This is a difficult question to ask, but while I love my family they are driving me crazy right now. When the new coronavirus news came, we – my husband and I - were asked to work from home. We live in a two-bedroom house in the UAE. We have two kids, who need to be taught at home. Trying to keep up with social distancing, now we don’t have any domestic help coming in either. With all the work – office, school, meal management – I’m ending up wanting to pull my hair out. It’s also causing my husband and me to fight and bringing out the worst in us. What can I do to calm the situation?
A reader who wishes to stay anonymous asks
Question answered by Sneha John, Child & Adult Psychologist, LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, Dubai
With the pandemic Covid-19 outbreak bringing a profound shift to economies, businesses, education, healthcare and lifestyles, people have been compelled to adopt a new way of life. The warning from healthcare providers worldwide is simply this, ‘please help us by staying home.’ This general rule of thumb has created unwarranted opportunities for families, couples, friends and colleagues to stay at home. To bond or not to bond, that is the question. Being quarantined at home can produce a plethora of emotions including irritation, frustration, anger and feeling overwhelmed. Here are a few tips to help you conquer the coronavirus blues.
For families with children
During times such as these, when life seems to have slowed down, our minds may retort towards unhelpful thinking styles. For example, the news sends us alerts of more closures and restrictions which can create a state of despondency and complacency. If we choose to adopt a fixed mindset, the following vocabulary will be familiar, ‘things will not get better’, ‘this is my life’, ‘I can never adjust to staying at home with my family’, ‘staying at home will be miserable’, ‘my family/partner/room-mates will never understand the importance of my work.’
Research shows that a fixed mindset is linked to dissatisfaction, disappointment, sadness, avoidance, procrastination, hasty decisions, impulsivity and loss of motivation for set goals.
However, cultivating a growth mindset would build resilience, increase satisfaction, productivity, self-efficacy and reduction of stress levels. Be intentional in using this time to build your growth mindset by acknowledging the challenge and looking for opportunities to improve or make things better within set parameters. For example, reframing the fixed mindset thought ‘I can never adjust to staying at home with my family’ into a growth mindset ‘staying at home is new for me but I can try working around it.’
Get creative and find new ways of adapting to your current environment. Keep a daily gratitude log and journal in new changes you are incorporating to your current lifestyle. Challenge your fears with the evidence at hand. As your mind wreaks havoc hearing of the rapid spread of the disease, reflect on the innumerable efforts of our nation in keeping it under control so that we can carry own with our daily lives.
Things are going to look a little different
Transitions take time to adjust to and this should be kept in mind. Parents should give themselves and their children the time and space to get adjusted to the change. As the whole family is at home, parents could take turns in shifts where one parents takes care of breakfast and children’s studies while the other takes care of lunch. It’s even better when the children are also involved with setting the table, washing dishes or clearing the table. Although they may not agree to doing this when given as a chore, parents present this as a game, for example: getting children to choose a family breakfast cuisine where one child sets the table where the other helps with prep.
Establish a structure to the day
Even with schools being shut and offices endorsing the work from home policy, maintaining a daily structure can ease stress for both parents and children alike. This structure can be similar to your normal school routine with a scheduled time for going to bed and waking up. With schools being closed, children may tend to mentally switch off from following a school routine and include more time for leisure. However, to ensure that children settle in to this change, there should be specific times allocated for each activity such as wake up, breakfast, study, lunch, TV or iPad time, dinner and sleep.
This also includes getting changed from your PJ’s to comfortable casual clothes as you start the day. Research has found that a lack of structure within the daily affairs can lead to bickering, arguments and feuds between family members. Structure is an important part of maintaining harmony within the family. Parents should maintain regular working hours, for example, wrapping up by 6pm, so that children can be positively engaged.
As families work together to create a daily routine, each family member can give their inputs. For example, a certain portion of time can be allocated for a family breakfast followed by individual study or work, lunch which could be the same or separate times and culminated by a family dinner/bonding time. In order to ensure that each activity flows smoothly, there could be a set of family rules which may be set in addition to existing ones.
For younger children, parents may even put up a ‘stop sign’ on their door while they work. Family rules include not making noise as mum and dad work, not fighting with your brother or sister while studying, waiting till lunch time to communicate something urgent, doing my studies and not watching movies during study time etc. These rules may need to be communicated to each child one-on-one according to their age. To get children on board, explain to them simply about the ‘why’ behind this new routine. For example, you may say “we are not going to office and school but mummy and daddy need to work and you need to study. Let’s do our work and studies so we can do something fun in the evening.”
Be intentional in having ‘me’ time
This may a rarity during regular school/work days and even more challenging to achieve when the entire family is together. However, as the emphasis on health continues, it is important that you take care of your health if you hope to take care of anyone. The more demanding of your time your family is, you need to fit in rest and exercise. Perhaps you and your family can seek out ways to exercise at home together.
Listen if you expect to be heard
Lack of communication is the loudest concern in most families. The answer to “Why won’t they listen to me?” may be simply “You’re not listening to them.” Take the time to hear out your children or spouse as they express something. If you may not be in the mood for this, simply tell them, ‘mummy or daddy needs some quiet time so I can listen to you properly. I will be back.’ We are the best judges of how much we can handle, don’t fill too much on your plate.
