Working from Home During COVID – Tips for People in Recovery

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Six months.

That’s how long the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines – and for most of use, that’s how long it’s dominated our day-to-day lives.

Some parts of the country reopened after our national shelter-in-place period ended on May 1st. Some areas partially reopened, allowing specific types of businesses to resume operations with safety protocols in place. Others went quickly to a near total reopening, with few restrictions on businesses and a when possible approach to social distancing and a voluntary approach to masks and other types of facial coverings.

Now that September is here, getting K-12 (kindergarten through high school) students back to school is the priority. States, counties, local school districts, and private schools are at working solving the pressing questions:

How do we do it?

What is safe?

How about sports?

How about things like band, chorus, and various clubs?

Colleges and universities face the same questions, and they’re answering them with a wide range of strategies. Some have been successful, and others not so much.

However, with all the attention on schools, there are still millions of people out there who aren’t wrestling with the school questions, the childcare questions, or the is-my-kid-safe-at-college questions. They’re the people with office jobs – who are grateful beyond words to still be employed – who no longer work in offices.

They now work at home.

Of those millions of people, the most recent data tell us that it’s likely tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – have a diagnosed alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) and have received treatment for their alcohol or drug use. For specific numbers, please read our article “Join the Voices for Recovery: National Recovery Month 2020.”

Life in Recovery: The Home Office

While statistics indicate some who received treatment may have relapsed, we know there’s a significant number of people across the country who are working from home, doing their best to stay sober and manage their recovery during these very stressful times.

This article – this list, specifically – is for them.

Tips for Working at Home: COVID and Recovery

1. Make and Keep a Schedule.

This is something most people in recovery learned before the coronavirus pandemic. If you went to treatment of any kind – partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or residential – you kept a consistent schedule that prioritized recovery. When you finished treatment, you left your treatment center with an aftercare plan (also known as a recovery plan, a relapse prevention plan, or something similar) that served as a roadmap to maintaining sobriety while back at home, out in the real world. This is what people you need to do while working from home. You need to create a schedule that:

    • Works for you
    • Promotes consistency
    • Satisfies employers
    • Ensures you fulfill your work tasks and responsibilities

Keep in mind, this list is about working from home. Having a job during this time is something to value – and keeping that job helps you avoid the stress that accompanies unemployment. With that said, we’ll move to the next item on the list.

2. Include Recovery Activities in the Schedule.

If you’re in recovery, this is essential. Despite the upheaval caused by coronavirus, it’s possible to stick to a recovery program in the midst of stay-at-home orders, business closures, and other restrictions. Recovery activities include:

    • Support group meetings. AA and NA host virtual meetings every day. Like pre-pandemic times, meetings are available at all times of the day, with the most common meeting times in the early morning, around lunchtime, and in the early evening.
    • Exercise. This is another thing you probably learned during treatment: the importance of exercise. It doesn’t have to be extreme, and you don’t have to pretend you’re a competitive athlete if you’re not athletic. What matters is finding something you enjoy and sticking to it. Whether it’s basic calisthenics to an easy walk around the block, make sure you get your exercise in every day.
    • Three healthy meals a day. Eating healthy food is another pillar of recovery. You need healthy food on a regular basis to help your body and mind stay healthy and functioning at optimal capacity. Healthy food means lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, and reasonable portions of lean protein. It also means cutting back on processed foods and sugar – but as long as your diet is healthy overall, there’s nothing at all wrong with eating dessert or having an occasional soda.

3. Make the Recovery Activities Non-Negotiable.

That’s right: to the rest of the world, your recovery activities must appear as if they’re written in stone. If your best AA meeting is at 12:30 pm every day, don’t schedule work meetings during that time. If you’re tempted to work through lunch because you have momentum on a work project, don’t do it: you’ll return to work as a more capable and productive employee after lunch. When you want to skip your morning walk to get a head start on something work related, don’t do it – for the same reason you’re not going to skip lunch. You’ll be a more focused, more productive, and more capable employee if you stick to your exercise schedule.

4. You Have to Move.

By move, we mean something different than exercise. Throughout the day, you need to get up, leave your desk, and move your body. This could be as simple as standing up and stretching side to side for a couple minutes. It could mean taking five minutes to walk to the mailbox, even though walking to the mailbox only takes two minutes. It could mean watering the plants in the yard.

In fact, if you live in a house with anything approaching a garden, watering plants is a great thing to have going during the workday. Set the hose by a bed of flowers or bushes that need water, start a timer on your phone for ten to twenty minutes, then go back to your desk. When the timer goes off, move the hose to the next bush or flowerbed. If you live in an apartment with houseplants, you can do something similar: do one plant at a time, every twenty minutes or so. Take our word for it: microbreaks that involve just a little bit of nature – even if it’s just a basil plant in a window box – do wonders for the spirit.

5. Give Yourself Breaks.

Maybe we should call this tip Give Yourself Rewards. This is a simple way of acknowledging that you’re sticking to your routine and keeping your promises to yourself. Here’s an example: if you eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day all week, then on Friday, give yourself a treat. We’re not saying have chocolate cake for breakfast, but a donut? Maybe so. We’re not saying eat a whole cheese pizza for lunch, but a burger instead of a salad with grilled chicken? Maybe so. We’re not saying don’t get any exercise, but sleeping in an extra half an hour on Friday instead of getting up to go for that walk? If you’ve been consistent for the whole week, then maybe so. That extra thirty minutes on Friday morning can be your reward for going for that walk Monday through Thursday.

Here’s a quick note on that last tip: breaks and rewards have meaning only if they’re actually breaks and rewards. You earn them by staying consistent on all the other days. They’re a way of building in a “Good job!” or a “Way to go!” or a simple pat on the back. Think of them as self-scheduled, positive self-reinforcement – but you have to be honest about them. If you didn’t earn the break, get back to your program and earn yourself a break: you’ll feel good about yourself, and the break will feel like a combination of reward relief, which is exactly how it’s supposed to feel.

Consistency, Support, and Compassion

We encourage people in recovery to be consistent with their routines at all times, but especially during stressful times like these – which are a minefield of triggers and stressors that can lead to relapse. We encourage people in recovery to make use of their support network at all times – but again, especially during times like these when they’re vulnerable to relapse. People in recovery should stay in touch with recovery peers, keep going to meetings, pick up the phone and call their sponsors – all of it. And all of it can happen during the coronavirus pandemic, and though the support may be virtual, it is, nevertheless, real support given by real people.

Finally, we encourage people in recovery to practice compassion – for themselves. We encourage all people in recovery to recognize that we’re living through a novel, challenging, and unusual time – and if they feel like they’re at the end of their rope, then that’s not only okay, that’s to be expected. The solution – as we see it – starts with creating daily routines that promote recovery. And for those people in recovery who work from home, the solution starts with creating a daily work schedule that promotes both success in job performance and success in recovery. Daily routines that promote recovery and daily routines that promote productive work are not mutually exclusive: in fact, they’re mutually reinforcing.