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  • Writer's pictureDeirdre Azzopardi

Work at Home

In this unprecedented time, we as occupational therapists are finding ourselves in front of screens for long periods each day. Perhaps we chose our careers, in part, to avoid this fate. I know that I did. I love physical interaction and movement so staying static has felt as foreign to my body as it has to my psyche.

Consciously bringing more joy and ease into my new reality has been helping me get through this time.

Here are the strategies that I have found most useful:

Creating a morning ritual

The first few days off felt like we were on vacation. I thought I could sleep in and just lazily start my day in my pajamas. However, attempting to work without structure resulted in my feeling untethered, distracted and stressed rather than rested and free. Distance learning has been much more time consuming than any of us realized. Without a solid routine we can end up feeling like we have no control over our day. I quickly went back to setting my alarm clock for 5:30 am. I know this seems early but I love to be the first one awake. I can then exercise, meditate and journal before the rest of my family gets up and I get pulled in a million different directions. For parents of very small children this may not be possible but even a few minutes to stretch and breath can make all the difference in how we feel each day. I do not watch the news or consume any social media in those precious early hours. We can open our bodies and our hearts first thing by movement and silence or we can start our day with fear and chaos. I think this is an easy choice but many of us reach for our phones out of habit rather than choice. Perhaps we make sure to keep our phones in another room so we will not be tempted. I have made time for movement and meditation as a daily ritual for the last four years and this habit has changed my life in innumerable ways. I feel more open, loving and free each morning instead of stressed and rushed. Creating the habit was challenging at first but over time it became as easy as brushing my teeth. This quarantine can be the perfect time to set a new morning routine. One can start simply, perhaps a five-minute stretch and two minutes of silence. Consciously beginning our morning sets us up to thoughtfully respond rather than impulsively react to the inevitable stressors throughout our day.

Setting up our work environment

Where are you working? I know that as OT’s we are constantly scanning the school environment, as we know the impact that disorganized and cluttered spaces have on children. Why would it be any different for us? If you are lucky, you have your own office, but even a card table in the corner of a bedroom is better than doing your virtual meetings with the computer, on your lap, in an unmade bed. I have a spare room, which of course is a luxury, but it had not been utilized well before this pandemic. Over the years the room had become a dumping ground for unwanted items. There were lights without bulbs, broken shelves in a bookshelf and piles of stuff everywhere. I worked there for a week and I felt confined and uninspired. I then decided to spend an entire day cleaning and organizing. Just the act of fixing that shelf and clearing out the piles made me feel lighter and more energetic. Perhaps clearing and organizing your workspace is worth your time? How can you bring the feeling of spaciousness even into a small space?

Adding movement

“ We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

I believe one of the gifts that we get as pediatric therapists is we get to play, play and play some more. I love to move and dance with my students. For the first 3 weeks of quarantine, I was at my computer and I would stand up to perhaps demonstrate a yoga pose, but then quickly return to sitting. The majority of my work was static. I finally decided to add some movement songs into my telehealth sessions and risk looking silly on video. There was an immediate difference in how I felt and how my students responded. The childlike, fun movements energized me and added much needed joy back into my work. Is there a way you can add more movement into your video sessions? I am currently reading an inspiring book by health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal called, “The Joy of Movement”. The notion that movement creates positive mood states is not new but what this book also chronicles is that group exercise creates a sense of collective joy that transcends just the individual experience and creates a sense of bonding. In this time of social distancing, finding a way to experience collective joy has transformed my work and reinforced connections, even through a video screen.

Conscious breaks throughout the day

As a pediatric therapist I have long since forgotten my work ergonomics lectures during college. At my preschool, I am never sitting for long so I haven’t concerned myself with my desk posture. Since the pandemic started I am sure there are many of us who have new aches and pains as a result of extended periods of sitting. I now have a note on my computer that says “alignment” to remind myself of what we all know to be true; our sitting posture matters. Though I always do some movement at the beginning of the day, I have now also added in small stretches and movement breaks throughout the day. I end each of my online sessions with a few minutes to stand up and move. One great way to counteract sitting is to do extension yoga poses prone on the floor. You can do a simple superman (superwoman) pose. Lift arms, head and legs off the floor while extending through the back body for 5 seconds. From that pose you can come into a sphinx pose. Legs come down, elbows are placed under your shoulders at 90 degrees and forearms press firmly into the ground. You will likely feel a release in your lower back if you relax and breath into the posture.

Conscious breathing is also a way that I de-stress and prepare for each new session. A simple breath that I find useful is the foursquare breath. This is breathing in for a count of four, holding for four, exhaling for four and then holding the breath for four again. Doing just two or three rounds of square breathing can help to calm the mind and the body. I also incorporate breathing within the OT sessions. Co-regulation is vitally important to our work with children. Every time we breathe together, I have the opportunity to model and regulate my own energy, while they are also learning a foundational self regulation skill.

The last way that I have made telehealth more enjoyable is through pleasing scents. My new favorite is a roll on essential oil blend that contains vanilla and cocoa. Several times a day I place the scent on my wrists and neck and it revitalizes me immediately. Other scents that I use include lavender and orange. I put those in a diffuser. Are there ways to add scent to your work environment to help create a sense of calm and ease?

When faced with any challenge I often come back to the Zen master quote, “The way we do anything, is the way we do everything.”

For me this means that no experience is wasted so how we respond to this crisis can reverberate throughout our entire life. We can allow this new work paradigm to open us up to new possibilities and stretch our creative muscle or we can hunker down and just hope it’s over soon. As occupational therapists we are known for our ability to change and adapt to any situation. These are the ways that I have managed to stay centered but I would love to hear about yours.

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