Feel like you’re on the verge of going crazy? Have you eaten all your COVID-19 snacks? Do you stare out the window longingly looking at the cars driving by? If so, you might be working from home by yourself!

A little backstory here… My husband and I have only been married one year, but I’ve already gotten used to having him around, like, all the time. Last week, however, he had to go into work while I worked from home. And let me tell you… It was rough. I had SUCH a hard time finding the motivation to get things done and stay focused.

If you’re like me and are working from home all by your lonesome (whether you’re married, have roommates, or live by yourself), here are some tips you can use to keep from going absolutely nuts!

Where You’re Working Matters.

Whatever you do, DO NOT work from your bed or your couch, no matter how tempting it is! If you have a desk, use it. If not, work from your kitchen table! Sitting up in a chair and using a tabletop will help you stay focused and prevent you from sneaking that Netflix tab open. (PRO TIP: Try to find a spot that has natural light and isn’t in your main living area. This will keep your body’s natural rhythms in check while also keeping the temptation of the laundry, dishes, or other distractions at bay.)

Stick to your norm.

Obviously, this can’t be done in every way. But, with what you can control, do your best to stick with what you normally would! Do you shower every morning? Do that before you start working! Pack your lunch the night before? Make that a priority (and see more on that in the next tip!). Go on a walk during your lunch break? Keep that up, even if the location has changed!

Give Your Body Nutrition (But Don’t Overload).

Okay, I have to be honest here. Last week, it was a struggle when it came to snacking and meals. Since I had easy access to the yogurt, chips & dip, and cinnamon rolls my husband made, it was nearly impossible for me not to snack on it all constantly. Every time my mind wandered, it landed on snacks. And by the end of day three, I was feeling the consequences of it. By the end of the week, I learned some tricks:

  • Pack your lunch the night before. I usually pack my lunch every day for work, so why not do it when working from home? This way, it’s easier to limit my snacking only to what’s in the bag for the day.
  • Stick to your normal routine. If you usually have breakfast at 7, a snack at 10, lunch at 1, and a snack at 3, (or is it just me?) stick to that! Your body will react if you change schedules, so sticking to your norm will help your mind stay focused.
  • Give yourself smaller portions more often. This is something I live by most of the time, but it is especially helpful when working from home! When you’re able to have more (but smaller) snacks throughout the day, it easily provides variety to your day.

Get. Moving… A lot.

Whether you’re a regular gym-goer or not, your body needs to get some movement in! I won’t lie, I did not follow this tip at all in the first couple of days. (Was anyone else in a total daze the first few days of last week??) But the more I prioritized getting moving, the more I realized its impact! The key here is finding what works best for you.  Are you a morning person? Look up some at home no-equipment workouts to do before the sun’s up! Hate working out in general? Go for walks around your neighborhood!  Some people work best on a timer (30 minutes of work = 5-minute break/movement session), but I just can’t get into it. I don’t like leaving anything unfinished, so instead I work by task. Once I’ve crossed something off, I do one round of a quick HIIT workout by my favorite trainers. Find what works best for you and stick with it! 

Make a schedule.

The above two tips play into this, but creating a schedule for yourself is the biggest key to staying motivated. Motivation comes from completing tasks, so the more things you cross off your list, the more motivated you’ll be to finish it! And when you create a step-by-step outline of your day, you can build in those 5-minute workouts or 10-minute breaks. Not only will this help you stay focused and motivated, but it is actually proven that you’ll get more done!

Get human interaction where you can.

While I am lucky enough to have another person who lives in my house (thank you, husband), I know that not everyone reading this is married or has roommates. If you live by yourself, this tip might be more difficult to put into practice, but it’s not impossible! Rally up a few friends to have a daily lunch video call together. Talk about your days. Take turns asking silly questions. Enjoy the interactions! If you do live with other people that are still going to work during the day, use your time in the mornings and evenings to stockpile your personal interactions! It’s so important now more than ever to put the phones down, turn the TV off, and just enjoy the friendships around you. Virtually, of course.

Although working from home has its perks, working alone can be really challenging. But don’t give up! There are so many great things you can do to keep your focus. Finding what works best for YOU is the most important one. Have patience in the process. Working through change always takes time, but we’ll all come out stronger in the end if we keep trying. I’ll be wishing you all the greatest music, the best snacks, and the most human interaction possible from my quiet, quiet home!

