Dealing with Telework and Stress
As information and updates related to COVID-19 continue to rapidly evolve, take time to check on yourself and check on colleagues. The fear of uncertainty and the instability of the current climate affects people differently, and stress, anxiety and fear manifest in a multitude of ways.
Some people gravitate toward watching the news 24/7, checking websites and social media to collect and assess all available information. Conversely, some people are in denial about COVID-19 and the very real possibility of them catching the illness.
Resiliency through this situation will be key to emotional and physical balance, for you and your family. We have a great resiliency program at DIA from which I’ve learned some great tips to reduce stress and anxiety, particularly when working through annual congressional testimonies. Some of these tips include the benefits of stretching and exercising, getting outside, breathing, getting enough sleep, as well as eating balanced meals and minimizing alcohol consumption. As you would imagine these tips are very basic but can have a huge impact on how you and your family deal with the current COVID-19 and telework environment.
Breathe. Many people, when stressed, breathe more rapidly. They breathe with their shoulders and chest, taking in large volumes of air (heavy sighs). Spend some time focusing on a meditated breath – inhale slowly for four seconds, then exhale for six seconds and, then, take two seconds to transition back to the inhale. Using the correct breathing posture will help with this, too. So, consider opening your chest by sitting or standing straight.
- Eat well. As with every day, a well-balanced diet is always recommended. But, when people are stressed, overwhelmed, emotional or bored, it’s easy to graze or eat what is easy to grab from the kitchen. Take time to eat fruits and vegetables along with your protein of choice. And, try to consume your meals on a schedule you can maintain. Try to consciously reduce stay away from foods, sweets and alcohol, all of which has physiological health impacts. Watch out for comfort foods, even if they call your name!
- Exercise. This doesn’t necessarily need to be rigorous or for long periods of time. But, it’s recommended that you try to have physical activity, even a slow walk, for at least 30 minutes a day. Even, 15 minutes can help release positive (naturally occurring) chemicals to rebalance your system. Keep moving!
- Stretch/stand up. While teleworking or on admin leave, it’s easy to fall into a slump of sitting at your home workstation or on the couch all day. Sitting for that long accelerates cognitive fatigue. But, taking a couple minutes every 30-60 minutes to stretch, stand up, or walk around, will significantly improve your physiological being. Stay loose!
- Go outside. Sunlight exposure (for 5-20 minutes every day) helps kill germs and keep your immune system strong. The fresh air and vitamins from the sun can help improve emotional and physical status.
- Sleep. I cannot stress this enough. When your sleep pattern is disrupted you compromise your immune system. Strive to get more than seven hours of sleep per night; if those are the same seven-plus hours (i.e. 2200-0600) every night, that’s even better. Be cautious of oversleeping, which can cause lethargy and depression. We all want to “catch up” on sleep when we have time to do so; if you’re attempting this, pay close attention to any shifts in how your body feels (sluggish, creaky) or your emotional health (depressed, withdrawn).
- Laugh a Bit: Believe it: a daily dose of laughter (a funny text to a coworker, watching a comedy with family, or hearing a joke with friends) sets off a chain reaction in the body that promotes physical and psychological health, lowers cortisol (stress), and strengthens your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies which fight bacteria and viruses.
- Stop Thinking about Work: The two organs in your brain (amygdala and hippocampus) that are so good at keeping you alert and making fast, accurate decisions in your job need to be turned off to remain high performing. Virginia Tech research (by fMRI) shows that 5-20 min / day of meditation significantly increases rational decision-making speed while decreasing anxiety and cortisol levels
Another thing to consider, particularly in this time of social distancing, is finding inventive ways to stay connected. Barb and I haven’t been able to spend time with our grandson. So, we’ve been video calling him every day. It’s been a good way to ease the stress of being away from our family. We also look forward to receiving those daily photos. Between the calls and pictures, we don’t feel so isolated. Consider doing the same with your family and friends. And, when you’re on the call try to help them smile and laugh to increase positive emotions.
Regardless of how you’re impacted by the pandemic, remember that there are tools, techniques and resources available to help you. The DIA Employee Assistance Program psychologists put together a video addressing some of the concerns they’re seeing and ways to mitigate stress and anxiety. This link will take you to the video https://daily.dodiis.ic.gov/transformer/20200318-2047-GEN-RELN-090109c9804fb220.html
If you notice that you or someone else seems to be cavalier or dismissive of the current situation, it’s likely that they are internalizing the stress differently. Be mindful of that as you are working on self-care and checking in with others.
In the coming days and/or weeks, as you’re working from home or on administrative leave, stick to a routine and continue to prioritize self-care. As said, stress and anxiety manifests in many shapes and forms. Let’s take care of one another to make sure that we’re ready to resume normal operations, when directed to do so.
If you’re looking for more resources, support or someone to talk to, contact DIA’s EAP by calling 202-231-8699. For military members, there’s also Military One Source, accessible at www.militaryonesource.mil.
Now let’s execute the big eight above and don’t forget to check on your battle buddies.
 Ulrich Kirk et al. Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game. Front. Neurosci., 18 April 2011 https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2011.00049