Much of the following guidance was written for people practicing social distancing or self-quarantining. However, most parts of this are equally relevant to people who are remotely working or simply want to take care of themselves in this difficult time. We hope that you will find some of the following resources useful to take care of yourself and your wellbeing in the coming weeks!
The Baseline Rules
Rule 1: Do not feel silly or shameful for taking extra precautions to keep your physical health and mental health in good shape — everyone is entitled to react differently to the ongoing situation and you should not feel like you are doing anything wrong!
Rule 2: If you are feeling overwhelmed by social isolation or the ongoing health crisis, reach out to a friend! If you don’t know where to begin, the Internet has infinite cats and doggos pictures that will cheer anyone up! The university’s counselling service also has a number of self-help resources available here to help you out! If you need to chat to someone, you can also reach the Durham Nightline from 9pm to 7am during term-time — the number is on the back of your campus card. The Samaritans also offer a 24/7, anonymous, non-judgemental and available listening service for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis by calling 116 123. The effect of social isolation can be though and is not always something we are used to — it is okay to feel lonely and there are ways to mitigate that and to adjust to our new (temporary) circumstances.
Rule 3: This resource is only a guide to support your wellness. Do not be hard on yourself if you intend to incorporate the practices in this guide into your daily routine and fall short: even if you manage to do one thing on this guide that you would not have ordinarily done, that is one thing you did to support yourself and you should be proud of that effort! Tomorrow is always a new day to try again or try something new!
Working better: getting motivation & staying focused
It may not always be easy to be motivated when you’re working remotely. Here are top tips to help you with cultivating motivation while you are working from home:
- Make ‘work’ a special time: if you feel that you are not in the mood to get work done, it may help you to clearly separate work time from leisure time by getting into a few small habits that make you feel like you’re actually going to school. For example, make sure that you do not work in bed, get out of your pyjamas and get dressed before beginning work, and try to work at a comfortable desk!
- Maintain a routine: what do you normally do in the morning, afternoon & evening when you go to work? Try to write it down and stick with it when working from home — this will help you break up the day in small bits and prevent ‘working from home’ from becoming one big scary block of time
- Set a daily schedule: this can take many forms and can incorporate both work and leisure tasks. For example, you may write it as an agenda where you set targets to hit by certain hours of the day (e.g. read 20 pages by 2pm); as a checklist if you want more flexibility with targets (e.g. complete all marking by Thursday); as a schedule with working blocks and resting blocks. For more resources on setting up a daily routine, click here and here.
Something that may be particularly hard if you are not used to working from home is focusing on your work. A number of small tools can help you focus on your work more — you may want to try some, all or none of these:
- The Pomodoro method: the Pomodoro method is a method that helps you work more efficiently and without tiring your brain out. It is based on the idea that big tasks are better tackled by dividing them into small bits that you can each manage in 25 minutes. Once you have divided your work in small bits of 25 minutes, set a timer and work for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break and resume with a 25 minute work session. After 4 work sessions, take a longer 15 minute break before getting back to work! A number of apps can help you keeping track — check out Forest (on the Apple Store or Google Play Store) or some of the apps on this list. You can also use a good old kitchen or phone timer. For more details on the Pomodoro method, click here.
- Ear plugs: working from home may sometimes be more noisy than usual and this can be a hard adjustment if you’re used to working silently on the 4th floor of the Billy B! Get a bunch of disposable or reusable ear plugs to help isolate you from the background noise. If you are not isolating, it may also allow you to work in the same room as other people, which can lessen the feeling of social isolation — but please keep the guidelines of Public Health England in mind to work in safe conditions!
- Website blockers: if you find it hard to resist going on Facebook or other websites while working remotely, consider downloading a website blocker. You can either whitelist website (meaning your browser would only let you connect to the websites listed, such as Duo or Google) or blacklist websites (meaning your browser will let you connect to all websites except the ones you’ve banned). A simple app for this is called Self Control and other resources are available here.
If you work on a computer all day, you may also feel your eyes suffering from looking at a screen all day! A useful technique is the 20-20-20 rule: every time you have spent 20 minutes looking at a screen, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away (that’s 6 metres for those of us that like their measurement units to make sense). There are also apps that can change the lighting of your computer so that your eyes are less overwhelmed by blue light — which can disrupt your sleep. A very simple and successful app for this is F.lux: it will automatically change the colors in your screen as the sun goes up and down!
Taking care of your body and mind
If exercise is part of your daily or weekly routine, the closure of fitness facilities can be challenging! However, there are a few ways to bring the exercise into your home and get your endorphins back up — just make sure to do this in safe conditions!
