Is it possible to ‘switch off’ work mode during lockdown?

  • Working from home during lockdown may be causing constant stress and anxiety
  • If you feel this way, you may need to consider changing your routine 
  • You need to put your mental and physical health first – and here are a few ways to do just that 

If you feel like you’ve been losing all sense of time during lockdown, and that life has become one huge blur, you’re not alone. There’s actually a psychological explanation for this.

As psychologist Sherry Benton, professor emeritus at the University of Florida told HuffPost: “Anytime we have a big change in routine, this happens. We are accustomed to a certain amount of structure to our days. Moving to working from home disrupts the structure.”

Without this structure, it goes without saying that our days start to feel like they've become merged into one, making it hard to keep track of dates. Additionally, working from home alongside home-schooling and other responsibilities, we constantly need to multitask – which begs the question: Is it possible to "switch off" and recharge during lockdown?

Technology: know when it’s time to take a break

Technology has quickly become an important part of every facet of our lives, be it in our work or personal space. Without a break from our devices, we might feel at a loss. But effectively disconnecting from this in order to maintain a good headspace is possible, writes technology writer, Sun Sun Lim in Nature. He suggests listing all the online and phone notifications you receive in a day, be it news notifications, WhatsApp messages, or emails.

“... identify which ones you need to act on fast, and which can be digested more slowly, during calmer pockets in your day. Silence the feeds and notifications that are of lower priority to minimise unnecessary distraction,” he advises.

The best tip to limit your excessive screen time? “Use screen-time reminders to set limits for yourself,” Lim says.

Find a spot in your day for ‘me time’

If you’re constantly being plunged into activity, you may start to feel guilty when taking time out of the day to clear your mind and have a bit of guilt-free idle time. Making a conscious decision to take a break during stressful times is more important than you might realise.

Your whirring mind might also be interfering with a good night’s sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity and depression, among others.

Learn to flip the guilt by recognising the importance of giving your brain some "idle" time. Research shows that this changes the brain’s chemistry by boosting the feel-good hormone serotonin. So make it a point to set goals, but avoid pushing yourself to the point of burnout.

Transitions during WFH are still important

Another significant point Lim brings up is that before the pandemic and lockdown, many of our normal routines would have involved periods of “warming up, cooling down and rest”. In other words, for example, dropping off your children at school or commuting to work can be the break that allows you to reflect on the tasks ahead.

“But the blending together of work and home, and the absence of that transition time, can make it harder to perform effectively,” Lim goes on to say, adding that a possible solution to this is creating routines that will allow us to transition between our professional and "home" modes.

“This could involve changing into and out of work clothes, or setting a fixed time of the day to go for a walk and leave your work obligations behind... These fixed activities can help to structure your day both logistically and psychologically, and help you to attain a better work-life balance,” he writes.

Pay careful attention to your posture and ergonomics

If you’re one of the millions of people around the world working from home, it could mean that you tend to stay seated for longer, notes a previous Health24 article. Not purposefully moving around is dangerous to both our physical and mental health. Several studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time (without any breaks in between) can boost disease risk, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

A HealthDay article reports that you can avoid the consequences of spending too much sitting time by fitting exercise into your day.

"Our study suggests that doing enough walking, strenuous housework and gardening – as well as dedicated exercise – decreased the risks from sitting," said lead researcher Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis, also a professor at the University of Sydney in Australia.

If you tick this box, try to give your eyes a break by prioritising leaving your desk for "microbreaks" during the day. These could include taking a brief walk around your neighbourhood, or grabbing a glass of water from the kitchen every hour or so. Simple stretching is also a great way to counteract long periods of sitting.

Studies have shown that these microbreaks can also improve your ability to concentrate and reduce work stress. 

READ | How to get better sleep while working at home

READ | High levels of stress hormone cortisol linked to Covid-19 deaths

READ | An expert's guide to fighting coronavirus stress

Image: Getty

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