Stopping the stress of working from home

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic — and generally hunkering down amid stay-at-home orders — mixes multiple aspects of life. That can be a recipe for stress.

For those accustomed to large offices and co-worker interactions, it's a drastic change. Even people who usually work at home are now also juggling added responsibilities and concerns, such as a partner working at home, children out of school or the need to check on older loved ones.

Household chores and trips to crowded grocery stores can heighten anxiety, especially for women who may fill the main caretaker role, said Dr. Gina Lundberg, clinical director of the Emory Women's Heart Center and associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"It's a really stressful time," she said. "Everyone else should pitch in."

Stress in the short term can increase blood pressure and heart rate and interfere with sleep, said Lundberg, a volunteer for the American Heart Association. Over the long term, stress can lead to weight gain and pose a risk for diabetes.

Several strategies can help you stay healthy and bring life into balance.

Develop a schedule

Decide when to wake up, work, exercise, eat and play.

"Regaining a sense of control will minimize distress," said Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, a holistic health counselor and CEO of Power Living Enterprises, Inc.

Setting a schedule with other family members ensures individual needs are met, Kennedy said.

Many people find comfort in routines, Lundberg added. For example, you might specify 9 a.m. to noon as work time for your job, then arrange for a lunch break and time to oversee children's play or at-home schoolwork before finishing the workday from 2 to 6 p.m.

Designate workspace at home

Whether it's a home office or even a small corner of the living room, a specific spot for work helps with concentration and productivity while establishing boundaries with others in the household.

Select a well-lit area, preferably with a window. Consider playing soothing background music.

Avoid keeping the television or radio news on while working. An overload of information about the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, can lead to more stress.

"It's real. We all need to take it very seriously," Lundberg said, but she warned against a bombardment of "doom and gloom" about the virus.

Stay physically active

It's as important as ever to incorporate physical activity into your day.

Even if gyms are open in your community, avoid exercising there because of the number of other people who are present and handling equipment. While practicing social distancing, try to exercise in your neighborhood or local park by taking a brisk walk or bike ride.

"Nature reminds us that the cycle of life goes on, and this too shall pass," Kennedy said.

Fitness apps and YouTube videos can help with aerobics, strength training, yoga or Pilates at home. Or, do yardwork or play music and dance.

Eat healthy

Comfort food may be calling out to you now and pickup from a restaurant may sound appealing. That's OK at times, but focus on nutritious eating with plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean protein.

"An apple a day really is healthy," Lundberg said, noting that fresh produce is best, followed by frozen. Canned vegetables may contain more sodium. All can be healthy choices.

With some grocery store shelves depleted, or trips to the store infrequent, consider buying fresh vegetables and freezing them, Kennedy said. Indulge in a dessert. But avoid store-bought cookies or ice cream. Try baking oatmeal raisin cookies or making a frozen fruit smoothie.

Use the opportunity to try new recipes or revive old favorites.

Avoid social isolation

If you live alone and feel marooned, connect with others through social media, group chat, video calls or an old-fashioned phone call. Pleasant conversation with friends and family can keep spirits up.

Look for online games to play with friends across the country.

Remember to reach out to older or other vulnerable loved ones who need to remain isolated to safeguard their health, but who need social connections.

Focus on the positive

Allow time for your own relaxation and keep children happy with creative activities, such as researching a project to create with household items or "virtual play dates" online with friends, Kennedy said. Enjoy a family game night or learn words together in a foreign language.

It's a good time for all ages to catch up on reading books, Lundberg said. She also pointed to innovative virtual programs and ideas, such as musicians performing online concerts and people expressing thankfulness for health care workers and first responders.

"It's really cool, these acts of kindness that are going on," Lundberg said.

This interruption in our normal lives may be an opportunity to build deeper bonds with others, Kennedy said.

"One question to ask ourselves is, how can you use this crisis as a catalyst for growth?"

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