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We are fighting an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy. Time to up our psychological warfare game. I give you Sun Tzu from the Art of War:


However desperate the situation and circumstances

Don’t despair.

When there is everything to fear

Be unafraid.

When surrounded by dangers

Fear none of them.

When without resources

Depend on resourcefulness.

When surprised

Take the enemy by surprise.

Sun Tzu probably never had to work from home and take care of his kids while quarantined.

We’ve definitely been surprised. Is it possible to take the enemy by surprise and regain some lost ground?

Many of us that are working from home and caring for our children feel trapped in a Catch-22. If we attend to our work, we feel like bad parents. If we attend to our kids, we feel like bad workers. (Perish the thought that we attend to ourselves.) We feel like failures on all fronts.

This expresses itself in guilt and compounds our stress and anxiety, so our bodies continue to release stress hormones like cortisol and we function perpetually in “fight or flight” mode. This compounds our struggles.

Tasks feel like they take so much longer. Easy things feel harder. Hard things feel completely impossible. Our brains really aren’t wired to multitask effectively and we are asking them to multitask while under a great deal of stress. That stress is chemical, it is hormones in our bodies. They take their toll and we give up even more ground. Eventually, you are not even you.

You don’t feel overwhelmed; your brain is overwhelmed. It is like overloading a circuit-breaker. It is going to trip and you’ll shut down. Some of us are already there.

Even our sense of time and our internal body-clock get out of whack. For some of us, the days feel unbearably long. For others, the days seem impossibly fast. The rhythms and routines that defined our days have been upended. Things that gave our lives meaning and significance have been taken from us.

Research indicates that child abuse and domestic violence rates are going up. Divorce lawyers are gearing up. These are our families. Our children. Our spouses. The people we love the most that can become both the catalyst and the object of our anger and stress. Make no mistake, we are in a war. The enemy is NOT our family. The enemy is the mercenary Covid-19 and the disruption it has brought to our lives.

We can wage this war with hand sanitizer, disinfectants, hand washing, and social distancing, but the real frontline is our mind. This is psychological warfare. So what are the rules of engagement?

An expert in psychological warfare says, “When people are stressed, there is a temptation to lose touch with reality and to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy, If you blur that line and start making decisions on false data, that’s going to lead to bad decision making.” 

Your mind is a Prediction Making Machine. Don’t rely on its guesses based on “false data” about the future and create false narratives like:

  • I’m botching my child’s future because I can’t really help them with school.
  • My boss probably thinks I’m a bad worker and is gonna fire me.
  • My spouse and I can’t get along and my marriage isn’t going to survive this. 
  • I’m going to be financially ruined.

You don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you. Tell your brain they’re Covid-19 psych ops, that other outcomes can be more likely. Tell your brain you will take things as they actually happen and not react because they might happen. 

What are your weapons? Directing your attention to the truth. Adjusting expectations. Practicing gratitude. Exercising stillness. (You don’t have to fill 100% of your day with activity.) Breathing. Releasing tension in healthy ways. Sharing love. Practicing grace and forgiveness. Creatively helping others. Putting off important decisions. All these weapons are right between your ears.

Just knowing you are engaged in psychological warfare is a good start. Hold your ground. Fight the good fight for yourself and for the people you love. Take Sun Tzu’s advice and surprise the enemy by using your best weapon- your mind. Don’t let yourself, family or marriage be a casualty. Don’t settle for being a survivor. Focus your mind on being victorious.

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All of us are beginning to realize that life as we have known it has dramatically changed. We’re at war against an invisible enemy that is wreaking havoc on our lives. Playdates for our children, lunch with friends, a steady income, worship, exercise classes, school, sports, graduations and even shopping are either non-existent, canceled, postponed, or look very different at this moment in time. Our lives have been interrupted in a huge way.

Even for the most spontaneous person, our dramatically different way of living has many of us on edge. And we may be wondering how to react during this COVID-19 outbreak.

“During times of trauma and uncertainty, we are stressed, weary and overwhelmed,” says Dr. Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist. “Our typical response is to ‘react’ in the moment, which often makes things worse. This is our emotional brain hijacking our thinking.”

Especially during these times, Oliver says we need to be intentional about “responding” instead of “reacting.” 

