Turn working from home into a positive experience
With leave of absence, stay-home notice and quarantine order becoming new buzzwords and a part of a new work-life norm as we grapple and learn to live with Covid-19, it is important to first appreciate the fact that such an outbreak has a socially isolating and segregating effect, due to the nature of the virus.
People derive different psychological benefits from different circles of association.
The innermost circle that corresponds with the most intimate association is our loved ones and family.
For most working adults, the next circle of association is our colleagues, people we spend a long time with every day for five or six days a week. We derive a sense of competence and efficiency. The outermost association is with our community, which is where we derive a sense of belonging.
This is made more obvious in the wake of an epidemic.
For those who now work in isolation and from home, the sense of connection with community may be weakened and so may the sense of camaraderie.
Working from home is not unusual. What is of concern in the current climate is looking at the reduction in social interaction at different levels.
Individuals may experience social isolation and lose the positive effects of coming together. They may even lose sight of the sense of mission at work.
For those who are by disposition more gregarious, outward bound and active, this sense of isolation and segregation may pose a bigger challenge, giving rise to a sense of restlessness if the isolation is prolonged.
To counteract the psychological effect of isolation, it is helpful for both employers and employees to take an active mindset, and treat leave of absence and stay-home notice as active strategies to combat a common "enemy", instead of a passive retreat. The unity in mission can mitigate the physical distance wedged in by the outbreak.
Turning the crisis into an opportunity to make it work for you is another positive stance to adopt.
Making use of the situation to catch up on solitary exercise, personal stocktaking and a more in-depth connection with family would also help engender a sense of mastery.
I personally think these moments of solitude provide a break from the over-stimulated day-to-day urban lifestyle.
I also feel this is one situation where technology finds its proper role in our lives.
Connect with friends, colleagues and even community via technology, which will also mitigate against the isolating effect.
Organisations can adopt regular "chat time" with staff within their respective groups.
For those confined to their homes, there will usually still be family members around.
There will also likely be the availability of devices and television, music sets and books, which help a great deal in providing social interaction and sensory and mental stimulation.
We are not just talking about audio media - we can now FaceTime relatives, friends and colleagues.
Stress can also come from an environment that is not conducive, be it too hot, too cold, too noisy, and for some, too quiet.
When our systems get stressed, we can be affected psychologically and even immunologically. We can find it hard to concentrate, difficult to rest and yet cannot get away due to the enforced confinement.
There are, however, ways to mitigate, like putting on ear muffs, shutting windows, moving to a quieter corner in the house, negotiating for common noisy time and quiet time, adjusting one's activities to the noise, and plan in tasks suited for such noisy time.
The writer is a senior consultant from the department of psychiatry at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital