For Women, By Women

Posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Stress management is boundary management

1st for Women Insurance recently spoke to Lori Milner, TedX speaker, coach, author, trainer and self-leadership expert. Lori shares advice and guidance for women on navigating their way through this unprecedented time. For many women home has become an all in one – office, gym, hair salon, you name it. And boundaries inevitably blur. Lori shares how we can manage these boundaries effectively to reduce unnecessary stress.

Prior to the Corona pandemic, you were battling to ‘balance’ work and life and that’s when work and life were at least separated geographically (for most of us anyway). Now you find yourself in a situation where the boundaries are completely mixed up.

Your house has become your home, office, gym, school, hair salon, and dentist, – you fill in what’s missing! The way to manage your stress during this time is to manage your boundaries. Of course, there are other excellent techniques like meditation, journaling and exercise but these are about releasing and redirecting your focus or using these tools as an outlet. Once your boundaries are defined, can you really get the most out of them.

I recently saw a video by Deepak Chopra who said ‘A positive mind can still be a turbulent mind’. Here are some tips and tools on how to set boundaries in your house to ensure you move from turbulence to contentment.

Have a dedicated room in the house for work

*Here is a disclaimer before you read further * – this is the ideal scenario but I get that it may just not be practical throughout the day. You are contending with kids, partners, spouses, other family members but if you can strive for this concept, it will go a long way to keeping you focused. I am using the patio table outside as my office most days. My husband uses the dining room as he has conference calls all day and I need a space that’s quiet for my writing, training and coaching. When I’m in this space, my brain goes into work mode. I love being outside and this boosts my energy. Try and avoid using places like the couch in front of the TV or on your bed. Keep the areas dedicated for relaxation and rest separate. I get you may need to escape to the bedroom for peace and quiet but then don’t lie down on your bed. Try set up the space to be as ‘office like’ as possible.

Set up the environment for success

Focus is rather challenging for us all at the moment but you can set up your environment to ensure you get your maximum output for your work time. Switch off your social media notifications when you are working. Close Outlook when you need to work as well as all news feeds and apps you have going. Unless your job is managing customer service and you are required to be on email all day. You are setting up the environment for minimal distraction and that’s key to your progress.

Have a jug of water on the table, avoid too much caffeine and fizzy drinks. Have healthy snacks around you so you aren’t reaching for sugary foods to boost you. This causes havoc on your productivity because you get a sugar spike and crash eventually. Keep your blood sugar stable with better choices at hand when you need them.

Have everything you need for your work session near you so you don’t have to keep getting up and walking past the family. Inevitably they will drag you into something they want to show you and there goes another 20 minutes of your time. However you decide to set up your work and rest environments, each space should trigger the mental state needed to do each type of work.

Manage your kids

We made a sign of the ‘office’ door with a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. When the sign is facing the happy face – they know they can enter. When the sad face is showing – they know not to come in. Depending on the age of your kids – it will at least work for a while and gives them a tool to know when to give you space. You can also create a calendar for them that shows when in the day you are going to spend time with them. So perhaps the blocks from 8am to 11am is work time but lunch time is when you will see them and another block later on in the day. When kids have a visual representation to manage expectations, it helps them process the day better. Otherwise it feels like they will never have access to you and this when they start to act up.

You can also involve them in this exercise and ask them what they would like to do with you today and then you can both write down in the calendar so they feel part of the decision.

Have a ritual to transition

Getting ready for the day is not just about personal self-care. More than that, it is your trigger to transition from life mode to business mode. Even if you are not working but studying or a stay home mom – you need to give yourself the prompt that you are showing up for yourself and the people at home. It doesn’t really generate much motivation to those around you when you are dishing out orders to brush teeth or do chores and you haven’t even got dressed.

