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5 Strategies to fight off stress, anxiety and growing irritation during the current Coronavirus pandemic

Stay calm and fight off stress, anxiety, and irritation during Coronavirus quarantine

Or… “how to not go off on the people you love and stay calm when you are in quarantine together”

Between the stress, anxiety and uncertainty the coronavirus (Covid-19) has brought to everyone’s life and the added strain of working from home, self-isolating or self-distancing, it can be a struggle to stay patient and calm with our loved ones at home. It’s easy to slide into a permanent state of irritation and moodiness, particularly when the days stretch on and on. Even with the best of intentions, quarantine doesn’t always bring out the best in us. Nerves can get frazzled and tempers can grow shorter, no matter what our normal temperament’s baseline is.

But even in a crisis, we have control over some things. Namely, we can control our state and we can work to show up as the best “self”, “parent” or “spouse” we can.. Here are my top 5 tips to show up as the “best you.”

First, the obvious: Make sure you feel good physically. 

Some basic self-care will go a long way to control your emotional state. Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep (that’s not optional – there is no substitute for sleep), fuel your body a wide variety of nutrients-rich foods (code word for increase your intake of fruits and vegetables both in number and amount to ensure you get both the macros and micronutrients your body needs to feel its best) and get a minimum amount of exercise to keep your immune system humming normally (that’s 150 minutes a week minimum of moderate intensity exercise).

Beyond the basics, here are some tips to help you keep your patience and wrangle in your temper in the days ahead.

 1- Stand at the gates of your mind

Know yourself and use the strategy that works for you.  For some people, reading about the coronavirus and Covid-19 brings them a sense of knowledge they find reassuring or comforting. Knowing is better than not knowing. But for others, consuming this information only adds to their anxiety and overwhelm. Be honest with yourself and determine how much information you need. One strategy is to limit yourself to this type of news to once a day in the morning for instance. 

Another very powerful strategy is to be very selective as to where you get your information from. Social media and traditional news channels are not always the most credible source. Get your information from the most direct, neutral sources you can. The World Health Organization, the CDC or Johns Hopkins can provide you the facts you need without editorializing or political agenda.

Ultimately, for most of us, no matter how much we might crave information, “standing at the gates of our mind” means periodically taking a break from the barrage of news so we can detach and recharge.

 2- Don’t reinvent the wheel

Although this crisis is unprecedented, this is not the first time you have experienced stress. Trying out new coping strategies in the midst of turmoil can be daunting, so double down on the strategies that have worked for you in the past. 

If you know going on a run or working out has a calming effect on you (and it’s feasible), fit in a few extra sessions throughout your week to burn off some of that excess nervous energy. If meditating has been effective in the past, be more diligent at fitting meditation and mindfulness sessions into your daily routine. Keep your CEO Morning Routine going to stay focused on your business and finding opportunities.

For some, getting up before everyone else in the house and doing something for yourself to stay centered is a very effective strategy. Whether it’s making yourself a cup of coffee and getting a little bit of alone time to center yourself, getting some fresh air and sunlight before the busyness of the day starts, or spending that time journalling or writing down what your goals are for the day, taking a little time for yourself first thing in the morning can make a big difference in how you approach the rest of your day. 

 3- Use a pattern interrupt to stop yourself from losing it in the heat of the moment. 

When you feel the growing irritation and you feel yourself getting angry, use a pattern interrupt to delay your response to the person you want to address. At times that might mean stopping yourself short by focusing on gratitude or using humor to relieve the tension.  

Before you go off on your 10 year old for barging into your conference call, take a deep breath (from your belly) — and a few seconds– to direct your mind to notice your mind on what is good around you. Mentally list what you are grateful for in that moment. Relax your face, and reframe your thinking. 

If you can feel the anger, frustration or irritation still lying underneath the surface, start a conversation with someone about an unrelated topic, or make a phone call to someone who matters to you. By forcing your mind to change gears and your body to adopt a softer demeanor, you will give yourself a fighting chance to regain control and perspective about the situation. 

Delay your reaction and response to frustration. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Instead of giving your kids a Time Out, give yourself a Time Out to regain control when your patience runs thin. 

4- Take action

Part of the growing restlessness and irritability that comes with being under stress for prolonged periods of time is that our bodies are designed to respond to stress by producing chemicals to reduce pain and prompt action. It makes sense from an evolutionary background, faced with a bear, the rush of adrenaline to escape immediate danger is a good thing. But that same physical response doesn’t serve us very well when we are under chronic stress and perpetually stuck in close quarters with our loved ones. 

Instead of fighting the biological urge to do something, go with it and take action. In the moment that might mean finding the most immediate solution and removing the current stressor like closing (and locking) the door so you can focus on your call and delay addressing your child. Or it can mean harnessing your emotions and frustration, and focusing them on something you have control over like making an action plan for your business, or starting on a home project. 

