Chances are, you either want (or need) to work, you want to keep up good nutrition habits, and exercise. But if you’re not used to exercising at home and/or working from home and/or taking care of kids who are also stuck home. These changes and the accompanying stress are probably not making things easy.
Working From Home
When I first started working from home a decade ago, I was a mess. I never set an alarm, I didn’t always get dressed or sometimes just wore gym clothes, and I had very little semblance of any kind of rituals. Here’s some strategies that I’ve learned since:
- Get dressed in the morning. Yes, I know it sounds fun to work in your pajamas, but it’s detrimental to productivity. Put your work clothes on, or at the very least clothes you’d leave the house in.
- Work in the same place each time, and set up a dedicated work station if possible. Bonus points if you can use a send-up desk or create a makeshift one (more on this in the next section).
- Set your schedule. Either pick the times you’re going to work and put them into whatever planner you use, or decide the order you’re going to perform your tasks in (e.g., walk dog > workout > protein shake > shower > work)
- Plan your mealtimes and don’t snack in between them. If you allow for snacks, it’s too easy to use them as a procrastination device, thus overeating and underworking. Lose-lose.
- Don’t eat at your desk or while you’re working.
- Leave your cellphone in a different room or turn it off. Use a website blocker like StayFocusd or Freedom to keep yourself from checking distracting websites.
- Understand that there’s an adjustment period. You probably will have a tough time getting and staying focused, especially if you have to simultaneously take care of young kids.
- Set a timer and work until it’s finished and then allow yourself to take a break. I set a 30-60 minute timer and take short 2-5 minute breaks to get up and shake the legs (more on this next section).
Effects of Sitting Too Long
The effects of sitting are deleterious. When you sit down, the musculature of your lower body basically shuts off. This is one reason your ankles swell on a long airplane ride.
When you are sitting, your gluteal (butt) muscles are essentially asleep. This is a problem because your glutes are your root system. With those giant muscles out of play, it’s very challenging to manage the relationship between your pelvis and your legs. And with this pillar of stability knocked out, you are left using just your core musculature to keep your spine supported in its natural shape.
The problem is that using just your core to support all that upper body mass is exhausting, so eventually you relax your abs and back and the whole system collapses; the shoulders slouch, the back rounds into a “C” shape and the neck juts outward. Not good.
This is an area I don’t have much experience with as I much prefer to go to the gym and don’t workout from home, but here’s some ideas to approach it:
- Work out earlier in the day so that you don’t get tempted to put it off.
- Accountability is key. Use a friend/partner/child or group.
- If you don’t feel like working out, set a small goal like simply changing into workout clothes, or if you’re already wearing them, just commit to doing one exercise.
- If you find it too challenging to get a formal workout in while caretaking, do something active with your kids – this absolutely counts. The point is not to get the perfect workout in. It’s to do what you can. (Read the next section for more ideas.)
- Keep it simple and stick with effective bodyweight training. You can also use this time to invest in some minimal equipment for your home gym setup (i.e., TRX, resistance bands, pullup bar, adjustable dumbbells, etc).
Workout = Playtime?
These days, since we’re all sequestered in the house, parents can use this opportunity to allow their inner child to have some fun with their kids.
Set up “lasers” around the house. Tape up colored string/yarn pulled tightly across your kids rooms or in certain hallways, and you have to go over and under the lasers each time you traverse the hallway. This will encourage more movement for everyone, you’ll work on your mobility/flexibility and the kids will just think it’s fun. Another similar imaginary activity is pretending the floor is lava and hopping, balancing from one pillow/cushion to the next can stimulate some activity and fun.
Let’s not forget just general roughhousing with your kids. Roughhousing requires your child to adapt quickly to unpredictable situations. One minute they might be riding you like a horse and the next they could be swinging upside-down. The unpredictable nature of roughhousing actually rewires a child’s brain by increasing the connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex, which in turn contributes to behavioral flexibility (Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist and author of Wild Justice)
Additionally, roughhousing helps develop your children’s grit and resilience(traits that are definitely needed these days). You shouldn’t just let your kids “win” every time when you roughhouse with them. Whether they’re attempting to escape from your hold or run past you in the hallway, make them work for it. Playtime is a fun and safe place to teach your kids that failure is often just a temporary state and that victory goes to the person who keeps at it and learns from his mistakes.
One of the primary issues with nutrition is that you may have prepared yourself by buying a lot of extra food, but you don’t want to binge on it all:
- As mentioned above, plan your mealtimes and don’t snack in between them. Allowing for snacks is a slippery slope to overeating.
- Keep foods that call to you out of sight. Visual cues are one of the biggest triggers for humans to eat. Out of sight, out of mind is very relevant with food.
The other main issue with our eating during these times are stress/emotional/comfort eating (due to boredom, anxiety, etc.)
Comfort eating is a huge subject unto itself, but I’ll address some pieces of it here. The problem is not that you’re eating. The problem is not the food.
Comfort eating occurs happens because you are feeling an emotion you don’t want to be feeling. In order to escape the emotion, you do something that feels good. The problem is, after you’ve eaten, now you have the uncomfortable emotion, piled with guilt, regret, and crumbs on top of it.
The solution is not to try not to eat. The solution is to figure out what you are feeling and why. Address the boredom; address the anxiety; address whatever else it may be. In this case, you may not be able to get rid of the cause of the negative emotions, but you can control the way you respond to them. Allow yourself to feel and identify the discomfort, then to problem-solve.
In the case of anxiety, saying things to yourself (or someone else) like “stop worrying,” or “just calm down,” will never work. Instead here is a better approach:
- Normalize your fears. It’s okay to feel a little bit worried. Panic is often an overreaction though.
- Write down your anxious fears. Often, you will come up with some worst-case scenarios. What is the likelihood each of the scenarios will come true? Be honest with yourself.
- What’s the best case scenario? Remember that that’s also a realistic possibility, too.
- What are some scenarios that are in between the best and worst cases? How likely are those to happen?
- Once you’ve thought through the best, worst, and in-between scenarios and how likely they are to occur, decide if it would be practical to plan for any of them.
- Consider what is within your control rather than what’s outside your control. What actions can you take now?
We don’t control what happens, we control how we respond.
This last week or two has likely been a huge adjustment for you, as it has been for everyone, but there are three things that will always be in your control: your thoughts, feelings, and actions. That’s more than enough to ensure your well-being.
Still, staying in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions is not easy. If you’re in a tough spot and having trouble coping, please feel free to hit reply and we can work through it together.
Lastly, stay away from the nonstop coverage in the media regarding the pandemic. It’s good to be aware, but don’t let it consume every minute of your day.