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Over the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily lives of everyone on the planet have been turned completely upside down and simple daily routines have been thrown for a loop, with a feeling of having the rug suddenly pulled out from underneath us.
What can we do to help find some stability, some groundedness in this time?
And with the tumult of the pandemic throwing public safety and well-being into question, many people around the world transitioned from working within offices and buildings and places outside of the home, to working from inside their home and trying to make the best of their lives, suddenly operating all from within the same space, with no obvious demarcation except for maybe the shutting down of the computer or closing the lid of a laptop to signal the end of the workday. And then seconds later, turning on the TV, and ta-da, your home-from-work life begins, with something ephemeral, or a razor-thin boundary separating the two worlds.
This is not super helpful and can cause us to feel like we’re never fully shut off from the day job (especially those who have children and who have had to homeschool their kids on top of doing their day job from inside the confines of the four walls of their home).
So because the lines between the work-life separation have become so blurred, we need to find ways to set clearer boundaries.
One way you can do this is by using the Think, Feel, Be framework I mentioned in my previous article, “How to Work Toward Your Ideal Self.” The words think, feel, be, I came up with, but the concept itself I can’t take credit for. The idea of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours (or actions) working together is the main foundation behind Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which is a therapy used to tackle negative experiences in someone’s life (for example: mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, Social Anxiety Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, addiction, or insomnia).
In CBT, psychotherapists work with clients to change one or more of those things that are acting in a way that isn’t serving them. For example, with depression, you may have negative thoughts (aka ruminations), which is obsessive thinking over and over, or with anxiety, you may feel excessive worry. These thoughts keep you stuck in a depressive spiral or keep the anxiety as part of your life).
With anxiety, you may also experience certain negative feelings during a panic attack or may adjust your behaviour to avoid a person, place, or thing that may cause you anxiety (for example: if you are scared of dogs, you’ll avoid walking down the street that has a park that’s always full of dogs).
Because your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all connected and all impact each other (think of them as a triangle with all points connected), if you work to change one for the better, that will have an impact on the other two areas of your life (and well-being).
So, how can we use our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour to help set boundaries and routines?
One thing that you could try is to spend a brief amount of time, maybe five minutes, three times a day using these tools as a break in your workday—at the start of the day (in the morning when you wake up), in the afternoon during your lunch break, and then again in the evening, perhaps before you go to sleep.
This is a routine I’ve created and that I wanted to share with all of you, so please let me know what you think if you give it a go!
Here’s how to start:
First, you can take a moment to find a comfortable seat of your choice. And maybe begin by doing a quick grounding session to help you step away from whatever you were doing just before you start your routine. Create that intentional space. You can do this by first noticing the connection of your sit bones (aka your butt) to the earth (or whatever you’re sitting on), and take a moment to notice that connection, stability, groundedness.
Then move your attention up to the centre of your body, whatever that is for you—which may be in the area of your stomach or maybe higher in the chest. Take a moment to notice that area. Then finally, move your attention to the crown of your head, the very top of your head, and maybe imagine that someone is pulling a string out of the top of your head, allowing you to sit up a little taller and straighter, just for a moment.
And now you can move into the routine, starting with thoughts.
Take a few moments, a minute or two, just to examine your thoughts. What sorts of things are going through your head? Are they worries or stresses about the day ahead? Are you planning what to have for breakfast or whether you should take the dog out before getting down to work?
Take a moment to pay attention to the quality of your thoughts. Are they positive? Negative? Neutral? And then see if you’d like to try and shift your thoughts to a different kind (i.e., if they’re negative or maybe neutral, do you want to think about a few positive thoughts to counterbalance the others, to subtly shift you onto better footing for the rest of your day?).
Next, we can move on to examining our feelings briefly, which can be dangerous and rocky territory for some (or maybe many) of us. We don’t often sit and take a moment to look closely at our feelings. Again, ask yourself questions. How are you feeling? Is there any reason you should be feeling how you are?
And if you’re feeling in a way that you’d rather not be (maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and are a bit cranky for a reason you can’t put your finger on), see if maybe you can shift your feelings at all, in a way that is comfortable for you. If you are more on the cranky side of the scale, maybe try smiling. Even if it’s a fake smile, as that’s proven to improve our mood (because our brain can’t tell the difference between a genuine or fake smile, silly thing!).
And finally, move on to the be part. And as said above, be stands for behaviour or action. What’s a good thing you should do throughout the day? Finding some movement with your body, even just a couple of minutes. Maybe it’s some gentle yoga or stretches to help wake up the body in the morning and work out all the stiffness and staleness from the night. Or a short walk on your lunch break to get some fresh air, or perhaps some gentle bedtime stretches to unwind from your day before you hop into bed.
And that’s all, folks!
That’s the routine. The whole thing can be as short (or long) as you want or have time for. Ground yourself, and then think, feel, be. You may want to keep a journal to write down things that come up during the think and feel parts—anything about your thoughts or emotions that you might want to examine later.
I’d love to know what sort of routines you have to make your work from home experience more manageable (or even if you don’t work from home, what routines you have to give your day structure).