How to look after yourself when your job is to support others

Here, Dr. Sue provides practical tips and advice to help us all balance the pressures and responsibilities of the situation with the need for self-care.

Clock 5 min read Calendar Published: 7 May 2020
Author Dr. Sue Wilkinson
How to look after yourself when your job is to support others

On the Note Taking Support Network, we asked members for their questions about self-care during the Covid-19 crisis.

Here, cognitive psychologist Dr. Sue answers, providing practical tips and advice to help us all balance the pressures and responsibilities of the situation with the need to look after ourselves.

Taking care of others is crucial at times like these, but it is important that we don’t forget about our own well-being and health. Many of us are now juggling working from home, looking after children, home schooling, exercise, and our usual day to day activities of housework, shopping, and general maintenance.

This blog aims to address some common questions about how to manage our mental well-being at a time of significant disruption to our lives.

Q. – How can you find time to look after yourself when juggling remote work, home schooling and general housework/maintenance?

It is easy to forget about our own well-being when we are so busy doing everything else.

Some top tips to ensure we leave time for ourselves include effective scheduling of our day, setting boundaries for work, and working in a different room of the house if possible (if not, put work items away when you finish work).

It is important to be kind to yourself and not expect too much. You will likely be under more pressure than usual, so you need to adjust your expectations of yourself to match. Remember to talk to your employer if you’re struggling; they may be able to suggest alternative work hours, reduced workload, etc. If nothing else, they will be aware of the situation and hopefully adjust their expectations too. Don’t forget to make time to exercise. You might want to use the time you’d usually commute to work to do this, or your lunch hour. This way you will still have your evenings to relax and spend time with children/household members.

Q. – What advice do you have for maintaining a healthy work/life balance? I often find myself working long after my scheduled hours

Just because you are working at home doesn’t mean you are available to work at any hour. Due to technology this can be difficult to avoid as we are all contactable all the time.

If you can, stick to your usual working hours as this will help with routine. If you need to adjust this due to childcare or other responsibilities, then make sure you schedule in appropriate rest time around your work. Do not forget that when you are in the office/at work, you likely have regular breaks – replicate this at home. Go and make yourself a coffee mid-morning as you normally would when in the office. Rather than bring that drink back to your computer, try to sit in another room or go outside for 10 minutes if possible, to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. You will be more effective when returning to work if your brain has had a chance to switch off and just stop for 10 minutes.

Physically working in the same environment as you live in can make it hard to switch off from work when you have finished.

It is very easy, and tempting, to keep checking work and emails throughout the evening or weekend when you would normally not be doing so. Set yourself boundaries in terms of the hours you work each day and clock off when you have done those hours. If you can work in a dedicated room in the house that’s great, but if not, put your work items away so that you are not reminded of work while you’re trying to relax.

It is important to remember that you are not simply working at home…. You’re at home having to work and look after your household during a global health crisis, while also trying to stay fit and healthy. Do not put too much pressure on yourself to perform or achieve. Many employers will only expect you to maintain the status quo at a time such as this.

Q. – What’s happening to our minds in this situation?

Stress and anxiety cause our brain to release chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol into the nervous system. This has an impact on our brain and our behaviour. Chronic ongoing stress can even impact on the prefrontal cortex, causing problems with memory and learning.

Taking our minds away from the present can help with our stress levels. Anything that allows us to temporarily forget about the current situation can help us to relax. This could be meditation, visualisation, colouring, making something, playing music, reading a book, cooking a new recipe, etc. It is good to have projects too. Perhaps start doing all those things you wanted to do but never did because you were never at home! Setting yourself mini goals that are achievable in the current climate can help as this creates satisfaction when we complete them.

Our brains are wired so that we feel rewarded when we follow a routine. It may not be interesting, but when we get up each day, travel to work, meet colleagues for lunch, come home, make dinner/go to the gym/play with the kids/go to out with friends etc., our brain rewards us by releasing a chemical called dopamine, and it makes us feel good. Subsequently, each time we repeat these actions, dopamine is released. This is why we feel good when following a routine. During lockdown, this routine is being disrupted and will mean that the dopamine that makes us feel good is not being released. What also makes us feel good due to a dopamine release, is each time we learn something new. So, we need to find other ways of releasing this dopamine to maintain our feelings of well-being… and exercise, creating new routines, and learning new skills or hobbies will do this.

Q. – Do you have any advice for fighting ‘cabin fever’?

Cabin fever is what we experience when we are isolated and generally confined to one location. It may make us feel irritable, bored, lethargic, restless, unable to focus, or unmotivated. Often the imposed rule that we cannot go out is more stressful than the implication of the rule itself. Simply being told we cannot go out makes us want to go out and we do not like the feeling that we are not free to move around. If you can go out, make sure you do so once a day – even if it is just a walk around the block or to sit in the garden.

To help combat cabin fever, make sure you have a routine – get up, shower, eat breakfast, schedule exercise at home or locally if possible and you’re not self-isolating. Getting yourself ready for the day as you would normally will help you psychologically.

It’s easy to feel that the days all roll into one – I’ve heard many people comment that they lose track of what day it is at the moment. Try to distinguish between the days somehow if you can. Perhaps alter what you’re making for dinner, what exercise you are doing, who you are talking to, etc. It’s easy for the hours to quickly pass you by when you’re at home all the time, which is fine if you’re resting, but it is also useful to have daily or weekly goals so that you feel that you are achieving something.

Exercise is also very important. If you cannot go outside, there are many online classes available, both live and recorded. Connecting with other people, knowing they are doing the same exercise class at the same time as us can help us to feel connected. Humans are social creatures and this feeling of connection with others will boost your mood.

Taking up a new hobby might also help or rearranging your house to give it a different ‘look and feel’.

Q. – How should we talk to our kids about the pandemic?

The current situation may be particularly difficult for children. Suddenly their whole routine has changed…. They are not in school and they cannot see their friends or go to clubs.

Depending on their age, they may not understand why they cannot see grandparents or play with their friends, and this may be distressing for them. It is important to explain why and that it is only temporary. It might be helpful to explain the situation in terms of people not being well at the moment, and that it is important to protect ourselves and others by staying at home for a little while to ensure not too many people fall ill. Again, it all depends on their age and maturity, but it is probably better not to go into the fine details or expose them to the news as this may be too alarming.

Sourced from our community

This article was created thanks to questions from members of the Note Taking Support Network.

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