Conditioning

Top Tips for Working from Home or How to Stop Being Annoyed in the COVID-19 World

By Jacquie Costello April 22, 2020


“Never let a good crisis go to waste” – Winston Churchill.

This quote from Churchill reminds us that dramatic change inevitably uncovers fresh insight and delivers us opportunities for growth. Psychology aside, let’s ask ourselves…what does this COVID-19 world have to teach us? What opportunities and new perspectives does it present for us, our mates, our teams and our families? What behaviours and attitudes do these unprecedented circumstances invite us to reflect upon and reconsider? And most importantly, how do we stop being annoyed by life in the COVID-19 world?

Below are some tips and ideas to get you started on making the most of a good crisis.

First up, if you’re an Army member who is working from home, we understand this feels different. Different in the way, perhaps, that it feels after coming home from a field phase or a deployment or time away on a course. You need to connect and integrate with those in the household, including kids and pets…what are their habits, what are their expectations and how do I fit in?

You’ve probably worked out that simply translating your day at the unit into your household is neither simple nor appropriate. Your PT session, your orders, your left and right of arc and your chain of command are out of whack with the needs, expectations and battle rhythm of your household. And of course, the language and customs used and the general mood are different too. Apart from these practicalities it might feel emotionally different too as all that is protective to our wellbeing by wearing the uniform is literally stripped bare. Compound these efforts of trying to fit in with a heightened level of uncertainty about our current circumstances and it’s not hard to see how this can become anything from annoying to overwhelming.

Start by learning to calm yourself and listen to the self-talk in your head. Some people like to use a breathing exercise, visualisation can be calming (it's almost impossible to stay agitated with visions of puppies rolling in the grass…) others find burning off the energy with a short burst of exercise can be calming. It doesn’t need to be complex but it does have to be personalised – chose a way to calm yourself that works for you.

Then it’s time to be quiet (stop talking out loud for a bit) and tune into the narrative that fills your own head. Are you telling yourself this situation is bad, this working from home will never work out or that you hate it? Taking an audit of the things you are telling yourself can show you where you need to make adjustments – it is literally impossible to feel an emotion without thinking about something first (go on and try it!). Positive self-talk creates positive thinking styles which generates positive emotion – you will feel better about your circumstances, more motivated and energised when you fill your self-talk with helpful observations and positive, encouraging words.

Lastly, try to focus on the things you can control and that doesn’t include other people. Take a moment to reflect on or even learn from the way your household copes and supports each other when things don’t go right. You’ll find they have their own “actions on” and regularly conduct “after action reviews”. They have their own operational tempo; be grateful you now have time to make a really meaningful contribution. It’s about good communication, taking things one step at a time and straight forward give and take. 

We understand that sometimes calming and positive self-talk don’t work. Sometimes your efforts to gain perspective and distance yourself from irritation don’t have the same impact they used to. So here’s the drill…a few more tips to cope with feeling annoyed in the COVID-19 world. They’re pretty foolproof and easily translatable to all members of the household; a team effort is almost always more powerful and effective.

Step 1: Stop, look, breathe

When annoyance starts to bite, stop what you’re doing, break your concentration on whatever it was that was winding you up and look up and around and then breathe, really breathe. Focus on the air going in and the air going out. This will automatically invoke your body’s relaxation response, don’t fight it, breathe through it.

Step 2: Explain yourself

If the breathing is not making a dent, then try going inside your own head and explaining what’s happening to yourself – “I’m getting annoyed right now because…” your response can be calming, it may even be really funny or the humility pill you needed to swallow. Either way it’s a mental break from generating the negative emotion that got you annoyed in the first place.

Step 3: Carry their pack

This one works when you perceive the source of your irritation to be someone else. Time for a reality check. Ask yourself do you really understand why they are behaving in that way, why they are saying those things that you find so annoying? Maybe their pack is just really heavy that day. Consider carrying it for a while and you’ll reap the rewards.

Step 4: Own up

Focus on your own behaviour and language – are you contributing to the irritation? Could you do better in communicating your message and managing your emotions? Probably. It might help to think what would Audrey Hepburn do (or James Bond or Obi-Wan Kenobi or whoever fits your image of logic and grace)? Then own up and do it. 

Step 5: Pass it on

Whatever it is that’s winding you up is highly unlikely to be permanent. It is very likely to be completely temporary, transient and therefore manageable. Use the power of your self-talk…”You won’t always feel this way, it’s just a question of passing it on”. Acknowledging that your irritation is finite and in your control helps you to scope a way out.

Step 6: Make it matter

Ask yourself, how important is the matter that is irritating me? How does it compare to what really matters to me? How does it stack up against the people, places and things that bring meaning to my life? Here’s a really simple distraction technique to help you work this out quickly…scroll through the photos on your phone… you will be deeply reminded of what actually matters to you and the source of your annoyance will start to drift. 

Step 7: LOL

For those who have ever been in the Psych’s office you would have noticed the tissues and the minties. It’s almost impossible to cry and eat a mintie at the same time – although not always, hence the tissues. It’s also hard to be annoyed, upset, angry or overwhelmed while you’re smiling, almost impossible when you’re laughing out loud. Even a bad joke in a tense moment can be a rapid diffuser. Start with a smile, warm to eye contact and then try and find some humour in the situation. Black humour will do, it’s just about breaking the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings.

Step 8: Problem solve. Or don’t

Most of us are very good at diving into the analysis and coming up with 5 workable courses of action (COAs) in no time. Sometimes though, a tense situation is not necessarily looking for a fix. Acknowledging that sometimes you don’t have the answers and you can’t fix the problem will help you to accept the circumstances rather than react.

Step 9: Tap out and tell someone

If you’re at step 9 and you’re still feeling tense and irritated, it’s time to tap out and tell someone else. This means talk to someone you trust who is not involved in the situation. Start by telling them what you said and what you did, this avoids the (sometimes automatic) blame game emerging. A new person gives a new perspective, a trusted person will tell it to you straight. Listen, accept and be prepared to do things differently.

Step 10: Get help

If these tips are not working to help you navigate the frustrations of the COVID-19 world, particularly if you find you are having episodes of anger or distress more intensely and more frequently, then it might be time to seek professional help. Your chain of command and the on base health and chaplain services are the best place to start along with the helplines below.

  • On base chaplain support or call 1300 333 362
  • Defence Family Helpline 1800 624 608
  • Defence Community Organisation  1800 624 608
  • Open Arms Counselling Service 1800 011 046
  • Defence Employee Assistance Program – includes the Reserve Assistance Program (RAP) 1300 687 327
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

Portrait

Biography

Jacquie Costello

Jacquie is an experienced and passionate Army Psychologist who is currently the SO1 Psych at HQ FORCOMD. She cares deeply about ensuring that the evidence base is translated into pragmatic advice that is accessible and meaningful for all.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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