There’s a reason a growing number of studies are reporting that workers are struggling with their mental health as a result of COVID-19: our brains don’t like uncertainty. With working parents facing the ongoing uncertainty of what their work will look like for the foreseeable future, what their kids will spend the summer doing with so many camps cancelled, and when life will just become a little more normal, it’s no wonder that we’re finding work and life hard at the moment.
So how can we thrive amidst so much ongoing uncertainty?
The first thing to know is that feelings of stress and struggle are not signs that you are breaking, they are signs that something important to you is happening, which needs your attention. Rather than ignoring, suppressing, or projecting the struggle elsewhere, try to see your struggles as an opportunity for learning and growth. Journaling, talking to your boss or a colleague, and talking to your family about the struggles you’re experiencing can all help.
The second thing to know is that well-being is highly contagious as our beliefs and behavior spread through our interactions with each other. This means that if you want to thrive as you work from home with your kids around, you need to have a family plan to help care for each other’s well-being. The good news is that you’re much more likely to stick with your well-being behaviors when you have the support of people around you.
Finally, it’s important to know that your levels of well-being will ebb and flow based on what’s happening around you. This is why prioritizing tiny well-being challenges for yourself and your family throughout your workday can make it easier for everyone to thrive rather than driving each other crazy.
For example, in our busy household with two working parents and a 15-year-old and 10-year-old boy, our family ticks off a few “well-being challenges,” which are conveniently tacked up as a list on our fridge, in order to “earn” our technology use. Here is a sampling of these challenges.
1. Savor a jolt of joy
Give yourself a reason to smile by getting out into nature, thanking somebody for how they are making your day better or easier, or finding a favorite online clip, meme, or joke to share a laugh with somebody.
Prioritizing opportunities to create heartfelt positive emotions will boost people’s resilience in your house.
2. Exercise your superpowers
Find a way to use your strengths—the things you’re good at and enjoy doing—to tackle a task.
It could be a work requirement, a creative project, or a household job. A popular method to uncover strengths include personality tests and brief “character surveys.” Though these are not the be-all and end-all for placing candidates in jobs, they can be a fun activity at home for the family and kids. Finding ways to put your family’s strengths to work will boost their engagement and confidence.
3. Make someone’s day better
Checking in on a friend, doing someone a favor, playing a game together, or just making time to sit down and eat together are great ways to invest in your relationships. When it comes to caring for our well-being the most consistent finding in 20 years of research is that “other people matter.”
4. Aim for something extraordinary
Go after and push yourself to achieve something that makes you go, “wow, that was awesome”—learning something new, building on a skill, or tackling something that is challenging and hard. Our brains are at their happiest when they are learning and growing—even if it’s uncomfortable at times.
Encourage your family to take an end-of-the-day victory lap together and share how their tasks went by asking questions around what went well, where did everyone meets struggles, and what did we learn?
5. Get moving
Encourage people in your house to stretch, strengthen, or exercise in whatever way feels good for them—taking a family walk, having a run-around-the-block running challenge, a game of soccer, or a basketball shoot-out. Our bodies are at their happiest when they are moving regularly throughout the day, so try to find ways to help keep each other active.
The truth is that when you or your family feel well, not only do studies suggest that you’ll be more productive at work but you and the people you love will be happier and healthier as well. It doesn’t guarantee that your kids won’t still interrupt your work at times, but it does make it more likely that you’ll have the mental well-being and energy to juggle the different needs of your colleagues and your family.
Michelle McQuaid, PhD, is an author, workplace well-being teacher, playful change activator, and founder of The Wellbeing Lab, an international consortium of workplace wellness experts.