For those of us fortunate enough to have work during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must balance gratitude with uncertainty. We are living through history in the making, and the massive sudden pivot to working from home can be overwhelming, particularly for those without prior remote experience.
Everyone's transition to a remote work schedule will be different. For those who already work from home, the change will be more or less seamless. However, for many, this transition has been abrupt and mind-boggling. Work-life balance has become more daunting than ever before, as it all takes place from your home. Each of us will have a unique challenge to navigate. For a working couple that lives in a studio apartment, for example, it will be more complicated than for those whose space provides more privacy.
There are so many considerations when it comes to navigating all of this "in place." Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) lead from the premise that nothing happens in a vacuum. All of life's demands still exist as you work from home. We are all coping with pre-existing stress on top of the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic. High anxiety about job security is a factor that keeps many of us from setting clear boundaries between our work and personal life. The geographical line vanished overnight, and most of us are scrambling and overextending ourselves to keep from engaging in catastrophic thinking.
As MFTs, we know that setting and maintaining clear boundaries are vital to protecting our mental health. In our field, we talk about boundaries as enmeshed, rigid, or clear, and transparency is the goal. Think of them as your safe zone. Boundaries are about asserting your emotional need for protection. They are not about asking for permission but instead are about letting others know what you can handle. And, as we shelter, work, and play in place, your limits will be challenged. It is okay to be precise about what you can and cannot handle. Others are unable to adjust their expectations and behaviors if they are uncertain about what you need.
Here are some tips for setting boundaries while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Hold Yourself Accountable: Setting clear boundaries is up to you. You are responsible for your own needs. It is not always easy to assert your needs, and even more so if you are worried and anxious about job security. However, you are doing yourself and others a disservice by ignoring your needs. Now is the time to use your oxygen mask first, and by doing so, you will be more available to those around you, even from a distance.
Communicate Clearly: Take advantage of the technologies available to you at this time. With so many ways to communicate, we need to make sure we are setting reasonable expectations with our co-workers and clients. It is okay to let your boss know that you are overwhelmed. We all are!
Set Your Hours and Maintain a Routine: When possible, manage your time as you would when going to the office. For mental health professionals, like MFTs, this means keeping a similar schedule to the one you do in the absence of the current pandemic. For other professionals, try to mirror the schedule you kept before the quarantine. And if space allows, create a designated area to work in your home.
Protect You Space: Having work overtake your home can feel bad—not because you don't like what you do but because it infringes on what usually is your personal space. Be sure to keep some part of your day sacrosanct for your own time.
Take Breaks: Just as you would do pre-pandemic, permit yourself to take breaks during the workday. Pushing yourself to be "on" all the time will only lead to additional exhaustion. Take time to eat, hydrate, and stretch.
Be Kind to Yourself and Set Reasonable Expectations: Lead from kindness; no one has done this before. It is a new time, and the rules are unclear. No one expects you to be perfect. Do what you can and let yourself rest when you need to. Keep your expectations of yourself and others within reason. We are all adjusting!
These are trying times for all of us. If you need additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out to a mental health professional in your area. Telehealth services are available across the US and Canada. You can find support through the following sources: via the AAMFT therapist locator (AAMFT Therapist Locator) Psychology Today(www.psychologytoday.com), Good Therapy(www.goodtherapy.com).