Mablene Krueger, chief operating officer of the Schaumburg Campus, standing in the grand stairs of the Auditorium Building

Everyday life has its challenges.

Toss in a pandemic and a new way of life emerges: our homes become workplaces, daycares, classrooms, counseling centers (anyone else with teens reading this?), and full-service B&Bs. We just didn’t know we’d become the innkeeper, manager, daycare director, counselor and educator (well, some of us are okay with that one!).

As a direct result of this new world order, we have a whole new set of concerns regarding wellness.

Have you found yourself thinking about any of the following lately:

  • How am I going to figure out all this new technology?
  • How are we going to manage on all of these devices, with different schedules?
  • Where exactly are we all going to work when we have to do remote work simultaneously in my household?
  • How am I going to deal with seeing my family 24/7? How will any of us get privacy and needed alone time?
  • How much toilet paper should I really stock up on?
  • How am I going to deal with not seeing friends? How will I help my family members deal with this social isolation?
  • How am I going to get my exercise? How safe am I when I go outside?
  • How am I going to manage? How am I going to deal with all of this time?

With this in mind, we sat down (virtually, of course!) with Jennifer Muryn, PhD, business psychologist and Roosevelt University assistant professor. Below is the result of her expertise and insight into this unique time we are all facing.

How are our feelings driving our behavior?

Feelings associated with the shared concerns of this new normal often include uncertainty, stress and anxiety, frustration and depression.

They also include feelings of belonging to a larger community, heightened worldwide empathy and shared experience. We need to allow ourselves to pay attention to both types of emotions — positive and negative. Our thoughts create our reality, and in turn lead us to feel certain emotions about that reality.

Behaviors associated with feelings of fear, uncertainty and anxiety may lead us to overcompensate; for example, buying excessive amounts of toilet paper out of fear of not being able to access it in the future. (There is no objective evidence that anyone worldwide is in a toilet paper shortage now, nor projected to be.) However, our feelings of fear, uncertainty and anxiety lead us to behave this way.

Feelings of depression and social isolation may actually lead us to isolate further, exacerbating the inherent problem that humans are social animals who simply need each other and need to be around each other.

Feelings of frustration — at technology, lack of privacy, anything that comes from being confined and living in close quarters — can lead to arguments, conflict and overall disharmony in the place we all now need most.

We all have a “tell,” which is more of a symptom of something we do that tells us we are under a certain amount of stress and need to take a moment. It could be your eyes, your hands or your appearance. Perhaps the root cause is not getting enough sleep, or not eating enough or just simply having too much on our plate. Either way, look for your “tell,” or welcome the feedback when a friend or family member lets you know something is up.

Just one disruption is enough to cause stress, but several changes at once can truly challenge your ability to work effectively from home.

How, then, can you support wellness for yourself and your employees during your remote work requirement? The following suggestions can help with the thoughts and feelings many of us have. There is no singular solution that will work for all, so view these as a buffet of offerings to consider. We hope you find some value here.

SETTING A SCHEDULE

The Center for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation recommends keeping a regular schedule to maintain a routine, including periodic breaks to recharge. This includes waking up at your normal time — although if you normally wake up at 5 a.m. for a commute, you can either allow yourself an extra hour of sleep or you can maintain this time and take advantage of an early start for exercise or meditation.

Get dressed for the day. We’re not suggesting you need to put on that suit or dress, but the act of getting out of your pajamas tells your brain you are starting your day. Certainly your attire can be a bit more comfortable than usual, but if you have videoconference calls planned for the day, ensure your visible attire meets the outcome of the meeting.

Learn more from TODAY Style.

DRINK WATER & EXERCISE

Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated. If you are sitting in front of your computer for much of the day, you may not be moving as much as your body is used to. Which brings us to the next point — Exercise! In whatever form you can take, be sure to move throughout the day. With the closure of many gyms, this can be challenging for those who are used to a typical workout routine.

