Work-life balance 13 months into the COVID-19 pandemic
It's been nearly 13 months since Californians were mandated to work from home (WFH) following the World Health Organization's announcement that worldwide COVID-19 outbreaks amounted to a pandemic. Yes, many of us welcomed a WFH situation in lieu of daily commutes to the office, and some would like to keep it that way. However, just because WFH is optimal doesn't mean that it's without challenges. The difficulties are simply different than bumper-to-bumper traffic or finding time to workout, eat breakfast, get ready and make it to the office on time.
One persisting challenge, particularly for myself, is maintaining a healthy work-life balance throughout the day. I had to ask myself this question recently: "Why am I feeling more anxious, tired and feeling overwhelmed?"
Granted, much has happened in my life recently. I was accepted to graduate school and still need to decide where I'm going; I was promoted and have new, more complex job responsibilities; my freelancing gigs are picking up so I have more work on the side. On top of all of this, the pandemic is still happening and I have severe Zoom fatigue.
Now, more than ever, I'm realizing that work-life balance isn't stagnant, or something you achieve and then always have like a college degree. It takes constant mindfulness and ironically, work, to maintain this fine-lined balance.
After some research and self-reflection I've identified what's contributing to my persistent, almost tangible and yet evasive underlying stress. I'd bet money on the odds that you can relate.
1. Work space = living space
It's safe to say that a majority of people don't have a dedicated home office to work from. Instead, a space that would normally count as living space, like the bed, a desk in the living room or the kitchen table, are now the new office space. The thing is, they're not offices and they do double as living spaces, but we're struggling to switch from work to home mode once we're off the clock.
Spaces actually hold a lot of weight on our psyches. The kitchen table is associated with dinner, crafts with the kids and holiday meals with family. Now, these spaces are doubly functional and blurring our mind's lines between work and play. More often, I find myself looking at my table and thinking about work I should be doing, rather being in the moment at dinner with my family.
That is, work is overtaking my living space. "What should I do about it though?" you may be asking. It may not be the easiest thing to accomplish, but find a dedicated work space, preferably not one that you use for other non-work activities, and stick to that spot. You can switch it up during the day and take a call or two on the patio, but keep to your work space for the majority of your day. Then, stay away when you're not working. A place for work and a place for play helps your mind switch to tone down the normal stress that comes with being a working professional: deadlines, Zoom fatigue, multitasking, bad bosses, etc.
2. Working more hours
The blending of work and living space has resulted in one, rather big, thing. I work more hours than I did when I was working in the office. The switch in my brain triggered by my walk through the office doors and to my car in the parking lot no longer exists, so I'm often lured back into working with email and Slack notifications from coworkers still on the clock. Or maybe they are and struggle to put it all away for the evening.
Typically, I have a morning routine that doesn't involve work until my official start time, 9 a.m. Lately however, work encroaches farther and farther into the time I try to carve out for working on my side hustle, – this blog and work for clients – working out, reading or playing fetch with my dog. I feel strongly compelled to respond to emails that arrive in my inbox before I start working, even though that's not the expectation from my boss or team. Yet, the urge remains.
Why? Well, we've established that home is the new office, so my brain feels at work even when I'm at home. I also work in health care so everything feels like an emergency because we're in the midst of a pandemic, the biggest and most relevant crisis we will likely ever face.
3. Underlying stress & anxiety
I'll be the first to tell you that I pray telecommuting is here to stay. I never want to drive into the office again. However, cabin fever is getting real on top of the underlying stress and anxiety many of us think we've tune out. Just because it's become more common doesn't mean it's not there and pervasive at that.
In fact, we know that unaddressed stress can wreak havoc on the body in a number of ways including hair loss, poor sleep, tense muscles, headaches, heart burn and more. Yet, I, like many people I'm sure, downplay the ways in which stress affects our bodies.
"Surely the pandemic will end soon." "I lost my job and don't know if I'll find another soon enough to pay the bills." "I'm worried about friends and family will die from COVID-19." "My business is about to go under if I don't get help or more customers." "I can't work at home with my kids running around." "I don't know help my kid with this assignment. Has math changed since I was in school?" "I'm not getting along with my family members I live with."
No wonder we struggle to focus and find balance with these kinds of thoughts looming over us constantly. These thoughts and feelings set the tone for our state of mind, whether we're cognizant of their effect on us or not, so it's important to recognize their potency. Once we acknowledge what we're feeling and how it's manifesting, we can begin to find ways to lower stress levels, even for a small period of time. For some, that's working out; others read; some paint. Whatever your thing is, do it regularly enough to actually relieve some tension.
3. Honesty is key
I'm someone who likes to take on a lot of projects and work. You may have guessed this about me from my full blown freelance business on top of my full-time job as a media relations specialist. I'm also someone who needs to be better about being honest with myself about how overwhelmed I am. I now try to be more intentional about maintaining balance in all aspects: work, friends, school, pets, freelancing, family. There's no set schedule for my self-evaluations, but I aim to conduct a semi-routine self-check, if you will, every few months or so.
Another important piece to this honesty element is keeping my close circle in the loop on what's going on with me. Sharing my feelings of stress, anxiety and worry about everything I may be juggling at any given time with the people who are closest to me helps immensely. I can talk through problems, get perspective and support and ultimately reduce my stress to focus on getting my to-do list finished and enjoy time doing things with people that I care about.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help with a new resume, cover letter or LinkedInn profile, a public and media relations expert to help craft a press release and pitch letter or a seasoned writer to help with blog content and website copy, you've come to the right place! Send me a note and let's get started!