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Apr 9, 202010:54 AM Live Well, Work Well

with Debra Lafler

The well-being guide for working remotely

Some of us have been working remotely prior to COVID-19, but for most of us this is a new experience. For many, we are trying to figure out how to do this well. This article will give you details on the following tips:

  • Create a schedule;
  • Find a space for private meetings;
  • Pay attention to ergonomics;
  • Get in physical activity;
  • Be mindful of grazing eating; and
  • Take care of emotional well-being.

Create a schedule

Just like working in an office, it is best to create a schedule at home, too. Have a start time, break times, lunch time, and an end time. You don’t have to be online for work 24/7, unless that is your role. If you have a 40-hour work week, for your well-being, be vigilant to only work those hours.

However, if you have others in the household with you, I would plan for your schedule to be somewhat flexible. Things happen! If you have to attend to something, do so, and move your schedule that day or that week to account for your hours. Try not to stress about it. It’s expected in times like these. Hopefully, your employer will also be understanding.

Find a space for private meetings

I know this one can be challenging if you live in a smaller space with others and/or pets but see if you can find a room that has a door that you can use for meetings. Tell others you will be in the room and not to disturb you. Put a sign on the door to remind them, and close and lock the door.

If things do come up, and there are sounds in the house or knocks on the door, or you have to talk to someone in the house while in a meeting, remember that you can turn your video off and mute your video or call.

Pay attention to ergonomics

Most of us, at some point, have been informed of workstation ergonomics. Some of us may also have had an assessment and/or special workstation arrangements with different size monitors, keyboards, mouse, chair, and/or adjustable or standing desks. To review a formal guide, here is The National Institutes of Health’s Computer Workstation Ergonomics: Self-Assessment Checklist.

Some key concepts:

  • Have a chair that fully supports your back;
  • Feet on the floor;
  • Knees slightly below your hips;
  • Sit upright with spine aligned in a neutral position;
  • Head upright (not jutting forward or down);
  • Arms/shoulders resting comfortably (shoulders not hiked up or hunched over);
  • Wrists at a neutral position (not angled up or down);
  • Monitor at least an arms-length away from your face;
  • Ideally, separate monitor that is at eye-level; and
  • Ideally, a separate keyboard and mouse.

However, many of us now are without our office workstations. We may not have a formal office at home. We may not even have a monitor or keyboard. We may only have our laptop. So, for those of us who are doing our best to work with what we have, here are some other tips:

  • Alternate sitting and standing throughout the day;
  • Alternate surfaces (table, counter, floor, tray, etc.);
  • Raise your laptop with a tray, books, or boxes;
  • While sitting, use pillows to support your back;
  • While standing, use an anti-fatigue mat (here is an example); and
  • While on the floor, alternate positions keeping hips, shoulders, and head aligned.

Get in physical activity

While we have always needed to integrate physical activity into our days at work, for some of us, we are only now realizing that we must make time for this. We may not have realized before how much we moved at work with our commute, walking through the building(s), or walking to meetings or even the bathroom. Now, at home, many of us are realizing that we haven’t moved much at all!

Here are some tips:

  • Go for walks or bike rides at least once a day (prior to work, during a break, and/or after work).
    • Even better if you have kids at home, you can make this a family affair!
  • For every hour of work, do some stretches or light movements.
  • For online fitness or yoga classes, some ideas:
  • Plan physical activity outings for the weekend (walking, hiking, biking, etc.).
  • Join or start a community virtual event (example: Verona Public Library’s Virtual 5K).

Be mindful of “grazing” eating

For many, being at home makes it easier to graze all day. If you are noticing yourself do this, here are some tips:

  • Schedule your meals and snacks, just as if you were working;
  • When you do eat snacks, give yourself a portion on a plate or bowl;
  • Drink water throughout the day; and
  • Chewing gum sometimes helps if you are “munchie” but not hungry.

Take care of emotional well-being

Our emotional well-being is a specific priority during the COVID-19 quarantine days. With everything going on, we may feel anxious and/or we may be interacting with others that feel anxious, which can add to our own anxiety. For those of us who have existing mental health conditions, increases in anxiety can be challenging to cope with and we may need help.

Here are some tips:

  • Minimize or avoid media, especially if feeling overwhelmed.
  • Practice self-caring stress management and positive coping skills:
    • Take deep and slow breaths as often as needed;
    • Spend time in nature, if possible;
    • Go for walks, bike rides, or other physical activity;
    • Take moments to meditate or pray;
    • Journal about your feelings;
    • Do creative projects (writing, drawing, painting, woodworking, gardening, etc.);
    • Watch lighthearted shows or comedy;
    • Play board games or cards with friends or family members; or
    • Call loved ones for support and connection.
  • Grounding technique if you are feeling anxious:
    • Feel your feet on the floor;
    • Feel your bottom and back in your chair or on your bed;
    • Intentionally relax the body (the arms, the shoulders, the jaw, the forehead);
    • Bring attention to your breath;
    • Feel what it feels like to breathe slowly and deeply;
    • Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five;
    • Repeat three times or more; and
    • Look around you, notice, and say to yourself “I am safe right now.”
  • Be mindful of the signs/symptoms the you or a family member may need help:
    • Overwhelming fears of danger or panic;
    • Extreme mood swings;
    • Frequent expressions of anger, rage, or violence;
    • Rapid heart rate, breathing, or shaking/trembling;
    • Trouble concentrating, listening, or remembering;
    • Sleep disturbances (unable to sleep, or sleeping too much);
    • Body aches, pain, muscle tension, or digestive upset; or
    • Excessive unhealthy coping behaviors (e.g., alcohol or drug use, eating disorder behaviors, obsessive/compulsive or body-focused behaviors, etc.).
  • REACH OUT FOR HELP — If you or family members are struggling, reach out to a trusted provider to assist:
    • If you are working for an employer, check if you have an Employee Assistance Program.
    • If you have health insurance, ask your health plan about your mental health benefits.
      • Many health plans have approved virtual mental health visits during COVID-19.
    • For more resources and a list of hotlines, go the Wisconsin Department of Health Service’s Resilient Wisconsin website.

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About This Blog

Debra Lafler is a Madison-based wellness consultant, coach, and speaker with over 20 years of experience in the field. She currently works as the employee wellness and employee assistance program manager for the Wisconsin State Department of Health Services, and as an adjunct instructor for the University of Wisconsin’s Health and Wellness Management program. She also is available privately to hire as a business consultant, personal coach, or motivational speaker. Debra has a doctorate degree in Divinity & Spiritual Studies from Emerson Theological Institute; a master’s degree in Health & Behavior Studies specializing in Health Education from Columbia University; a bachelor’s degree in Communication, with certificates in Wellness and Coaching from The University of Wisconsin—Parkside; and certificates in Worksite Wellness, Holistic Stress Management, Grief Support, and Yoga. She can be reached at debra.lafler@wi.gov or deblafler@gmail.com.

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