10 Tips to Find Balance During the Pandemic
How to thrive during the holidays.
Posted November 24, 2020
As the prolonged pandemic continues to batter the American economy, it has produced a high level of stress and burnout. MindEdge Learning and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) conducted a national survey of 757 HR professionals between Sept. 15 and Oct. 2, 2020. Three-quarters of the respondents (75%) reported an increase in their employees’ burnout due to stress from COVID-19, and 53% reported that their companies have introduced new benefits to help employees deal with stress or plan to do so in the near future.
In another study, Skynova surveyed over 1,150 employed Americans, including 400 managers, and found that nearly 1 in 3 employees don’t feel encouraged to take work breaks while working from home with nearly 1 in 4 employees stating they can never take a break. Nearly 1 in 6 managers surveyed don't encourage their team to take breaks while working from home. Overall, respondents who skip lunch are over two times more likely to say they're stressed out and twice as likely to report feeling burned out
Balancing work and home life has become more complex due to COVID-19, especially where school-age children are involved. If pandemic life has made it necessary for you to stress yourself out to get everything done, you could be one of millions who consider this strategy to be an essential survival tool in a culture that expects you to do it all and do it well. On the one hand, there is pressure to do more at work, take on extra responsibilities or even adjust to unfamiliar roles due to company pivots or cutbacks. On the flip side, family pressures and responsibilities and your own self-care don’t automatically disappear. Balancing work and personal life can be tricky but certainly not impossible. Knowing where to start is key, and for all of us it begins with self-care.
What Is Self-Care?
If you’re in the habit of putting your needs at the bottom of the list to meet work or personal demands, you can’t be the best version of you. Self-care prepares you to give more to others. When you put yourself first, there’s more of you to go around. I sat down with environmental activist Erin Brockovich and asked her how she mitigates stress and burnout with all she continues to accomplish. As a single mom with no job in 1993, she used her pit-bull determination to help residents of Hinkley, California win a massive arbitration against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Her efforts were extolled in the biographical film, Erin Brockovich, in which actress Julia Roberts won an Oscar dramatizing Brockovich’s true story. The regimen Brockovich uses to recharge her own busy life is a great example of self-care:
“The busyness of life can take our spirit from us, but it can be renewed. When I’m quiet, I remember to breathe and be mindful. I think of the simple things and go outdoors and connect with the environment where I can think and hear myself whether it’s sitting at the ocean or swinging in my backyard on a late summer’s night. Or just stopping to appreciate (ahh) the smell of rain. Or feeling a breeze across my face. I start looking at the formation of the clouds, enjoy the sun on my face, or the grandeur of a tall tree, how old it is, and wonder what it knows. You get to that place where you’re just being, and feel total renewal. That’s my recharge so I can go out the next day and go at it again.”
Get Off Autopilot
The human body has a mind of its own, tensing and tightening in reaction to the daily work grind. Your body is hard-wired to “think” for you so you can survive while managing the big picture of your life—like paying bills, managing your portfolio, carpooling the kids, or burning the midnight oil to meet a deadline. It’s called muscle memory, and we couldn’t function without it.
Remember when you first learned to ride a bike or drive a car? If you were like most people, you had to think of each step: adjust the seat, put on your seat belt, start the motor, release the handbrake, put it in gear, and so forth. If we did this every time we went somewhere, we’d be exhausted before we started our workday. Thank goodness for autopilot. Your body constantly responds to life’s stressors while you’re busy with career pursuits. But as much as autopilot helps us function, there’s a downside. It’s easy to turn everything over to autopilot. When we get caught in our daily routines and lose sight of the big picture, our lives start to feel off-kilter.
If you don’t listen and take care of your body, it will grab your attention by speaking to you in a stern voice: headaches, indigestion, body aches, and pains or muscle spasms. When we live on autopilot for long stretches and bring work-related stress into personal time, we lose touch with our bodies and minds and the friends and family we love most.
Present-moment awareness or mindfulness can help us live a more balanced life. In the past when I had a deadline, my shoulders unwittingly hunched up to my ears in reaction to the pressure. After I became aware of it, I started to make a concerted effort to keep those muscles relaxed. When we start to become better acquainted with our bodies, listen to them and take care of them, we notice a huge drop in our stress levels.
Creating balance is much like driving a car when the gas and brakes work together. These 10 tips can help you develop a self-care plan and maintain work/life balance during the holidays:
1. Have a to-be list alongside your to-do list.
2. Stack your positivity deck to offset your negativity bias.
3. Make sure your tallcomings equal your shortcomings.
4. Have lifelines—pauses to smell the roses—on the way to your deadlines.
5. Step back and look at the big picture when you get stuck in the small stuff.
6. Create a gratitude list when you get caught in a litany of grievances.
7. Get outside in nature for green time after prolonged periods of screen time.
8. Pinpoint the opportunity in the difficulty instead of the other way around.
9. Take health days in addition to sick days.
10. Let yourself be drawn with passion instead driven from pressure.
In addition to these 10 tips, make sure you realize you’ve hit your breaking point long before stress-warning signs set in. Instead of pushing past them, cushion your workday to soften stress blows. Avoid putting yourself under unrealistic deadlines. Spread job tasks over reasonable time frames. Build time cushions between Zoom meetings. Try leaving for your workstation (even if you’re working remotely) 10 or 15 minutes earlier so you won’t start your day in a hurry. Ease into your workday instead of catapulting into it. Unplug at the end of the day and set boundaries to protect your personal and private time. If a colleague asks you to do something when you’re already overloaded, learn to say no.
In order to apply your creative instincts at work, you need a clear and calm mind to consider limitless possibilities and think outside the box. Think of work/life balance as the Olympics. Your physical and mental endurance hinges on being in good shape. Prepare yourself by taking care of your physical health outside of work. Prime yourself with good nutrition, vigorous exercise, and ample sleep. When you carve out time to recharge and replenish, you give yourself the space to think outside the box in entirely new ways. The payoff is you become a more balanced person, family member, and productive worker and thrive amidst holiday stress.