Equally when you are done for the day, think about a ritual you can use to move back to life mode. Have a shower or long bath and change into comfortable clothes. Switch on the TV to unwind. What did you used to do when you got home from work? Maybe put on a pair of sneakers and walk around the garden or whatever area you have available. Do some running on the spot, yoga, stretches – something to reinvigorate your body and change your state. Exercise is the best way to do this. There are so many resources available on how to work out at home with no gym required.

Set a quitting time

This is probably the most important tip that will go a long way to assist with managing your stress. A few weeks ago – the narrative in most articles focused on work/life balance. Well it was a myth then and it’s a myth now. When you came home from work, you were still checking mails after hours and ‘just quickly’ working on that proposal when you should have been with the family. So it is vital that you set a quitting time at home during this period.

Otherwise, the day becomes a monotonous cycle of work and trying to manage the family. Setting a quitting time is for you as well as them. You need to give yourself permission to switch off for the day and let yourself just be. Allow yourself to watch TV or play with the kids without the guilt. It was bad enough you had guilt when you weren’t home all day. You decide what your quitting time is and then put the laptop and phone down. Do an activity you enjoy, read a book, and do something for you. Maybe you only have 15 minutes because you have to make dinner or get the kids ready for bed. But make sure you schedule time in your day for yourself.

This is challenging enough as it is but to feel guilty when you are not ‘being productive’ at this time, will drive you insane and make this period unbearable. Another consideration is that you are probably not achieving as much as you would in a typical day because you have to contend with family at home despite not having travel time. Accept it. Don’t start the internal narrative that you don’t deserve to switch off because it felt like you achieved nothing in the day.

The more you can set boundaries and set up your work time for maximum progress, the happier you will feel. Don’t focus on the huge task or goal at this stage – break it down into tiny chunks and everyday commit to doing the best you can.

Set boundaries on when and how often you check mail, news and messages

If you spend all day responding to everyone else’s agenda – you will get nothing done of your own. Some people thrive in this chaos and they want to read and share every new stat and article they come across. Now you do not need to be sucked into this. You set the boundaries on when and how often you will check these interruptions.

For example, check email mid-morning, at lunchtime and mid-afternoon. Manage your team and tell them that if they need you urgently, they must phone you. There is the fear mentality that if you don’t check your mail every 20 minutes you will miss something urgent. This is not productive. It destroys creativity, deep thinking and focus. If you saw this morning there are 709 new cases, then don’t go into the new feeds until you are done with your work day. It is not going to make a difference in those few hours. If you check in every hour, all you are doing is taking away from your productive time and getting yourself worked up into panic and fear. I’m not saying ignore what’s happening but you have limited time as it is – make the wisest choice of what you can do in each moment.

The same goes for WhatsApp and messages. I’m sure you are part of several groups – for school, personal, work, etc. Mute the social or family chats when you need to get stuff done and check in when you are ready to. Again – set boundaries and tell your family and friends – ‘I need to get stuff done so call me if you need me’. Most of these chats are filled with the same stuff because everyone is sharing the same articles, latest news and cat videos. You don’t need that to fill your days. All that will happen is you reflect on the day having done mindless work instead of moving the needle on your goals and priorities.

Equally important – try not to message people after hours especially in the evening if its work related. You will only stress your team and your colleagues out more. Or if this is when you can only get your work done because of the kids – then stipulate that in the email. ‘I am working on this now but no need to respond until tomorrow’. That consideration will go leaps and bounds to ensuring we all get through this with the least possible chronic stress.

Stress is not going away, it is a part of life. Prevention is the best cure to stress so set up your boundaries but do this as a family. We are all in this together – ask your partner or spouse where they prefer to be and perhaps take turns for certain areas depending on what kind of work needs to happen that day. Make the kids feel included and specify the areas they can use for homework and playing.

The mantra is one day at a time; some days these tools will work and some days it will inevitably go pear shaped. But the one thing you can control is your quitting time. Honour yourself and make sure you respect your time as much as everyone else.

Here’s to teamwork,

Warm wishes

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