THE QUESTION: We live in an apartment with two kids aged 5 and 8. My wife and I are both working from home due to COVID. The combination of homeschooling and trying to get our work done at the same time is a nightmare. There’s no let up all day long from the moment I open my eyes between the kids’ demands, work deadlines, arguments over homework… I’m finding that constant pressure really difficult to handle. Before, when I was going to work, at least I had that short commute to myself each day. But now it just feels like there’s no let-up. How can I handle the 24/7 strain?
The Expert: Dr Kieran Kennedy,
Medical Doctor and Psychiatry Resident
That’s such a tough scenario, especially if you’re living in an apartment where there’s not a ton of space and people feel like they’re falling all over each other.
One interesting thing about this COVID period is that it’s making us recognise those parts of our day-to-day routine that do actually help to protect our mental health. Even the basic things like that our daily commute or 30-minute drive into work. People are noticing the impact of missing out on those things.
That’s why it’s important to acknowledge that it’s going to be beneficial for the whole family’s mental health to block out some time and space for each parent. Can mum and dad, for example, tag team to enable each of them to take a 30-minute walk or run each day?
Obviously, there’s so much pressure with homeschooling and working from home. But acknowledge you all need some space and time just to let it all out. As a family, you need to protect that for your mental health.
In addition, when there’s not a whole lot of space, you need to become more protective around where things happen as well. If you have an office or study, make that the sole place where working from home or the homeschooling happens. If space is tight, it may only be part of the room, like a desk or specific corner that’s dedicated for work.
What that means is that, when you’re not at that desk or in that corner, the rest of the room – like the couch, for example – is designated as a relaxed space.
Differentiating these spaces and establishing those boundaries allows our minds, psychologically, to chunk things off. It means we don’t constantly feel that overwhelming sense that there’s nowhere in this house where you can relax and get away from things.
It’s important for sleep as well. Lots of people are now working in their bedrooms, even typing or working in bed. I’ve had people say to me, “Why can’t I sleep?” Well, it’s because your brain is starting to associate your bedroom with work and being mentally active.
That’s why we need to protect these boundary spaces, even if it’s within the same house. By doing that we’re able to establish a sense of differentiation throughout the day in terms of, this is where I’m at work, this is where I chill and have a snack and watch TV, this is where I go to bed.
Establishing those boundaries and chunking things up for your family might help make working from home a little more lockdown-friendly.