You grumble daily about your commute. You’re tired of long hours in the office, endless meetings, and wasted time on matters that seem mostly like administrivia. “If only I could work from home!” you say. “I’d be productive and relaxed. My job would be so much better!”
Be careful what you wish for.
Then, just like that, many of us are working from home. In the first moment we’re excited by the possibilities. Then we realize that we’re not the only adult in the home working remotely. And, oh yeah, our kids are home from school with “nothing to do” while the school figures out how to shift to distance learning. Work takes a back seat while we figure out the new plan and get everybody settled. “Phew! Now I can get to work! Where was I…?” And for a solid fifteen minutes you are in work heaven. Your focus is better. Your distractions are minimal. “This is going to be great,” you think. Except that it isn’t. A few days in we feel stalled, unfocused, and out of rhythm. We’re tired and feel strangely isolated.
Balance: Key to Our Health & Well-being
Even in “normal times” I commonly hear stories from my clients of burn-out. Maybe they’re working long hours and find it hard to turn off work-think even late at night when they’re exhausted and trying to get to sleep. Maybe they start out each day feeling like today is going to be the day that everything clicks and by 2:00p they just want a nap. Or their excitement about possibilities in the office turns to drudgery. Their lives are out of balance. And when our lives are out of balance, our internal batteries slowly discharge until, one day, there is so little energy remaining that it’s hard to find a way back.
If we’re to stay fresh, there are three parts of our lives that we humans must keep in balance: body, mind, spirit. When one of these is missing or underfed, our energy is depleted and a depleted level in one can often lead to lethargy in the others. Left unchecked, we can get so exhausted or exasperated that we just want to run away from everything. When we’re living in balance, we can feel as though we’re ready to deal with whatever life brings us and emerge the victor.
Our Body Is Our Vehicle — Keep It Fueled.
They help us experience the world. If you’ve experienced the failure of a significant part of your body, you know how difficult even common tasks can be when you’re not fully-abled. A healthy body helps us navigate our physical world. It brings oxygen to our brains. And it produces hormones that can either invigorate us or make it hard to function. There are three things to which we should pay attention if we are to keep our bodies performing in our service – sleep, good nutrition, and exercise.
Most of us require 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night to function well. Getting enough sleep should be priority. I’ve worked with many people who wear short nights as a badge of honor and a sign of their dedication to work. However, in an article from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the author (Shona Halson, PhD) presents the effect of a 2.5 hour reduction in sleep per night over just 4 nights as measured in eight swimmers. They found that “mood state was significantly altered with increases in depression, tension, confusion, fatigue and anger and decreases in vigor.” A good night of sleep is an essential ingredient in clear-headed decision-making.
Our food is our fuel. Just as kerosene wouldn’t power your car well, your body and brain won’t be well-powered by low quality fuel. Eat a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, and fat. Stay away from sugar.
My wife recently quoted an older gentleman in our town who told her, “Motion is the lotion,” when referring to the importance he put on being active at his advanced age. The benefits of a regular exercise regimen, even a modest one, are extensive no matter what your age. If you don’t get to the gym regularly, get out for a walk, stand more than you sit, and move around often.
A Busy Mind Is a Happy Mind.
I remember being bored from time to time as a youth. When I was bored, nothing sounded interesting. Our minds want to be active, to be challenged. We enjoy solving problems and the joy of triumph in solving difficult ones. We attain some of our sense of being-valued based on the problems we solve and the consequential value we create. Our workplace is often the place where we do much of our explicit thinking. Cultivating our curiosity is a good way to keep the world interesting and our minds engaged. Clear-thinking can give us a sense of control over our domain, which increases our sense of certainty (even in times of uncertainty) and wellness.
Relationships — A Key to Happiness and Health.
Humans are social animals and our healthy spirit comes from maintaining healthy relationships. In a 2015 TED Talk describing the key finding from a 75 year Harvard Study of Adult Development, Dr. Robert Waldinger spoke of the importance of relationships. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” These relationships might be with family, or friends, or community, or perhaps a higher power. Our relationships help us remember that we’re not alone in the world and that others are there to share with us our joy and our sorrow.
When we don’t invest enough in our relationships, we can begin to feel isolated and insignificant. Healthy relationships can help our resilience by giving us meaningful sounding boards for problem-solving, camaraderie when we’re going through a tough patch, partners-in-crime when we want to get into mischief, and simply somebody with whom to celebrate life’s victories. Relationships help us keep our spirits high even in the face of difficulty.
Balance: A Necessary Priority When We Have Other Priorities
As we take up new habits to limit COVID-19 transmission, let’s remember to keep ourselves in balance. Some simple adjustments can help us fuel our energy during and for change.
Let’s keep our bodies healthy. When we’re working from home, we’re closer to our refrigerators. Be aware of the lure of snacking and keep consumption in check. Use the time we’re not commuting to get regular exercise. Find ways to avoid sitting in our home office spaces for hours without breaks. Get out for a walk.
Let’s keep our minds engaged. When we’re away from the office, we may find that new problems are not coming to us with the same frequency as we’re accustomed to. As a result, we’ve got a little more “mental space” than we’re used to. This is a great time to work on the hard problems that require deep thinking. When we’re busy – i.e., most of the time – we set those problems on the back burner. Good strategy and complex problem-solving requires time to think through the problem space, the possibilities, and implementation plans. You’ll keep your mind engaged and challenged if you use this time to tackle the hard stuff.
Let’s tend to our spiritual connections. Our social-distancing – for work and in community – can wreak havoc with our sense of belonging. One difficulty with working remotely is that we don’t bump into people. Nor do we call people unless we’ve got something important to tell someone or ask. As a result, our remote working leaves us feeling isolated. Nor can we combat this feeling by heading down to the local pub. People aren’t gathering there either. Make time for social interaction. Set aside time for family conversations. Set aside time for colleagues to gather – online this time – for no particular reason other than to talk about what’s on your minds. Find ways to connect with your friends who are likely going through the same things you are. These connections will keep your spirit intact and help you weather the stresses of change that you’re finding all around you.
Body. Mind. Spirit. Balanced and Ready!
Change, even when it’s what we think we want, can leave us surprisingly discombobulated and sapped of our emotional and physical energy. Keeping our bodies healthy, creating habits of thought that allow us to stay engaged, and keeping our relationships at the forefront will help us weather this viral storm or the next storm that comes our way.