OT Clinical Services

Juggling Roles and Maintaining Sanity in the Time of Self-Quarantine

Juggling roles during a major life event takes some time to transition, both physically and mentally. But recently, we’ve all been forced through multiple major transitions with little time to process and things constantly changing. No matter what your role is during these uncertain times, there are steps you can take to set up yourself, and your family, for success during these times.

At the heart of the profession, occupational therapists are concerned with occupations – the things that we want and need to do each day. And no matter your role right now, whether you’re working from home with kids around or you’re still going into work and your kids are with a caregiver, your daily wants and needs have dramatically changed. So let’s look at an OT perspective of how to successfully manage this transition, both physically and mentally.

Mentally Prepare

1. Adjust your expectations

While maintaining meaningful routines, you may need to adjust your expectations of what the outcomes might be. This can be HARD for many of us who are used to fast-paced lives and high productivity standards. But slowing down gives us a chance to practice mindfulness that can help focus our priorities and even increase productivity. With so many other aspects of our daily occupations changing, how do we even know what our expectations should be? Maybe pizza night is now 2 nights per week instead of 1 because it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. Maybe you don’t get to your workout routine today. Make adjustments daily as you figure out what you actually have time to accomplish for work, school, housework, and leisure. It’s OK (and expected) for your normal productivity to decrease; measure your success by the small steps you take. And remember, you can always add the little things to your to-do list that weren’t originally on there just so you can cross them off and see the progress that you did make.

2. Be honest with yourself, your family, and your coworkers

This is a helpful tip for all times, but especially in times of change and uncertainty, honesty with yourself about what you can realistically accomplish is imperative to decreasing your stress and anxiety and helping for a functional plan for moving forward. If you have to leave your work conference call 15 minutes early in order to set up your child’s virtual learning experience, then tell your coworkers that this is the case. Also, inform your child’s teacher about this transition time and the possibility that your child may logon a few minutes late. Everyone will appreciate the honesty, and it will help you and your coworkers learn how to make adjustments in the future.

3. Give yourself grace and forgiveness

Another hard one for our high-achieving culture, take a deep breath, and tell yourself, “It’s OK.” So you only accomplished 3 of the 10 things on your to-do list today? Your friend probably did, too. Remember, very, very few of us in the US have lived through such physically restrictive times as these, so we are all trying to figure it out together. Tomorrow is another day to try again. Remain open and honest with yourself, your coworkers, family, and friends about how you’re able to balance your time, and a plan will come into place that works for all. Just breathe through it until you get there.

The Set-Up

1. Divide Your Spaces

We don’t always give it the credit it deserves, but our sense of space and place is just as important to plan and prepare for as whatever task it is we’re trying to accomplish. Create separate spaces for work, school, meal prep, hobbies, and leisure time. Label these zones and use their names to help you and your family connect these spaces to their purposes. Even if one space has to serve two purposes (like a kitchen table as both an eating space and a desk space), be sure to separate the use of the space by both time and materials present. Work time should include only work materials on the table, but mealtime should include only food and other meal supplies (and not your laptop, work notes, or kids’ school work).

2. Create a family and work-friendly schedule

This is where my brain starts hurting, but future you (and those around will) will be incredibly glad that you’ve done this. Therefore, make your schedule visible for everyone to see. Most importantly, make the schedule work for your family and your needs. Every family’s schedule will look different, and that’s OK.

  • Print, write or draw a daily, weekly, and/or monthly template.
  • Include all times of the day on it (front wake up to bedtime) so that you and your kids can see the blocks of time set aside for work and play
  • Make a comprehensive list of things to do and estimate how long you will need to spend on each one. Include your work, kids’ schoolwork, structured activities (family meal prep!), downtime for all family members, meal times, and routines.
  • With your family (kids included!), start filling in the schedule. Use a pencil first so that you can make changes. Items on the list might happen at the same time (your work and kids’ school work), and this can be a helpful way to use your time efficiently. Or perhaps you need to be available with your children to teach and support school work, so schedule your kids’ downtime during your work time.
  • Color code by having each family member pick a color to represent their activities for the day. This can also give kids ownership of their daily responsibilities.
  • Finally, hang the schedule in a highly visible spot in your house where all family members can see it and check in on it throughout the day. Having a clock near the schedule isn’t a bad idea.
  • Stick to the schedule at first and adjust as needed. Try it out for a day or two and then make changes as needed. Maybe it doesn’t work to have your kids outside unsupervised while you’re on a conference call…

The Doing

1. Maintain your routines

Daily routines give us structure and expectation, comfort and control. When things are out of our control, our daily routines keep us grounded. Therefore, wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, brush teeth, eat meals, get dressed (don’t stay in sweats this whole time), etc. Do you have a workout routine? Keep it up! You may be working out to YouTube videos instead of at the gym, but maintaining this meaningful routine can help mitigate stress and anxiety.

2. Incorporate the kids into housekeeping responsibilities

I know, I know. Self-quarantine won’t magically increase your kids’ desire to clean their rooms or vacuum the house. But they may just surprise you if you put them in charge of planning a few meals each week and incorporating them into the food prep routine, especially if it includes eating the meal outside, picnic-style. Remember that part of food prep is the after-meal cleanup, so hold your kids to helping clean up when they’ve helped plan and prepare, and use that time for meaningful conversation. Make a game out of completing chores. Who can sweep up the most dust bunnies? How many windows can you wash in 5 minutes? Who is BRAVE enough to scrub the toilet? Include mini prizes (read: small and manageable for you! Sticker charts, a points system, 10 minutes extra TV time/outside time, ability to choose the movie/game for the family tonight, picking a special dessert for tonight, etc.).

3. Create a goal for the day

Whether for your kids or for the whole family, come up with fun (and sometimes productive) daily goals. Write these goals on a piece of paper above your schedule. Check-in with your family throughout the day to see what progress they’ve made on the goals. Goals can be anything motivating and age-appropriate for your family: make a paper chain the length of the house; build a geodome out of sticks found in the back yard; beat level 14 on the video game (yes, this is occasionally OK. Remember that point about giving yourself grace?); find 15 things in your house that start with the letter N; put all the clothes away properly; etc. Celebrate when your family reaches the goal (dance party, anyone?).

4. Maintain meaningful hobbies or learn a new one

Keep up with your handicrafts, finish your woodworking project, or make a book list. Dust off the old guitar in the attic, institute a family game night or family movie night or learn to draw with online videos. Teach yourself a new hairstyle or learn to beatbox.  Whatever your interests, maintain your hobbies or dabble in a new one. This will help keep your mind engaged and give you something to look forward to outside of work and chores.

5. Socially distance, but don’t socially isolate

We are so fortunate to live in a time of technological advances that allow so many opportunities for social connection during this time of physical isolation. Your social support networks are so important, so don’t get too bogged down in the walls that surround you. Ensure weekly video chatting with grandparents, cousins, and out-of-town friends who you may not see often. Have dinner parties via video chats with your friends and your kids’ friends. Call and text your friends and neighbors about your thoughts, concerns, and worries, or about the Netflix series you just binge-watched. Be proactive and reach out to others rather than waiting for them to reach out to you. If we pause and take time to maintain and build our personal relationships, we will all be through this before we know it with strong social support and camaraderie on the other end.

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