Tag Archives: stress

It’s Okay to Hate Working From Home

By Tracey Dowdy

Are you among the millions of Americans for whom the idea of working from home sounded like a dream, but in reality, it’s turned out to be a nightmare? The blurred lines of work and home life, frequent interruptions, lack of dedicated workspace, and the logistics of working as a team via Zoom meetings and email have left millions of workers frustrated and longing for the structure and routine of the office or job site. 

Take heart. You’re not alone. Recently, the CDC partnered with the Census Bureau on an experimental data system called the Household Pulse Survey. They discovered that one-third of all Americans are struggling with depression or anxiety in the wake of COVID-19, up from the 18% reported pre-COVID

The effects of that anxiety and depression can manifest in many ways, but one of the most common is a lack of motivation and productivity. Ashley McGirt, a licensed mental health therapist, says, “Several studies have shown the connection between low work productivity and even mild forms of depression. A normal brain thinks about 70,000 thoughts a day; an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount of thoughts and can lean to low productivity from spending time perseverating on numerous thoughts. The current state of the world has caused immense grief, depression, and anxiety. Many people’s normal coping forms have been closed, such as going to the gym, movies, or [going] out with friends. As we have had to adapt to a new normal many of us have had to find new coping skills.” 

Alongside our rising stress levels is the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news – racial tensions, hurricanes, problems with our health care system, and a divided political landscape – while we lack human connection to mitigate those feelings. 

The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay not to be okay. This is an unprecedented season that no one outside a Cormack McCarthy novel could have anticipated. Allow yourself the grace you desperately need and accept that you aren’t at your best and may not be for some time. Beating yourself up for not meeting your pre-COVID standards only fuels your stress level. “It is extremely important to give yourself grace during this time,” McGirt says. “If all you do is get out of bed and brush your teeth consider it okay. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be productive and constantly working. It is important to slow down and rest and reflect. While we are dealing with many unknowns during this unprecedented time, it is important not to add the stress of productivity to your plate.”

One way to manage your expectations is to go through your to-do list and be merciless in eliminating what can wait. If you’re struggling to keep up with the dishes, use paper plates. If meal planning is overwhelming, switch to simple meals like breakfast for dinner or sandwiches to limit prep and clean up. 

Take breaks whenever you can, even if it’s just stepping out your front door and taking a few deep breaths to clear your head. Self-care isn’t only bubble baths and spa days; it can be as simple as savoring a cup of tea, taking five minutes to meditate, or getting up to move your body.  

Years ago, Mad TV had a hilarious recurring sketch, “Lowered Expectations.” Though your life may not be the mess those characters were, there’s nothing wrong with lowering the expectations you set for yourself short-term. Life is far from normal, so allow yourself to lower the bar and celebrate your wins every chance you get. Accomplishing everything on a shorter-than-usual-to-do list gives you a mental boost, whereas an incomplete list inevitably feels like failure. 

So, stand up straight, look in the mirror, and give yourself a “You’re doing great sweetie,” because you are. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Unplug to Help Manage Anxiety and Stress

By Tracey Dowdy

I recently saw an article with a title something like “Five Minute Method to Reduce Stress” and my first thought was “Five minutes? That’s a long time.” My next thought was “Are you kidding? Since when did five minutes become a long time?”

Don’t get me wrong, depending on the circumstances five minutes can feel like eternity – have you been to the DMV lately? – while in other situations time flies by.

Living in a digital age we’ve become accustomed to instant gratification. In just a minute or two we can have coffee from our Keurig, heat up lunch in a microwave, and track shipping on our next-day Amazon Prime order. Because so many of our needs are met immediately, some of us have lost the ability to wait and, when we are made to wait, we consciously or unconsciously feel the need to fill that void with technology.

A study led by Professor Ofir Turel of California State University found that Internet addiction impacts the same areas of our brain as cocaine and other drugs. Researchers measured volunteers’ responses to Facebook statuses and found that the amygdala, the part of our brain that helps establish the significance of events and emotions, and the striatum, which processes and anticipates rewards, were both affected.

The good news is the addiction is easier to break than drug addiction but our biggest barrier is low motivation. When everyone else is doing it why stop? Our mindset is, “If everyone else is doing it, what’s the big deal?”

Well, I’m glad you asked. Countless studies on the impact of the overuse of technology show addiction increases levels of anxiety and stress. Disconnecting for even a short time has been shown to reduce those stress levels and help individuals re-focus as well as become more productive and creative. Small changes can make a big impact and significantly improve your overall quality of life.

Small changes like these can help you get back on track:

  • Ease into it. Don’t cut yourself off cold-turkey – that’s setting yourself up for failure. Instead, set time limits or boundaries like “I’ll leave my phone in my bag during dinner” or “I won’t check out Facebook until I finish this project.” Professor Turel’s study found that although tech addiction mirrored substance addiction, it’s a much easier habit to break because the the impulsive systems in the brain aren’t interrupted or impaired as they are with drugs.
  • Follow a single-screen rule. In other words, if you’re watching TV, watch TV; don’t get lost online for an hour and suddenly realize you’ve no idea what just happened on your show.
  • Leave your devices in another room. How far are you from your cell phone right now? Be honest. It’s probably within arm’s reach if not closer. Instead, especially at night, leave your phone in another room. Leave the ringer on if you’re worried about missing an emergency call, but leaving your devices outside your bedroom means you’ll start to fall asleep faster and the quality of your sleep will improve as well.
  • Leave your phone off the table. Whether you’re at home having dinner with family or sitting in a restaurant with friends, be with who you’re with. Engage in conversation, make eye contact and revel in the miracle of real, live, non-Photoshopped facial expressions.
  • Turn on Silent mode and turn off Notifications. Do you really need to know every time someone Instagrams their lunch or Tweets about Trump? We’ve become the human embodiment of Pavlov’s dog – every time our phone chirps we pick it up and see what’s happening. Not having that audio cue will dramatically reduce the temptation to check your screen.

Remember, a strength out of balance is a weakness. The ability to connect instantly is a wonderful thing – but not if it’s at the expense of your overall well-being.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.