While both partners are working from home, it calls for compromise and understanding. In cases when you may be sharing a work space, ensure that you both communicate your needs. For example, as part of your jobs, if both you and your partner have regular calls to make, come up a simple rule that you each attend to calls fairly quietly using headphones. Avoid using passive-aggression to hint that you are not happy when your partner has an hour-long Skype conference call and you want to concentrate on your emails. Turns out a simple "Could you put on headphones?" is an effective way to get someone to, you know, put on headphones.
Designate private areas
Get creative when you do not have enough rooms for privacy while working. In the case of a studio flat with no balcony, set up makeshift partition to separate your work space during office hours. This may look quite similar to your actual office set-up and provides you a sense of privacy.
Come up with a schedule together
Designate a time that you and your partner stop working for the day and dedicate quality time with each other. As you are both at home, make the time to have lunch together, take small breaks and check on each other. This helps maintain a work-life balance and also maintain camaraderie between you.
Some of us pride in our ability to multi-task. The brain does not have the capacity to multi-task and tires easily when people engage in several tasks at once. Multi-tasking may regularly occur in an office setting and it may be even more common while working from home. For example, your partner asks you to run a quick errand while you are working. You may initially refuse due the existing workload. However, you may give in after some persuasion. In order to overcome this successfully, write down the task needing to be done, complete the one at hand and then proceed. Although telling your partner to wait may not be initially easy, upon practice you would be able to dedicate your time towards tasks one at a time without getting overwhelmed.
Make a date of it
Work-from-home days give rise to opportunities where you can brighten each other’s day. Sweet little gestures throughout the day give our "office" morale a big boost. A gentle check-in, a word of encouragement, casual jokes, bringing each other coffee and snacks can make a difference to a usual work-day.
Establish ground rules
Based on your work schedule and the nature of your work, think about the support you may need from your roommates and communicate the same. If your job involves several calls throughout the day, establish ground rules on when these calls can be made during the day, which space you may use and how you could minimize disturbance for your roommates.
Similarly agree upon a set time you will be using the kitchen for meal prep to avoid confusion and clashing of schedules.
The chore schedule may also look different as all your room-mates work from home. Set a roster for chores and grocery shopping.
Share your calendar for the day (or week)
While working from home with roommates, get them on board with schedule and share your work calendar. For example: if one of you needs to be up and working early, let the other person know so they receive a heads up. Skipping this step and going about your business as usual is likely to lead to the kind of simmering frustration. Simply screenshotting your calendars and texting them to each other every morning is an easy way to avoid overbooking the “conference room” (your kitchen table). Knowing that they—or you—have an afternoon packed with calls might help put an end to any urges to barge in for spontaneous chats.
Talk to your housemates about your work
Tell your roommates about your daily routines and what you're working on is likely to make them more understanding. Similarly, when work is slow, be very clear that quiet time does not mean leisure time. Talking about your work regularly also enforces the idea that you are working from home and not free to sort out everyone else's admin or do their share of chores.
Create a house diary and calendar
A calendar pinned to the wall in a communal space for everyone to keep track of when others are busy or have days off can avoid misunderstandings, especially if your job duties entail taking frequent office calls.
Use noise-cancelling headphones when you need to concentrate
A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help you concentrate in a busy and hectic household.
People living with parents
How much I can contribute?
If you are living with parents or relatives, make sure the terms are clear agree ground rules on how much you're expected to contribute to the house financially and practically, such as rent, housework or having dinner with the family. Do your share of the household responsibilities and ensure that you maintain a balance between your work and family time
An hour without screens
Prioritize time for yourself as part of your daily routine so that you are able to contribute effectively to the family. This could be an hour doing something you love without electronic gadgets, reflecting on the day and preparing for the next one. As much of our lives revolve around electronic devices, we may feel fatigued and exhausted as the day draws to a close. While working, invest in blue-light blocking glasses to reduce strain on your eyes.
Prioritise family time as part of the schedule
Prioritise time with your family even if you may not prefer this as an option. Take moments out of your work schedule to have meals with your family, have a quick conversation and help with small chores if your work schedule permits. Try wrapping up work at a certain time and spend quality time with your family.
Separate work from personal affairs
Although the family setting may demand more time and attention, be intentional in how much time and resources you can actually invest. Treat your work from home schedule like an actual work-day with few adjustments. If you are required to have separate timings from the household, let this be communicated clearly. Have a mental map of the approximate schedule for the week and how you can contribute to daily affairs. If your family demands that more time is spent on errands which is difficult to accommodate, come up with a compromise. If the errand is urgent, communicate this to your line-manager to avoid confusion. However, if it can wait, let your family know that you will help out after your work-day finishes.
Patience works wonders
Give yourself and your family the time to get used to your new schedule. If family members may not understand the new work from home arrangement, gently remind them and separate work from home-affairs. Ensure that you have your own private work-space and have conversations with family members during your break.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.