By Amy Quinn, MA, MS, LMFT
In light of recent developments with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, many parents are now working at home while at the same time schooling their children at home. There is little opportunity to leave the house and engage in activities that were once a part of the normal routine for separating from the daily stress of work or school life. Now more than ever, seeking to achieve separation from work for adults as well as school for kids requires purposeful action.
Dealing with job or school demands can drain an individual’s resources. If these resources are not replenished during recovery time, then the person is at risk for burnout. Burnout is a condition that affects employees when they are under stress over long periods. Burnout is the result of depleted resources due to job demand and little or no action in replenishing these resources. Two major features of burnout include emotional exhaustion and feeling ineffective in one’s ability to perform their job duties (Greenberg, 2002).
In order to prevent parents from burning out from the increased demands of their new responsibilities of schooling their children at home and possibly maintaining their own work, one can apply burnout prevention research to their current situation. In addition, children can adopt these strategies in their daily routine to keep mentally and physically healthy during this time. The most replenishing activities for a person in their recovery time, according to research, includes taking frequent breaks, psychological detachment, relaxation, and mastery and control (Brough et al., 2014).
4 TIPS FOR WORK-LIFE BALANCE AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Tip 1: Take frequent breaks throughout the day and on weekends.
Why: Dealing with job demands can drain an individual’s resources, which are replenished during recovery time. Research indicates that breaks throughout the work day and on weekends are crucial to surviving stress (Landsbergis et al., 2012).
How to do this during mandatory stay at home orders:
Cardiovascular activities for short spurts throughout the day. Take a walk, ride a bike, or go for a run. If you can’t go outside, try finding a workout video that incorporates exercise you can do in your home.
Use your weekends to recover from work and school stress. If you can go outside with the family, spend time riding bikes, going for walks, or doing an outdoor activity like playing catch. If you cannot go outside, play card games, board games, charades, or activities that provide your brain a way to detach from work or school stress (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989).
Do homework or work on weekends. If possible, don’t check work emails during the weekend. If your situation does not allow for this, try to designate one hour each day of the weekend to not engage in work or school activities.
Tip 2: Psychologically detach from work and school.
Why: Sonnentag and Fritz (2007) found that people who were able to detach from their jobs (i.e. turn on the off button) after working had higher well-being. These people were also more satisfied with their jobs and experienced less emotional exhaustion and burnout. While we currently can’t physically leave our office place or home school, there are scheduling segmentation tactics that we can implement during the work day to prevent work-related issues from intruding into recovery time.
How to do this during mandatory stay at home orders:
Find a time during the day where you “leave work” or “leave school.” Perhaps you make an announcement to your kids, “School is over for the day!” For yourself, maybe you have a designated time during the day or evening where you stop working and don’t come back to your work until the next day.
Schedule times of the day where you allow yourself alone time. If your situation prevents you from having alone time due to the age of your children, perhaps turn on a screen for your children for an hour so that you can temporarily detach from your demands.
Check work emails before bed, and if possible, don’t keep your phone on at night. This allows for sleep cycles (an important recovery time) to be uninterrupted by outside demands.
Tip 3: Meditate.
Why: Research on worrying—a concept linked with hindering detachment—has shown that the amount of time people spend worrying can be reduced by intervention strategies (Sliter et al., 2014). One way to reduce worry is to implement meditation and breathing strategies when feeling overwhelmed.
Incorporate breathing exercises and meditation strategies throughout the day. There are mindfulness apps, videos on YouTube, and social media personalities that provide free breathing and meditation exercises to utilize during the day.
Have your children participate in breathing exercises, meditation strategies, and yoga practice. Several free YouTube videos have yoga exercises designed for children.
Use an excess of substances such as alcohol or cannabis. Despite the immediate effects substances can have in easing anxiety, the persistent use of this in excess over time may actually cause a person to feel more anxious and more depressed. In addition, it can prevent a person from learning to manage their stress and anxiety through healthier coping strategies like exercise and meditation (Amen & Amen, 2018).
Tip 4: Master something.
Why: Another important element of detachment from work is mastery. At work, we are often expected to be in control of our reactions, emotions, and actions. Successful recovery involves doing an activity that keeps us from thinking about the demands of work, giving us the opportunity to “let loose” and let go of that element of control. Some good activities for this include creative endeavors, sporting activities, and learning options (Hahn et al., 2011).
Try to master an activity unrelated to work or school. Perhaps it is a musical instrument, a sport, art, a blog, or a dance routine. Research shows that these types of activities allow the brain to detach from outside demands and use creative regions in the brain that are not utilized during school or work activities.
Encourage your family members to engage in their own mastery activities.
Use social media as a mastery activity. Mastery involves control over one’s activities, and often, social media is a place that one cannot control their environment or what comes across on their daily news feed. Try to avoid using social media as your only outlet from work or school demands. In fact, many studies have indicated that people who spend more time on social media have increased rates of depression (Chowdhry, 2016).
While these strategies seem simple, how often do we implement them? Difficulty managing stress has been linked to burnout, physical health problems, and mental health problems. By implementing small changes throughout your day, you can help prevent poor health outcomes for you and your family members.
We may not be able to control what happens in our day-to-day experiences at home, but we can implement daily, practical interventions that lead to overall well-being during this challenging time. If you are having a hard time coping with the current demands of your work or family life, please consider talking to a therapist.
© Copyright 2020 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Quinn, MA, MS, LMFT, therapist in Newport Beach, California
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.