused,” she says.
But if your stress levels are at a 10 and you need them to get down to a one, Dr. Chronister advises taking a walk amongst the trees. “Harvard did a study in which they had one group of participants walk in urban areas and the other group of people walked in nature. The group that walked in nature significantly decreased their rumination, worry thoughts, and negative emotions,” she explains.
If you’re able and healthy, try to surround yourself with nature. Remember to wash your hands and stay six feet away from others if you plan to go for a walk outdoors, though! While you want to reduce your stress during this trying time, you don’t want to put anyone (or yourself) at risk. Responsible mindfulness is key.
If you’re incredibly busy with work…
Handling so much work that you can’t think straight? Up your self-care routine. Because of social distancing, you won’t be able to get a massage, get your nails done, or head to the gym, but you can use your home environment to help lower your stress. Consider putting on an at-home yoga video, or taking a long mindful bath or shower.
“Instead of thinking about what you have to do later or tomorrow, really be in the moment with whatever you choose to do in your downtime to soak as much benefit in as possible,” Dr. Chronister says. This means if you’re doing yoga poses, focus only on that. And if you’re watching a movie, leave your phone in another room.
“If you’re taking a hot shower, pay attention to the way the water feels on your body, the scent of the soap, the way the steam feels in your lungs, the temperature of the water, and the color of everything that is in the shower,” Dr. Chronister adds. “Mindful self-care is an excellent way to release the stress hormones in your body.”
But if you’re the type of person who looks at their computer screen 24/7, your mental and physical stress can heighten and make you feel worse than you probably already are. To help ease eye strain and erase your headaches, consider purchasing blue light glasses, especially if you’re at your computer for six hours or more a day. For instance, a 2009 study found that volunteers who wore blue-light-blocking glasses reported being in a better mood and having better sleep compared to those who didn’t.
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