“In life there are only three kinds of situations: things I can control, things I can’t control but can influence, which is a larger group, but the degree of influence probably isn’t as great as we think, and things that are totally out of our control,” Oliver says. “We can’t control the COVID-19 outbreak. But we can be sure to wash our hands and distance ourselves from others. If you are a person of faith, you can pray. We can exercise to stay healthy, we can be kind and help others who are more susceptible to catching the virus.”

Oliver believes that focusing we can control and influence will help us thrive as we work get through this crisis. For each decision you face during this time, Oliver recommends you think of the situation as a blinking yellow caution light. We all need to slow down and proceed with caution because we’re at risk of reacting in ways that’ll only complicate the situation or possibly make things worse.

Here are some specific actions Oliver recommends to help us deal with the days ahead:

Sit down and make a list of all the things you can totally “control.” In all likelihood, this is a very short list. 

Then make a list of the things you believe you can influence. 

Finally, list the things you can do nothing about – and this is probably an endless list. Oliver says most of the time people are kind of shocked by how few things they can actually control. Some studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of what we worry about are things totally beyond our control.

Now, rank the list of things you can actually influence from one to 10, with 10 being the highest. The things at the bottom of the list are the things you actually have the least influence over. Then look at the things you scored five and above. Ask yourself, “What are some specific things I can do in these areas?” Your answers may be something like this: I can stay aware of the latest updates or I can practice good self-care. 

Speaking of practicing good self-care, Oliver points out that we are only as good for our spouse, children, extended family and friends as we are for ourselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can really be unhelpful to others. You can love yourself and others by eating well, resting, utilizing spiritual resources if you are a person of faith and getting exercise. 

Count your blessings. In challenging times, it is easy to focus on the negative instead of what you actually have. Make a list of your blessings. Do you have food? Is there a roof over your head? Can you walk, talk, see and hear? Do you have people who love you and are checking in on you? Do you have electricity, running water and access to the internet? Visually seeing your list is empowering. 

Support others. Ask yourself, “How can I encourage, express appreciation, support or pray for others?”

Find ways to connect face to face through Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or something else. Although we’re having to maintain social distancing, relationships are still so important and add value to our lives. Texting and Facebook are ok, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face contact. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their voice is comforting and psychologically, physiologically, and emotionally nurturing. We all need that, especially now. Isolation is good for not spreading the virus, but relationship isolation isn’t healthy.

Pay attention to your pets. Brain science now tells us that interactions with our pets can be life-giving, especially in times of crisis. 

When people feel like they can’t do anything, anxiety, fear, discouragement, and depression creep in. People become overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. 

These suggestions may seem small in the scheme of things, but they’re not insignificant. Instead, these recommendations can help you grow smarter and make wiser decisions. Look for the opportunity to encourage others, because it’s not just about your own survival. It’s about helping others, too!

Ask yourself, “What’s going to be my next healthy step?”

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How do you typically deal with the unexpected things life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong.

This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything.

People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

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Have you been to the doctor’s office or emergency room and they asked you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10? I really stress out over this question and probably way overthink it. I want to know what a 1 or a 10 stands for so I can answer accurately.  If I am going to be healthy – physically and emotionally, I better answer honestly. People are counting on me.

After 31 surgeries in the past couple of decades, and surgery 32 right around the corner, I have probably been asked to rate my pain hundreds of times. Hundreds. By doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, mental health professionals. Sometimes it’s hard to pin an exact number to your pain, but you know when it’s there. What do you do with yours?

Over the years, I’ve learned the patterns of my pain. For me, physical pain usually leads me to emotional pain like loneliness or depression. When I’m depressed, I’m more likely to do something like skip physical therapy which then prolongs my recovery time which only makes me more depressed. And the downward spiral spins…

If I am going to have a healthy relationship with myself (and my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers) it begins when I answer these questions honestly…

How would you rate… your pain today Mr. Daum, on a scale of 1 to 10?

How would you rate your depression…

How would you rate your anxiety…

How would you rate your anger… 

How would you rate your stress…

How would you rate your loneliness…

It is so tempting to ignore or downplay our pain. Are you honest about yours?

Call in the Professionals.