 5- Cultivate an attitude of compassion and gratitude 

If you do lose your cool, remember that compassion towards yourself is just as important as showing compassions to those around you. Recognize you let your emotions get the best of you, take responsibility for your words and actions, own the shame and guilt that comes with disappointing yourself and hurting the people you love, recommit to showing up better, and give yourself some grace. 

These are trying times and often it’s the little things that set us off. It’s the child who leaves the lights on, it’s the spouse that takes the last drop of coffee or the dog that barks during a conference call. Allow for some irritability and emotionalism both in yourself and those who share space with you. Recognize that everyone under your roof is adjusting to a new situation and it’s natural for your 5 year old to want you to play with him in the middle of the day for instance. Afterall, until recently, your being home meant you were “off” and available to read a book or play. Practicing compassion and empathy each day can help you keep in mind that your loved ones are doing what they’re doing because they are trying to meet their needs, and not intentionally trying to irritate you or stop you from doing what needs to be done. 

It’s easier to let things go with a few simple words, “please forgive me, I didn’t mean to…” accompanied by a short phrase of why you were stressed. Kids forgive and forget so easily, take it easy on yourself too.

Over the longer term, focusing on something other than your own life, whether it be volunteering or helping neighbors for instance, can also help you harness that excess tension and use it to make a difference for your community. 

Helping others can give you an outlet and be an effective antidote to the feelings of powerlessness or frustration you might experience in the face of this pandemic. It can provide you with a sense of higher purpose from which you can draw strength and perspective when the crisis drags on. And it can be a powerful  “compared to what” that keeps you centered on what matters. 

When anger and frustration strike, remember the effective strategies and coping tools you have used in the past. Bring them to life again, adjust where you need and add any new ones to fill in the gaps. 

Tame the chaos: 6 Tips to Stay Productive Working from Home during Covid-19

Tips to stay productive when working from home

Coronavirus pandemic aside, working from home definitely has its advantages: no commute time, less distractions from the people “stopping by to chat” and a flexible dress code. But, the lack of dedicated office space, direct accountability and rhythm also means a total lack of structure and distractions everywhere you look. It’s easy to lose your focus before the day even starts.

How do you maintain, or even increase, your level of productivity and efficiency while working at home during the Covid-19 outbreak? Here are 6 tried and true strategies to help you get going, stay on task and telecommute like a pro.

1.   set up a designated “work” area and optimize your space.

Creating a defined workspace is essential to help you stay focused during the workday. Soon you may go back to your office, but for now, you need to establish a base camp to operate from. Don’t make that your bedroom or your kitchen.

→   Pick your new office wisely. If you have a home office, recreate your workspace to resemble work. If you don’t have one, set up shop in a space preferably away from high traffic like a guest bedroom or a dining room. The idea here is that you want your mind to associate that specific space with work. Whatever your poison (email, social media, Reddit or browsing) make a commitment to stay away when you are in that designated space. Take your breaks in a different room/area so the distinction in clear and the lines don’t get muddled.

→  Tackle your tech: 

  • If you can, remove your home computer from your office to limit distractions or if that’s not an option, turn it off to make “jumping on it for a minute” more inconvenient. Another idea is to create 2 different user accounts to create some separation. Some even go so far as partitioning their hard drive.
  • Reduce your browsing time: Whichever computer set up you use, consider installing an internet blocking tool like Cold turkey to help you stay away from the internet rabbit hole during working hours.
  • Clean up your desktop. It’s easy for your desktop to turn into a junk drawer over time. Put some order back and clear some space on your digital desk and in your head by removing anything you don’t need, or installing a desktop organizer to streamline your screen.

2.   Create a work routine and adopt habits to stay productive

→  Go to work. Physically go to your work space to start your workday. Close your office door if you have one and post a do not disturb sign. If you don’t have a door, use a stand alone partition. You can even be creative and rearrange the furniture to close off your space. Separate yourself from the rest of your home and then start.

→  Limit interruptions. Don’t come out unless absolutely necessary to limit “impromptu” conversations with family members. Set up clear breaks so when you do come out, you are present and available. Multitasking is not the way to go here.

→  Create BOTH a morning and evening routine. It’s one thing to decide you will start work at a certain time, but it’s another to set up a routine that primes your brain so that when you get to your desk in the morning, you are ready to start working and be productive.

For the morning, if you already have an effective ritual that starts off your work day stick with it. If not, now is a good time to set one up. Whether it’s getting a cup of coffee, spending a few moments with your kids at breakfast, walking the dog, or reviewing and writing your goals for the day, give your mind external cues that your workday is starting. Over time, the repetition will lower your internal resistance to this new set up to the point where it will be automatic.

