As I am spending more time on the Voxel Hub blog, I am starting to receive specific questions about some of the topics mentioned here before. Just this week, I have begun writing longer articles about aspects of working from home, but some of my clients asked me for quick tips. One crucial question is addressing the impact of social isolation on our wellbeing while we are all working from home. I read somewhere that a day spent in social isolation – if not managed well – can have a similar effect on our bodies as smoking of one pack of cigarettes. That’s quite a reliable comparison, but having been there in the past, I can vouch for its validity myself. So today I thought I would start a new series of post that contain quick tips. Here is the first one. Here is how I apply positive psychology to minimise the impact of social isolation when working from home:
- Get up early. This is not a piece of hipster advice here or a handbook of an entrepreneur (for the record: both are pretty good too). I am not even trying to show off. I personally used to sleep it any time I could. I love a good sleep and a lazy morning. However, in the context of remote work, we all need more time for ourselves in the morning. The idea of morning and evening people is a myth, so spend some time resetting your sleeping habits to previous night and earlier morning start. Learn to get up when alarm rings once (practice in the afternoon, if you have to – lay down on your bed, set the alarm, close your eyes and get up at the first ring. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until it works int he morning too). You need more time in the morning to ground yourself, to prepare for work but also to simply have some other time than work. It might be hard at first, but you will feel much better as soon as you put this in practice. Why do we need to do this? We need to have enough time in the morning to take care of ourselves and transition into the work.
- Start the day fully functioning and with other people (if you can). The most essential tip on preventing sliding into a depression that comes with social isolation is to have a morning shower. Then take time to put nice work clothes on (at home we can figure out something work-related but more comfortable, as long as it marks the transition from home to work time). Make a beautiful breakfast and a hot drink. Enjoy it slowly, somewhere in the sunlight, if possible. Sit out on the balcony, in the garden. If you have a pet, spend some time with them too. Go for a run, walk or a short stroll around your yard. Check-in with flatmates or family. Message a friend, wish them a good day. All those things take less than an hour but set you up for a successful day. Why do we need to do this? Basic functioning is a measurement of our depression levels. When in social isolation, those depressive moods can easily creep up on us. It’s hard to notice them before it’s too late. It is essential to take care of our core functions to help both our body and our mind stay healthy.
- Finish the day with reflection. Give yourself time to sum up the day. If you don’t know what to look out for, ask simple basic questions: how was this day for me? What worked? What did not work? What could I have done better? What could others have done better too? What am I not thinking about? What can I control and change, and what do I need to let go off? You can write about it, draw, create in any other format. You can talk to someone about it or simply sit down and spend just a few moments reviewing it all in your day. Focus on choices, sentiment (positive or negative), connection with yourself and others, and your general wellbeing. Why do we need to reflect? Well, if we are isolated, who else will be there to look at our day and review it, spot possible risks, challenges but also opportunities? Who will notice small changes in our feelings, behaviours and actions that might indicate signs of depression? And how can we prevent that from happening? We need to make time to look at our day and explore it in more detail with exceptional care for our own selves so that the following days become lighter and more manageable.
- Balance the collective and isolation time carefully. We need to stay at home (because of the virus, or simply because we need to get our work done), but we do not need to disconnect ourselves from our friends, colleagues and other human networks. We can chat with our neighbours. Wave at the postman. We can chat online to our friends or check in with family. But we also need a bit more time and space for ourselves. Especially now, that our both realities are very transient – the virtual and the grounded reality have faster transitions (a term from cyberpsychology describing what most of us consider the non-virtual reality). It’s great to connect with work teams and family. It’s brilliant to have shared dinner with friends, even if on hangouts. But we also all need to slow down, take a deep breath and stare out of the window just for a moment between those Zoom calls. We need to reconnect with ourselves. Spend some time on self-reflection. Or on doing nothing – just resting a bit. Getting the balance right is always individual. Why do we do this? Social isolation creates states that may be difficult to predict and very unusual for humans – a very social species. It is advisable to think pro-actively about your needs and put them in practice from day one.
- Accept the limitations and make the most of them. This might come as a surprise so if you don’t believe me, go back to maths. If we focus on our current limitations and stop doing things all together, how many hours a day would we lose? Count in the short morning instead of longer, slower one. That’s 2 hours, for example. Count in a quick lunch. Let’s say you decide to skip 30 minutes of it. Let’s also say you skip another 30 min not taking shorter coffee breaks during working time. Count in two hours in the evening spent on Netflix instead of a warm chat with a friend, picking up a new skill with an online course or doing something creative (we do want to leave another two for Netflix, of course). That’s 5 hours a day, 25 each week and so 100 hours a month. Do you see what I mean? We are all stuck at the moment, limited to our homes and short walks. However, we are also saving time on work commutes, evenings out and travel. So instead of focussing on what we cannot do, why not pay more attention to all this additional time? We are so used to complaining about the lack of time, but when more of it is given, we tend to moan as well. It is advisable to be more positive than that. Why is this important? A positive mindset is our only weapon against our ever-wandering brains that like to fall into a negative bias. If we don’t focus on our days with positive intent, we allow our default negative thinking to take over.
All those small tips lead me to one basic statement: how we feel during the times of social isolation is our choice. Whether we practice it or not, depends on our positive or negative intentions.
Many of us who have worked from home for many years now will probably come up with more tips – I would really love to hear them, so please share in comments. Of course, the current situation in many countries around the world requires more attention to the positive mindset and gratitude because we are facing a very extreme form of social isolation. One which saves lives, so I strongly support following the local guidelines. But also a potential opportunity for all of us to learn a bit more about healthy habits and good digital wellbeing too.
Do stay home. Save lives. Stay safe and well.