Whether your pain is physical or emotional, know when to get help. Some problems are just bigger than you are. Don’t be a hero. Don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t let it make you do something you’ll regret. Don’t pretend your anger is a 2 when you are at a 9. There is nothing wrong with calling in the pros.

Laugh.

Seriously, laughter is the best medicine. Mock your pain by laughing at it. Take some of its power over you away. If the people around you see that you can joke through your struggles, it puts them at ease, too. (This doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously, just that you won’t let it steal your smile.)

Perspective.

All the perspective. True, sometimes the pain that you are feeling is the Worst Pain in the Whole Entire Universe to you in the moment, BUT there is always someone out there who would trade problems with you in a second. That doesn’t make your problems magically go away, but it gives you perspective

Embrace the Pain.

This one is a tougher sell. Work with me here. There is a huge upside to pain. Whether it is physical or emotional, your pain is trying to teach you something. Pain is a strict teacher, but it teaches some of life’s most important lessons. Lean into the pain. Be open to the lessons. Be grateful for them…

Keep It Real.

If someone asks how I feel, I usually tell them. They asked. (You don’t have to dump EVERYTHING on them, but you’ll soon learn that your Brave Face doesn’t help anyone.) At least have one or two people in your life that you can be real with about how you feel when you are hurting or depressed or angry or stressed. These are people who will let you vent, not be dismissive, listen for a while, but then help you get centered and refocused again. These people are your angels.

Prevention.

Listen to this, the cool thing is that a lot of what keeps us healthy physically also helps keep us healthy emotionally. Good sleep. Exercise. Eating healthy. Getting out in the sun. Spending time with friends and loved ones. Gratitude. Check-ups with professionals. Listen: The absolute best pain, physically and emotionally, is the pain that you avoid.

On A Scale Of 1 to 10, How Honest Are You About Your Pain?

For more resources, see our Self-Care page here.

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When tragedy happens on a local, national or global level, constantly watching the media coverage can cause you to experience the very real phenomenon of vicarious traumatization. It often shows through anxiety.

“What people often don’t realize is you don’t have to be present at a traumatic event to be traumatized,” says licensed clinical social worker, Pam Johnson. “Just hearing something can create a traumatic event in your mind. Add the visual of repeatedly watching the news segments and you can create some real anxiety. The deeper mind does not differentiate what is happening in real time and what happened in Texas to someone else.”

Think about the last time you watched a scary movie and you realized your heart rate increased and you became jumpy and tense. Your body reacts physically because your mind does not know you are not actually part of the scene you are watching.

“People have to be careful how much they expose themselves to because it can become toxic,” Johnson says. “The human mind cannot be in a creative problem-solving mode and a fight-or-flight mode at the same time. It is like trying to put a car in drive and reverse at the same time.

“If we want a productive response to what has happened, individuals have to calm themselves down and get their emotions under control. Then we can have effective dialogue and begin asking questions such as, ‘How have we gotten here? What can we do to get ourselves out of this place?’”

While emotions are understandable, they are often not helpful. If you feel them, be mindful of them, but don’t let them direct your behavior. If people run around angry and frightened, the problems will only get worse.

Johnson offers a few tactics to help you constructively deal with your anxiety:

  • Limit the amount of time immersed in media. If you just cannot pull yourself away, take a pulse check – literally. If your pulse is high, stop watching. Be mindful of your feelings. Are you angry? Anxious? Tense?
  • Take action to reverse the anxiety. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get involved in constructive conversation with others. Pray.
  • Focus on things over which you have control. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Watch sitcoms or movies that don’t aggravate stress. Do things that are calming and soothing to you. Create an emergency plan with your family. Discuss what you would do if you heard gunfire in a public place.

“Most importantly, I would tell people to learn to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk,” Johnson says. “This is a crucial need in our society. We need to learn how to listen for the need and the heart of another person.

“It is a trait of human beings to look at differences in other human beings and attach a negative meaning to the differences. This has been a protective measure in humans since the dawn of time. Hundreds of years ago humans needed this defense mechanism. Today it is not helpful. We have to remember, it is not us against them. It is all of us against violence.

“The only way we can move beyond this problem is when people are willing to listen. It is through listening that the deeper mind has the time to discern that the person might think differently, but that does not necessarily make them dangerous.”

While no one can predict future incidents, everyone can do something to help make a significant positive difference. What will you do?

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