Add to this the fact that you may be under a “stay-at-home” order, given the current COVID-19 restrictions in some locations. If this is your situation, and weather permits, try to take breaks throughout your day and go outside for a quick walk. The fresh air and exercise will do your body good! If you are a runner, a quick 15-minute run will be even better to get those endorphins going!

Many trainers and programs have gone to YouTube and other social media channels to host online workouts that can be done at home and in small spaces. Many of these workouts recognize the need for no gym equipment and are quite creative with what they use! As one example, one of our former students, who is now a successful personal trainer, posts regularly on Instagram with his in-home workouts and healthy cooking tips (See @betterbodybybrian on Instagram). Or check out this blogpost by Dave Smith, a Canadian fitness professional who shared 50 of the best online free workout resources.

Whether you wake up early or fit in short, quick workouts throughout your day, it is valuable time spent to allow your mind to move away from the computer. And if you can get outside for a brisk walk or run, all the better!

VIDEOCONFERENCE FOR SOCIAL CONNECTION

Stay connected to coworkers, family and friends. Today’s technology allows everyone to connect for low to no cost via FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live or other videoconferencing and social media channels. Before you were required to work remotely, you likely spent a great deal of time in collaboration with coworkers. If not working together, you may have spent time simply socializing.

Don’t let this change of scenario get in the way of that connection — make time to stay in touch by creating virtual “water-cooler” time. Virtual happy hours are popping up all over social media today.

See “Here’s How to Host a Virtual Happy Hour and Why It Will Improve Your Mood.

SLEEP — FOR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH!

Be sure to get enough sleep. While each person’s need for sleep can vary, The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for people ages 18 to 64. However, a recent Harvard Health Letter acknowledged that studies have shown nearly 50% of us sleep less than the recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation. The downside to this, the Harvard Health Letter contends, is that the average person has worsening health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a shorter lifespan.

Taking advantage of working remotely can allow employees to capitalize on the extra hour of sleep in the morning. It can also, however, lead employees to stay up later — so ensure that you maintain regular bedtime rituals and sleep times.

Pay attention to your sleep cycle and whether you are most productive in the morning or evening. Are you a morning person or a night owl? This may be a time for late-night folks to shine if working from home with a schedule that can be modified.

See “Life Really is Harder for Night Owls.”

REFRAME YOUR MINDSET (ACCEPT AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS)

Accept that part of what we’re going through is grief. Grieving the loss of what once was, the normalcy of work, of home, of life. Recently a Harvard Business Review article summed up this topic perfectly, sharing that we should find balance in our thoughts, stepping away from “anticipatory grief.” Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present.

It can be difficult not to consider the “what ifs” when we don’t know “how long” everything will last. Practicing mindful meditation and living in the moment are ways to be “present.” Although it may be easier said than done, mindful meditation does have its benefits when practiced regularly.

See “10 Amazing Benefits of Mindfulness Backed by Science.”

A big benefit of reframing your mindset through meditation and acceptance is that you learn the skill of coexisting with “negative” emotions — the ones most people don’t like to experience. Once you acknowledge that you are experiencing that temporary emotion (they are all temporary, even the fun ones!), the experience of having that emotion changes. It doesn’t go away, but it seems to lose its power and grip over you.

A tip from Dr. Muryn: “In self-talk, shift how you relate to your emotions. Instead of ‘I am anxious,’ replace that thought with ‘The feeling I am experiencing is anxiety.’ This shifts the thinking and ownership of the emotion from I/me to reminding yourself it is temporary and not some permanent part of your identity.”

In the end, we must all be cognizant of our own well-being and recognize when we need to take a moment to care for ourselves. That “tell” moment we mentioned earlier? Be open to self-reflection during this time, and pay attention to those “tells.”

We truly are all in this together.

Mablene Krueger is the chief operating officer of Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg Campus and former president of Robert Morris University Illinois; Ann Bresingham is the chief of staff to the chief operating officer of Roosevelt University and former vice president of human resources of Robert Morris University Illinois.

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