Tips for Working From Home While Dealing with Anxiety
I don’t know how to start this post other than by saying that COVID-19 has, clearly and obviously, impacted us all, and I’m not sure what (if anything) a site like this can do to help OR to be a place for distraction. That being said, I’ve noticed several conversations on Twitter from people who are dealing with their anxiety (rightly felt in the midst of a pandemic) and working from home either for the first time or as usual.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m one person with diagnosed generalized anxiety, and my coping mechanisms were formed outside of a pandemic. But if anyone is struggling to work from home while dealing with anxiety, hopefully some of my methods can work for you, too.
Note: As always, we’re all unique, and we all handle stress, anxiety, working from home, and even the pandemic, a little differently. If you don’t handle anxiety this way, that’s okay. Do what works best for you.
As someone who has spent the past several years mentally berating myself for worrying too much, overreacting, and not getting everything done — especially when anxiety hits — the biggest tip I can offer is to practice self-forgiveness. You are not a bad person because you’re procrastinating. You’re not the worst freelancer ever because you didn’t return an email or phone call in the same day you received it. As important as I think deadlines are, you’re not the worst person ever because you missed one.
Take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to be superhuman — now or ever.
Your best clients understand that we’re in a freaking pandemic, y’all. The assholes were never going to get it, and that sucks. I spent a full three days worried that my clients thought I was the biggest slacker ever because I wasn’t working at my usual pace. When I reached out to explain and apologize, not one of them gave me grief. We’re ALL in this together, and reasonable people know this.
Focus on the Easy Wins
When my anxiety runs high, the last thing I can do is tackle a big, scary project right away. So I start my day and my week with the easy stuff. The stuff that doesn’t make me doubt my abilities. I keep my deadlines in mind, but I’ll toss out the “do the hard thing first” advice on high-anxiety days. Crossing a couple of small (but still important) things off my list gives me a sense of accomplishment and boosts my confidence. With that, I find it easier to tackle the bigger stuff.
Plus, I think we need to drop the idea that doing the stuff we love (or find easier) is less important than the bigger, harder tasks. Sometimes those easy wins are for our own blog or content. Sometimes they’re just the small tasks a client pays you to do. But they’re no less valuable just because they’re easy or fun.
Break Up Your Work into Smaller Pieces
Sometimes the idea of writing 1000 words is overwhelming, even though it’s something I’ve done a thousand times. Anxiety does that to me — it both fills me with self-doubt and uses my past successes as a cudgel. “You’ve done this a thousand times! Why can’t you do it today?!” Because my brain is a bit wonky, Karen! (If talking to myself makes me wrong, I don’t wanna be right.)
To make the task seem less overwhelming, I break up one task into multiple parts (as long as it doesn’t feel overwhelming). Make the outline for the piece. Take a break. Write the intro paragraph. Take a break. Repeat that process until, eventually, it’s done. Once I get started, sometimes it’s easy to keep going. And sometimes I’m grateful for the permission I’ve given myself to move more slowly.
Take Planned Breaks
The worst thing I ever did for myself as a new freelancer was skip lunch. I ate at my desk (just like the corporate job days) and called myself “productive.” In reality, I became an anxious mess who then snuck in Twitter and YouTube videos at the worst times (in mid-paragraph, y’all — half a sentence was typed, and I called myself “done” for 30 minutes). While I still hear the siren call of procrastination via Twitter, knowing I have at least one planned break a day (for me that’s lunch), helps me remember that my time to mindlessly scroll and get away from my work is coming.
Tip: In times of coronavirus, use your break to get away from the news, too, if you can. Watch a cat video. Chat with a friend. Eat or drink something. The idea is to come back to your work after the break feeling refreshed and (hopefully) calmer.
Throw Out Your Typical Schedule
I’m a believer in finding a routine that works for you — because I love routines. But on high-anxiety days (or during an anxious life), sometimes I feel stifled by my routine. I want to sleep more, take more breaks, and spend time talking to John Brownstone. And during a pandemic, the kids are home, so they require a bit of attention.
As long as I get the work with a deadline done in time, working at the pace that works for me TODAY helps me feel less anxious. Why? I think it’s because I don’t feel like I’m failing at my own internal expectation — and if I don’t have the energy to follow my normal routine, I feel like I’ve failed. (I haven’t, but tell my brain that.)
Now, real talk, it took me a long time to be okay with doing this. Anxiety will lie to you and tell you if you don’t keep the exact schedule you always use that you’re failing there, too. But anxiety is a lying ass who contradicts itself all the fucking time.
Fuck Extra Productivity
If you need to get paid (and who doesn’t) and you can, you still need to be productive enough for clients, your job, whoever to pay you. You have a job to do, and to the best of your abilities, try to do it. (While practicing self-forgiveness!).
But this idea that while we’re all holed up in our homes, we’re supposed to do MORE than we’re already doing, kicked my anxiety up another notch. I’m (currently) very fortunate that my working life isn’t much different than before COVID-19. So watching people chat on Twitter about all the things they were going to do now that they were working from home had me wondering what was wrong with me that I wasn’t putting out that new online course, writing that book, or doing a bunch of other “productive” things.
FUCK THAT (I said to my anxious brain). Yes, I’ll be doing a few more things than usual, but at my own pace, and for reasons other than “let me use my time to be more productive.”
By the way, if having something to do helps you cope, DO IT. If you’re out of work and are trying to earn extra income or just stay busy, I support you. If you find yourself with three extra hours in your day AND the mental space to finally start a project, I think that’s wonderful.
But if you’re exhausted just getting out of bed and your anxiety tells you that you’re failing because you’re NOT doing those things, feel free to say FUCK THAT (to your lying brain). Be a slug in your down time. Do things that have nothing to do with work or productivity. It’s okay! (I say to myself every time I don’t do something.)
I’m still finding my way through anxiety as a smutlancer. Not just while the world is one fire, but when it’s not, too. Even on days when I follow all of my own advice, I still flail about and feel a bit lost. All we can do is take a breath and put one foot in front of the other. Even if that one foot thing looks an awful lot like a nap.