October 27, 2021
As many of us gradually resume social engagements and return to the office or classroom, we face continuing challenges. Life is different than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s more important than ever to take time for self-care and to check in with our families, friends and colleagues. While we may recognize that these things are important, they aren’t always easy to do.
In my role as Chief Well-Being Officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Physicians, I work with health-care professionals who often put their own needs last. Left unchecked, this can lead to anxiety, depression or burnout. To help, I’ve put together some simple ideas that anyone can try, at work or at home, regardless of your occupation. These 5 tips can improve your sense of wellness, while also supporting and encouraging others.
1. Create a Place or Ritual for Relaxation
Creating a respite space at home or work can support individual well-being, as well as group morale. At home, this may mean looking for a place away from where you work or pay bills—a dedicated space where you can relax for a few minutes, such as a cozy chair for reading, or a yoga mat to stretch out on.
If you work from home, it’s especially important to establish boundaries. Setting a schedule and stopping work for the day at a predetermined time is a good habit. If you have the room, keep your work supplies in a dedicated area, apart from family space.
At the office, I encourage teams to consider setting aside some space, even if it’s just a corner of a room or a bulletin board for sharing words of gratitude or inspiration. It doesn’t have to be a permanent space. Or keep a few wellness items in your desk for your own use or for sharing with colleagues. Items like essential oils, a yoga mat, uplifting reading materials or resistance bands are easy to reach for during the day when you need a break.
And remember to take a break. Try not to eat at your desk, whether at home or in the office. Taking just a few minutes for self-care can help you mentally regroup.
2. Encourage Loved Ones or Colleagues Who May Need Support
We are all struggling in some way right now—whether it’s the uncertainty of current events, a lack of alone time or too much solitude, working increased hours or adjusting to retirement, or too much time interacting with others on a screen. While our situations might not be exactly the same, sometimes just being open and honest, and acknowledging that you are struggling too, can be helpful.
Connecting with other people and admitting your own challenges normalizes the experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out and offer support to others, and suggest something that worked for you. A good way to frame it is, “It sounds like you are having a difficult time right now. I went through something similar recently and found that talking to a therapist and getting outside for a walk helped.”
3. Recognize and Celebrate Each Other’s Contributions
While we feel appreciation for others, we don’t always express it out loud. It feels good to be told our contributions are valued, whether at home or at work. Words of affirmation are almost always well received and remind others that we are in this together. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Simply telling a friend that you appreciate them, or a colleague that they’re doing a good job, can be very meaningful.
If direct conversation is challenging for you, try sending a text or quick email. The bonus of expressing gratitude is that it can lift you as well. Positive interactions and acts of kindness are as beneficial to the giver as the receiver.
4. Recognize Signs Someone May Need Additional Support
Often it takes a family member or close colleague to recognize that someone is struggling. This Stress Continuum Model, adapted from the original that was developed for the Navy/Marine Corps, provides a framework for what is “normal” and what may be cause for concern.
Categories are presented as a continuum from green to yellow to orange to red, representing increasing levels of stress. If you feel like the descriptions in the orange or red section apply to a loved one or coworker, reach out and see if they are okay. Think about how you can help support that person, such as dropping off groceries or a meal, walking their dog, or picking their kids up from school. At work, offer to take a break together, pick up coffee for a colleague, or help with a task.
5. Develop a Sense of Purpose to Get through Challenging Times
Everything looms so large right now that it can be easy to feel powerless. If you think you’re not making a huge impact on your family or workplace on a daily basis, remember that what you do is part of a much larger picture. It can help to put routines into place that you can control, such as sitting down for a meal as a family, or putting your work aside at a certain time each day. Remember too, that in challenging times, simply showing up for the people in your life is a meaningful act.