As families across the globe have discovered this year, while working from home can be rewarding, being together 24/7 presents a multitude of challenges. Juggling our professional and personal lives can be stressful, and now it often comes with the added responsibility of homeschooling kids. So how do you get your work done, take care of the family, and — also important — find time for yourself?
“As working parents we can set the bar so high, we can feel like we are failing at work and at home,” Lorraine Thomas, Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy, tells Thrive. She advises using this time as an opportunity to build resilience and reflect on what truly brings you joy.
A great first step is to shift our perspective, says San Diego-based cognitive psychologist Sarah McEwen, Ph.D., Director of Research and Programming at Providence Saint John’s Pacific Brain Health Center. She recommends reframing how we view our lives during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. “While there is undoubtedly increased pressure from work and home life during the pandemic, this is a unique time in our lives with our children, and in some ways working from home is ‘a blessing in disguise,’” says McEwen. It’s valuable, she says, “to keep that at the front of our minds.”
Here are simple steps to increasing the joy quotient and decreasing stress.
Establish a routine
“Routines, like getting up at the same time and having family meals together (without technology present), are associated with greater well-being and greater happiness in relationships,” says Thomas, the author of Super Coach Arty Vs. The Shadow — Taking the Fear Out of Failure. If you can (and this will depend on your family’s schedule), focus on work during regular workday hours, then shut off your devices and stop working around the same time each evening. It helps to have a clear delineation between professional and personal time so they don’t bleed into each other. “Unplugging from electronics every night,” adds Thomas, “is going to benefit your work, your family, and your relationship.”
Even if you don’t have a spare room for an office at home, you can create a dedicated workspace — which may be just a corner of your living room. “Make sure everyone knows when you enter that area, you need privacy, and when you leave, your brain gets the message that you have ‘left work,’” says Thomas. Creating clear boundaries will support you in staying calm and lowering stress.
Carve out playtime and be in the moment
“Protect your time for fun with the kids,” says McEwen. “Carve out a full 10 minutes here and there to play with them, as that will enrich their day and bring you joy,” says McEwen, who has a 4-year-old and 7-year-old. “My kids love competitions. So I set a timer and we have a competition to see who can build the best Lego structure. I give this activity and them my full attention, and they feel happy and supported because I am present and engaging with them in something they enjoy.”
Exercise improves well-being — and if you can go for a walk outdoors, you may get an additional boost, according to science. “Exercise with the children, maybe a family walk or yoga session — or you could make dance videos to post on social media, which will bring everyone joy,” says McEwen.
When the whole family is living and working under one roof, patience can be in short supply. “If a parent or child goes into meltdown, don’t try to sort out the problem in the heat of the moment,” says Thomas, who suggests taking a breath and talking about the issue when you are both calm. “Explore what has caused the stress. Talk about solutions. Share ideas about what is going well and what you could do differently.”
It’s great to spend quality time as a family. But it’s also crucial to prioritize things that will support your relationship — perhaps going for regular walks with your partner, or watching a movie together after the kids are in bed. Also make sure you spend time doing things that bring you joy, whether it’s gardening, knitting, or reading. Without creative time to ourselves, life can sometimes lack purpose and meaning. “As a parent, you are the family engine room, so nurturing yourself is vital, not a luxury,” says Thomas.
Mindfulness techniques can lower stress, too. Meditation or breathing exercises can create changes in the prefrontal cortex that make it easier for your brain to process positive emotions and help you relax.
Reflect on joyful moments and express gratitude
Research has found that while engaging in joyful activities is good for your well-being, “savoring those happy moments regularly is beneficial too,” says McEwen. It means luxuriating in the joy in the moment (whether that’s soaking in a bath or eating a delicious meal) then “reliving” those sensations later. “People who savor positive experiences report higher levels of happiness and self-esteem and lower levels of depression,” she says.
Studies also show that people with a grateful disposition tend to be happier. Before you go to sleep, make it a practice to write down three things you are grateful for.