Here are a few ideas of new things you can try from home to feel better:
- Yoga: if yoga is your thing or you have never tried it, it could help you relax from home. The Downdog app is a yoga app accessible through your phone or web browser, highly customisable and it has Yoga as well as HIIT classes. The app is also free until April 1st! You can also find many yoga videos online (check out Do Yoga With Me)! To help break the social isolation, you can even host a remote yoga session with your friends on FaceTime or Microsoft Teams (now available for free with all Durham University accounts)
- Home Exercise: there is a huge number of free or low-cost apps available online and on mobile phones to help you exercise at home. Downdog notably has a number of exercising features. Other resources you can print include: exercises for small spaces; circuits and bootcamp home workouts. Please make sure you are mindful of the people living below you if you exercise in your flat — no 3am star jumps!
- Meditation Apps: meditation apps are very helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed or working on a large project — for example, if you are feeling anxious about your dissertation or a big piece of work, try a quick meditation session first. The Headspace app is a great resource to help you meditate — they have just opened up a number of resources for free; and you may be able to get discounted access as a student! You can find other free meditation resources here or breathing exercise apps on the Apple Store and Google Play Store
- Open a window: it seems simple but feeling fresh air, listening to the birds or hearing people converse as they walk down the street can help you feel calmer. It is not the same as being outside but can definitely help. It is also good to open your blinds and make sure you get enough sunlight daily! If you feel comfortable and are able to go outside, walking around the block may also be a great option — but please make sure to observe Public Health England’s guidance for your safety.
- Keeping hydrated: sometimes, a simple glass of cold water can help you focus and put you in a better mood. In particular, when our schedules and work habits are changed, people tend to forget drinking. A great way to make sure you drink enough is to keep a reusable water bottle on your workstation and remember to finish it every day — but make sure to clean it thoroughly at the end of the day
- Limit your news intake: it is very natural to want to know what is happening with the virus and that can lead to constant checking of news while you’re trying to work or relax: not only does that mean you’re no longer working or relaxing but it may also make you feel more stressed. You may want to set a limit of the number of times you allow yourself to check the news per day. If you’re worried about missing anything crucial and feel comfortable doing so, turn on the notifications for breaking news on the BBC News app — this way, you know you will be informed if anything crucial is happening and you do not have to refresh your Twitter feed every few minutes
- 30 seconds (or more) dance party: Grey’s Anatomy fans will know that a great way to relax if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed is to take 30 seconds (or more) to dance around or move your body while listening to your favourite song! If you are in isolation, dance like nobody’s watching — no one is!
Taking care of your body also means keeping a meal schedule and remembering to eat enough! Indeed, when you’re off your regular schedule, it can be difficult to remember it is time to eat and you may eat less or poorly as a result. A good way to stick to a meal schedule is to try meal prep — cooking your food in advance so that you can just pop it in the microwave or oven when you need it. You can read more on meal prepping here and here.
While it is more complicated to maintain a good social life when you’re isolated, there are simple ways to do so. For example, if you’re studying, you may want to create study groups online — using Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. It can be particularly helpful if you’re used to working with other people around, even if in silence: it may seem silly but the knowledge you are working with other people and the option to chat every once in a while can help break the isolation.
It is also important to manage proper breaks: if you are particularly socially active, being in isolation may create big gaps of time in your days. Rather than fill this time with more work — which could cause you to burn out; there are many creative ways for you to fill your time. If you are afraid of the impact it could have on your work, just set a specific length for your break, set a timer and stick to it to make sure you stay on schedule! Some of things you could do for work breaks include:
- Movie Night: you can plan a remote movie night as easily as a live one. Facebook thus has a function that allows you to host a virtual movie watching party. Google Chrome also has an extension, Netflix Party, that allows you to synchronise your Netflix with friends (even those that do not have Netflix subscriptions) and watch a show together!
- Virtual Happy Hour: hang out with your friends after you are all done with work for the day — this is a great thing to include in your daily or weekly schedule and something you can look forward to.
- Video Games: even if you are not a ‘gamer’, this could be of interest. There is an endless list of games available online to help you escape reality for a bit (Zelda, Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Mario…) If you are new to gaming, you can download a lot of games on Steam.
- Off-screen options: if you don’t want to look at a screen, try your hand at crochet/knitting; colouring books (if you have a printer, here are some free PDF colouring books); clean your room (some people may find this calming); try a new recipe; call a friend or family member (and you can schedule this in advance so that you don’t forget and work past the call and so that you have something to look forward to); or have a nap!
It is important that you take care of yourself at this difficult time: you do not have to use all the tools in this guide but you may want to try a few and figure out what works best for you.
If you have any concerns or questions, please get in touch with the GCR on our Facebook page or with your welfare team (welfare.ustinovgcr[at]durham.ac.uk). For practical information on the ongoing health crisis, head to the University’s Covid-19 website and on Public Health England’s webpages, where a number of frequently asked questions are answered.
Credits go to Tara Roslin (Boston University School of Law) for much of the original content.