The other day we were talking to a friend of ours, who has been working form home and in quarantine (complying to the recommended precautions for COVID-19) for over 35 days. She joked that she ‘wasn’t sure what day it was’ because the pandemic quarantine had so disrupted her sense of a normal schedule.
With movie theaters and retail stores closed, schools out with students learning online to complete the year, recreational centers, places of worship, gyms and restaurants all closed, there is literally no place to go (even if you did want to venture out).
That got us thinking about how easy it is to lose the sense of life balance, when you are at home 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. It is a different kind of stress, and for some, the additional burden of symptoms of anxiety and depression (clinical or circumstantial to the pandemic) is overwhelming.
We did a little searching through resources to see how psychologists recommend handing a quarantine in a healthy way. What kind of habits can we create during this trying period, to protect our energy, mental and physical health? We’ve separated them for those that are currently working full-time and remotely from home, and those who are currently on furlough from their employer, during the COVID-19 quarantine.
If you are one of the lucky ones who was able to transition from working in your office to working at home, consider that only 10% to 20% of the employed individuals are able to do make that shift. That is not to say that working from home is not disruptive or that it has few challenges; it just means that you have some security in knowing your job is safe. And that’s a good thing.
We talked to more than twenty work-from-home professionals in April, and they were not complaining about being ‘bored’ or having nothing else to watch on Netflix. They were exhausted. With no where to go, many professionals have been extending their work day. Starting earlier than normal. Working late, and in some cases, working 7-days per week.
There are two reasons for this over commitment in working hours. For some people, staying busy is a relief from the anxiety and uncertainty that we are all feeling right now. If you are tired and busy, chances are you don’t have enough energy to worry too much about what you are seeing on YouTube, or your local news broadcast, right? It’s a logical strategy. But did you know it can weaken your immune system?
When we experience transient stress, the body releases the ‘fight or flight’ stress hormone called cortisol. This hormone is meant to be a short-term sprint of energy, to make us stronger, faster, and more agile to deal with a threat or stressful situation. A flood of Cortisol is not meant to be sustained daily; that’s categorized as chronic stress.
Aside from impacting energy levels, mood and irritability, long-term excessive cortisol is very damaging to our natural immune systems. What is actually interesting about the stress hormone is that when it is used periodically, it does provide a short-term boost to immunity. Long-term however, it decreases the body’s lymphocytes or white blood cells. The lower your white blood cell count, the more susceptible you are to viral and bacterial infections.
When your doctor says that managing your stress is important to your health, now you know why. While you are burning the candle at both ends, you are also burning out your immune system. Impairing it so that it can’t defend you against viruses like Covid-19. There is a reason they call it “burn out”.
If you are one of millions of employees who found themselves placed on furlough as businesses downsized their staff during the quarantine and pandemic, home might be the most relentlessly boring place right now. And it might be hard for those who are employed remotely to sympathize with what you are going through; they are busy, and secretly wish they could binge on Netflix on the couch with their dog too.
But what many people do not realize is that acquiring financial assistance can be challenging. Approximately 25 million people in the United States applied for unemployment benefits during the month of March 2020. And because of the high volume of applications, the processing of benefits has been very delayed. This is also true in many other countries around the world.
Job loss under any circumstance is stressful. So, if you are thinking that your unemployed relative or friend has it easy right now; they don’t. And without the opportunity to work from home, some may be more prone to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. You can only clean the house and reorganize your pantry so many times before everything starts to feel a little redundant. And stressful.
In addition to significantly weakening the immune system, stress has also been linked to causing serious health conditions including arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease or IBS.
Whether you are packing too much into every day or struggling to find things to do in your residential home while on lock-down for COVID-19, the problem is really the same. Our lives do not have the schedule and structure that they had before the health protocols changed how we travel, work, and socialize with others.
Create a daily schedule. If you have a dry erase board, you can make a checklist every day that can vary in terms of activities or tasks that you would like to get completed. Or you could add your checklist to your Google Calendar too, and schedule reminders that will pop up on your phone and help keep you active throughout the day.
How can you break up your day in a way that is more beneficial to your physical and mental health, as we navigate the pandemic? Include a balance of activities and most importantly, rest breaks (including a nap during the day) to reduce your stress level.
Consider creating a schedule that includes some creative ways to spend your time recharging:
Routines are important to our sense of flow and meaning to our day. Create your at-home quarantine schedule, and remember to build in work, play, creativity, fitness, and healthy meals every day. Structure is good for all of us and can help us all reduce the feeling of being cooped up and unproductive (or over productive) during this difficult time. Another suggestion to overcoming stress is planting a garden.