Don’t underestimate the power of an evening routine. Separating your home life from your work life is exponentially more difficult when you work from home.  But especially amid the Coronavirus pandemic, you need that time away from work to recharge and it’s important to clearly signal to your brain that you are shifting gear. When the workday is done; turn off your computer, clean off your desk, write out your to-do list for the next day and close the door behind you (or walk away from your dining room table). Leave work means leave work!

3.   Prep for your day the night before

→  Communicate your schedule to spouse and children to set expectations for how the next day will go. Setting up ground rules about when you will be available for questions or to tackle domestic forest fires will help everyone keep a positive attitude and will reduce the tug of war between your personal and professional life.

→  Get clear on your outcomes for the next day. Now more than ever, having a plan ahead of time for what needs to be done is essential. If you wait until the next morning to figure out what you want to accomplish, you will lose precious time and increase your likelihood of getting distracted by low priority but seemingly urgent tasks.

→  Pretend like you ARE going to the office. Lay out your work clothes so you don’t end up “working in your pajamas.” While keeping it casual is one of the perks of working from home, keeping a professional standard of dress by always being “camera ready” for that impromptu video conference call is another cue for your brain that this is not the weekend.

4.   Use meetings and interactions with others to create structure and accountability.

→  Make it very difficult to procrastinate. Nothing like scheduling early morning meetings to create the leverage to get out of bed and resist the temptation to sleep in.

→  Schedule your lunch time just like you would if you were at work to create the sense of normalcy and that “escaping from the office” time. Working from home also means that the fridge and pantry are always within reach. Having a set time to stop and grab lunch, and meal prepping ahead of time if you can, will help you stay focused on work instead of making hourly runs to the kitchen to snack and distract yourself.

→  Stay on top of your communication with your colleagues. Review your schedule and outcomes periodically throughout the day. Remember, you know what you are doing but no one else does. Even less so now since the one-on-one office conversations that normally happen in the workplace are gone.

5. Use family time as leverage to stay on Task

Zig Ziglar used to say, “the problem with most sales people is when they are home, they are thinking about what they should have been doing at work and when at work, thinking about what they should have been doing from home.”

→  Commit (or re-commit) to family dinners, dedicated times with your kids and other family rituals. Committing to being available a certain time can be a powerful motivator to get things done. Explaining “I can’t spend time with you now, but I am all yours tonight from 6-7pm”, and then being true to your word, will help you create some leverage for yourself.

→  Maintain to your nightly routines with the kids. Working from home may mean that you have more flexibility with your schedule, but sticking to your normal family schedule will help reduce the chaos at a time when the constant uncertainty can make it difficult to stay centered.

→  Schedule your workout times and rest time. Decide ahead of time when you and your spouse can “tag team” with the kids so that everyone can have some time off and DON’T use your “time off” to work unless it’s a MUST or you have already gotten in your workout-recharge time. Part of being as productive as you can at work is about managing your energy. Whether it’s working out or meditating (ideally it’s both), now is not the time skimp on self-care.

6.   Resist the urge to multi-task and juggle your personal life and work life during your work day.

The mind will always take the path of least resistance, especially when no one is watching.

→  Be careful of small, quick distractions becoming large time wasters. For instance, throwing in a quick load of laundry which in your mind will take 2 or 3 minutes can result in a wasted 30 minutes getting your kids to bring theirs down, sorting, folding, etc.  Set a timer for your breaks, keep your eye on the clock, or schedule a conference call to force you to get back to business in a reasonable period of time.

→  Have a few minutes between conference calls? Maximize your time by keeping a small work “to-do” list of items of value that you can accomplish in tiny pieces of time. Have a 5, 10 or 20 minute Short List of items you need to get done. As an added benefit, getting these “little” things off your plate will also help you stay out of overwhelm.

→  Keep a running list of people to email, call, text or follow up with. Keeping business relationships strong during these tough times can pay long term benefits. Let your business colleagues /clients know you care and are thinking of them.

→  Make your commute time count. Reallocate your commute time to productive ends. Be intentional about how you spend that time. If you used to spend 30 minutes to and from work, you can use that 20-30 minutes to do some things you didn’t have time for before. Schedule that time to get a walk or a run in,  read a story to your kids, play a family game or sit down with your teen to watch a show, read, meditate, make that phone call to a family member or dedicate that time to that side business you always wanted.

The coronavirus and Covid-19 may have created an abundance of uncertainty and it might have upended your normal office word day, but you can make working from home work for you. It can be very rewarding even. Some things have changed, but some things have remained very much the same: you have control over your productivity and your time management. You are still in charge of creating the most effective strategies to stay on top of your game. Set yourself up for success at work and use the extra time to stay engaged with family, your health, and anything else that matters to you. Stay healthy!

Tips to increase productivity when working from home