• Kety Lopez, LMHC

The challenges of working from home & ideas on how to tackle them.

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

I've had a chance to address numerous issues during this COVID-19 pandemic with my clients while we're all working from home. Knowing that our country is experiencing record-high unemployment rates makes it very difficult to express dissatisfaction. Having a job is one less stress to deal with and it definitely brings a sense of stability that's much appreciated. Despite feeling very grateful for having a job, those of us working from home also face a share of challenges. Here are a few examples and some suggestions on what to do.

Working longer hours: A lot of my clients have been surprised at the number of hours they're actually working, sometimes significantly more than in the office. It's hard to establish and implement boundaries when all your activities are confined to the same physical space. Therefore, it's more important than ever to set clear expectations for yourself and others. Taking care of your mental health has never been so crucial as it is now that we're restricted and isolated.

  • Write down your schedule, leave it on a visible space.

  • Set an alarm to remind you of your lunchtime, breaks, and end time.

  • Actually stop and step away from the computer to have lunch or to take a break.

  • After your workday is over, set your phone on silence and/or turn off email notifications.

  • Schedule after work virtual activities so you're forced to stop working.

  • Respect your weekends.

  • Kindly remind your co-workers or supervisors of your time-off. Just because you're home, it doesn't mean you have nothing else to do.

Social isolation: This is the biggest change for most of us and the most significant impact on our mental health. One of the first things we access and always work on in therapy is a client's support network. That extremely protective layer on our mental health has been compromised and it's affecting everyone.

  • Reach out! If it is difficult for you to be the first person to break the ice, this is an excellent opportunity to practice. Most people will welcome your phone call and text. We're all craving to connect.

  • Schedule fun activities with your co-workers outside of workhours, have lunch or happy hour while you video-conference.

  • Show genuine concern, ask how the other person is doing, don't assume that they're better or worse off than you. We all have different challenges to work through.

  • Be vulnerable, if you need to vent or just feel lonely and miss having a conversation, say so. Most of us will definitely be there when somebody is clearly in need.

  • Share good news and humour. It's part of giving back.

Balancing family life: It's very challenging to remain productive and professional while you simultaneously have to be a good parent and do house chores. If you have children, you know how difficult it is for them to wait and how guilty you could feel when you don't put them first.

  • If your children are old enough to understand, create a visual schedule so they can see when mommy and daddy are working. Explain to them that during those times they need to wait unless it's an emergency.

  • If you're having downtime at work, be proactive and check on them to see if they might need anything before you jump into the next phone call or project.

  • Take frequent breaks and make yourself available to your children so they feel cared for and are less likely to interrupt you when you need to concentrate.

  • Schedule family time every day. Their lives have also drastically changed and they don't have the capacity to understand everything that's happening around them or all that you, as an adult, are dealing with. They need extra reassurance and entertainment.

  • If possible, ask another family member to care for them while you work or take turns to attend to them with your partner. Especially during important deadlines, or meetings.

  • Remain flexible and remember we're all dealing with similar situations so your co-workers and clients will most likely understand if you need an extra minute. Do what you have to do and carry on.

Addictive Tendencies: Stress is definitely a trigger for anybody dealing with substance abuse or behavioral addictions. Being overworked, confined and isolated is the perfect combination to trigger addictive tendencies (as well as other mental health issues). So if you find yourself regressing to unhealthy patterns please don't ignore it or minimize it.

  • Seek professional help. Maybe it's the time to start/re-start therapy or even increase the frequency of your sessions.

  • If you have a sponsor, make sure to contact him or her frequently.

  • Show up to online support meetings, they're widely available.

  • Throw away any remaining substances you might still have at home.

  • Read self-help materials daily. It helps to keep you on track and motivated.

  • Set clear boundaries with work and reduce your work hours if necessary.

  • Delegate tasks appropriately, it's very easy to become addicted to work as well and start an unhealthy cycle or work, stress, drug use.

  • Reach out to your support system, especially family and close friend.

  • Stay away from friends and acquaintances who are still using drugs or indulging in unhealthy behaviors.

  • Make enough time to relax and decompress. It is the only way you can restore your energy so you can be productive the next day without using drugs "in order to relax" or gain the energy "you need".

I hope you find these tips useful. Share them if you think it might benefit someone else. We need to be there for each other during these challenging times. Stay safe & stay home.

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