How to find work-life balance again after adjusting to a working-from-home routine

Wellbeing

After adjusting to work-life at home, our organisation has heard of many instances of Australians feeling anxious about returning to the office environment.

This response is commonly known as reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome, where the period of re-adapting to ‘normal’ life is just as overwhelming as the culture shock first felt with the initial change.

Clinical psychologist Dr Kimberley Norris likens this phenomenon to Antarctic expeditioners returning from confinement.

Returning to a new post-COVID world and way of living will take time to adjust to and we need to support ourselves to re-familiarise ourselves with the outside world.

While returning to life and managing a new work-life balance is a topic with many opinions, options and thought streams, there are a few core avenues everyday Australians can explore to manage any feelings of anxiety that arise.

Shifting expectations

The first step of finding a healthy work-life balance is to let go of previous views of what this looks like. The world we live in post-COVID has changed, as has our relationship with work, our colleagues and ourselves.

Elements of the daily routine that worked pre-pandemic may not have the same effect, or may no longer be possible.

For example, taking public transport to work and listening to a podcast may have been a morning and afternoon ritual pre-COVID, but social distancing, wearing PPE and altered passenger behaviour has changed that experience.

Be open to finding a ‘new normal’ — a shift in expectations here can make a significant difference to allowing you to settle into a day-to-day routine that looks a little different than what you’re used to.

Identify helpful working from home practices

The transition back to the office doesn’t have to be a black and white approach, but rather a strategic move to learn from the experience and incorporate feedback on what worked (and what didn’t).

The key to unlocking the best course of action is open communication.

Many workplaces have already begun discussions about the benefits and constraints of working from home, but if not, workers can offer to talk to the team and provide feedback to management on everyone’s experience.

Outline which practices will help improve performance and productivity and offer to help management develop strategies to implement them. This will not only help keep those beneficial WFH practices, but also open up a dialogue around general wellbeing with the team.

I encourage everyone to be mindful of potential concerns their broader management team may have, and approach these with a view to settling on a solution that works for all.

In the Smiling Mind State of Mind 2020 survey of 1,000 Australians, 17.9% of respondents reported work as their greatest barrier to positive wellbeing.

With this in mind, we need to ensure healthy relationships with work are fostered in 2021 — especially as we brace for another year of uncertainty.

Get moving

Physical movement is inherently intertwined with good mental health. Getting out and active isn’t something we should perceive as a ‘nice to do’. It’s a must.

Encouragingly, our research has revealed that an understanding of the importance of good mental and physical health is high in Australia, with 87.8% of respondents noting mental and physical health are of equal importance.

With the shift back to the office, workers will need to find a new routine for physical exercise without the luxury of access to the home gym.

There are so many ways people can get active at work. Look for opportunities throughout the day such as walking up to grab a hot drink or taking a stroll around the block at lunch.

Connecting with nature has a dual effect so local parks are a great destination to reset and refocus the mind.

Introduce mindfulness into your daily routine

Mindfulness meditation is a great way to create a healthy differentiator between work and home as it allows people to actively shift their mindset to the task at hand or to ‘switch-off’ — something that’s notoriously difficult for many.

We hear from many Australians that they struggle to meditate because they’re not sure if they’re doing it ‘right’, or are pressuring themselves to reach an unattainable standard of mindfulness. The beauty of meditation is that anyone can get involved, no matter their level of proficiency.

There are a number of guided meditation tools available that Australians can take advantage of for those who are new to the concept or inexperienced, including on the Smiling Mind app.

Book a holiday

It might sound simple, but this one’s important.

With overseas flights out of the question and hurdles to domestic travel, many Australians have put holiday plans to one side, instead opting for various COVID restrictions to ease. This can result in long periods without a break, leading to exhaustion, overwhelm and burnout.

Holidays are crucial for work-life balance and a healthy state of mind. They allow us to ‘switch-off’ from work, and direct attention to loved ones or a fulfilling passion.

As discussed earlier, expectations need to be flexible. It may not be possible to visit the annual family retreat, or it could cause additional stress due to flash border closures, such as we have just seen in Perth.

Not every holiday needs to be the ‘trip of a lifetime’ — it could be a long weekend in the rural regions taking in the scenery and connecting with nature, or taking leave to complete a DIY home renovation.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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