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Drawing a line

Working and staying at home can be challenging

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Friday, May 1, 2020

With governments across the globe introducing measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time. While this may seem like a dream – no commute! No need to look your best! – it comes with its own challenges. The lines between work and rest can quickly become blurred, with no clear start or end to the day. With that in mind, it’s important to establish a routine.

Maybe this could be done by having a daily call with a boss or colleague. Maybe it’s taking lunch at the same time and stepping outside for a while (where safe and where possible).

Be sure to communicate with your management about when your “off” time starts, so you’re not fielding calls when your day is over or eating into your dinner time with unexpected emails. What all this also means, sadly, is that you may have to say to your children that they can’t sit on your lap or play with you until your “very important work” is finished!

Conversely, if you do end up working outside of your regular hours, it’s important to let your kids enjoy some of that time you’re spending at home, be it horsing around on the floor or drawing and colouring in at the table.

Of course, as I write this many ophthalmologists are in a kind of interbellum period, having cancelled elective surgery and waiting to be drafted on to the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Some will be stuck at home longer than usual, waiting to show up to work as part of a skeletal team in their institutions.

In these times it’s important to keep occupied, hard as it is with a looming catastrophe taking up space in your mind and on the headlines. That can be done by reading, exercise, video games or even baking. Across the world people are escaping into books (be they pandemic related, like Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven or The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, or something completely unrelated like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall conclusion The Mirror & the Light or Household Gods and Other Narrative Offences, free stories from Tade Thompson).

There are many online resources for people who can’t get out to run or go to the gym. These include the wildly popular Yoga With Adriene, as well as Joe Wicks’s channel, which includes a daily “PE lesson” for kids and adults alike.

The Nintendo Switch console is increasing in demand, with many retailers selling out and prices on third-party sites rising accordingly. For those already in possession of the device, the island life simulator game Animal Crossing is becoming a major hit. Finally, some people are getting back to basics and baking their own bread. There are many benefits to baking, beyond having something delicious to eat as an end product. Key among them is the practising of mindfulness. Speaking to HuffPost, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, Donna Pincus said: “Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction.”

According to Pincus, this activity and focus will mean “you’re not spending time ruminating over your thoughts, we know that rumination leads to depression and sad thoughts”. Focusing on your bread may be a simple but effective way to keep your mind off the global pandemic for even a few hours.

Strange is it may sound, it’s important to carve out some “me” time. If you’re used to having a routine including an hour or two on the train and a walk around at lunchtime, it can be overwhelming losing that time for yourself. Sit down, take a breath, be by yourself. Just don’t think about yourself. Keeping with the theme of looking after yourself, you may consider seeing a therapist. Many are now operating via video platforms such as Zoom, so you can talk to someone without leaving your home. If you’re already seeing someone, see if they can accommodate you in this way.

It probably won’t be an easy time and there’s no telling how long it will last. It’s up to you what you do with it. Stay safe and be well.