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Working From Home – Tips & Tricks

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 6, 2020

Changing from an in-office/lab environment to working from home represents a change in routine for most of us.  Many of us are creatures of habit, so alternations to our routines (morning rituals, commutes, office space, interaction with co-workers, etc.) require an adjustment period.  Here are some tips for making the adjustment a bit easier:

Get up each morning and go through your regular morning routine
Set your alarm for the same time you would normally rise, shower, have a cup of coffee, watch the news, and get dressed (it's OK to be comfortable, but get out of your pajamas and into casual clothing).  

Set-up a dedicated space in your house that you will work from.
It's best if this space is not in your bedroom.  If you have the space, set-up a desk in a spare room, repurpose a corner of your living room, commandeer the dining room table or the breakfast bar in your kitchen, etc.  If possible, make sure that your space gets natural sunlight (basements aren't the best option for work-from-home spaces).  

If you only have a laptop, try to connect your computer to a bigger screen
Repurposing a smaller TV from a spare bedroom, etc. can help.  Be sure that your computer set-up has a webcam attached. 

Pay attention to the background your colleagues will see when you're on a video chat.  
A bookcase filled with books, a blank wall, or an office space is fine.  Avoid, if you can, a view of your bedroom, a messy space in your apartment or house, etc.  

Drink plenty of water and take regular breaks.  
You may need to set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and move every hour.  Take a bathroom break, have a health snack, take a walk, do some body-weight exercises, etc.  

Take a break for lunch - maybe talk a walk outside if you're able.

Throughout the day, check in with co-workers by text, Skype, Zoom, or phone.  
Even if you don't have anything specific to speak about work-wise, it's still a good idea to build-in some interactions throughout the day.

Create agendas and "to do" sheets to help keep you motivated and on-track with your work.  
If needed, set deadlines on your calendar for when specific deliverables or projects should be sent to others for review or input.  

Limit your intake of television and news during your work day
It's best if you can focus (music is fine, but avoid other distractions, if possible).  

Set a time to stop work every day and log-out of email and other projects.
Take time to decompress and transition from work to your own personal time.  For some people, talking a walk, doing some kind of exercise, taking a short drive, or taking a shower can help to create a breaking point between work and personal time.  

Here are some additional articles related to working from home that you might also find helpful:

What has helped you as you made the transition to working from home? Comment below and let us know.


Managing Stress During the Coronavirus

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 27, 2020

The last few weeks have tested even the calmest among us. If you find that stress and anxiety are impacting you in ways you are unable to handle on your own, we encourage you to seek help from a doctor or a counselor. It is always a good idea to take stock of your stress levels and mitigate as much as possible.  Here are some other ideas and resources to keep in mind:

  1. The OITE is continuing to offer a mix of career and wellness events daily. Check out our “Upcoming Events” to see what will be online soon. If you missed the discussion on “Strategies and Tools for Dealing with Stress During the Coronavirus, you can watch the recording here.  

  2. OITE Wellness Challenge
    Have you done something to enhance your wellness today? These times are filled with uncertainty and stress. To help you take care of your whole self (mind, body, heart, and spirit), we invite you to participate in the OITE Weekly Wellness Challenge. Each week, the OITE will challenge YOU to do something for your overall wellness and share your idea and the results with others. Challenges will be announced every Friday for the following week.

  3. The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline is 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support for people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

  4. Here are some other articles and resources that we have found helpful. Please leave a comment and share others that you have found helpful:

The Coronavirus Pandemic is a Collective Trauma Experience

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 20, 2020

Post written by guest blogger Ana Martins Ribeiro, Special Programs Coordinator in OITE.

How to Help Individuals and Communities Heal

So much has been said about how the Coronavirus pandemic is threatening our mental health and how the anxiety, panic and fear we are experiencing are affecting our focus, productivity and wellbeing. If we were to look inside people’s physiology now, we would probably see a staggeringly different profile in hormone levels, brain activation and overall homeostasis. Our efforts towards understanding the present crisis and how it’s is affecting our lives may often keep us present focused, leading to difficulty remembering that this major event may affect us in the future as individuals and in our interaction with others as members of a community. This pandemic is, in fact, a collective trauma crisis in the making. Despite being usually seen an individual psychological response, trauma can be a collective phenomenon when experienced as a group, influencing the way communities behave and potentially altering the course of global history. Although the word trauma, the experience of severe psychological distress following a terrible or life-threatening event, may sound alarming, it is essential that we acknowledge the complexity of what is happening within and around us, so we can better understand its potentially severe consequences and act on it, now as well as in the future. By supporting both individuals and communities, we can hopefully mitigate negative trauma reactions.

Trauma in the Time of Coronavirus

Perhaps one of the main differences between humans and other animals in their response to stress is that even though they’re constantly under the threat of death, animals in the wild show no symptoms of trauma. According to psychologist Peter A. Levine, trauma is a consequence of the third survival response to a perceived life threat, which is to freeze, i.e., to make yourself be invisible, to immobilize, to play dead. This is an automatic response triggered when fight or flight responses are not possible to materialize. While wild animals release the energy that was not used to fight or flight through a different set of behaviors, humans, on the other hand, often retain this energy and store it, leading to an exacerbated response to invisible threat alarms and causing severe dysregulation and dissociation. For most people, including those who will never get infected by the Coronavirus, the overall change in their routines, the imminence of facing unpredictable outcomes as well as empathizing with others’ grief and loss, together with the fear of contracting the virus itself may potentially lead to trauma.

Protective Factors Against PTSD

The exposure to trauma is a pre-requisite for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, not everyone who experiences trauma will respond equally to the same stimuli, and not everyone who experiences symptoms after the trauma will develop PTSD. To better understand how our bodies and minds are adapting to this traumatic event, psychologists all over the world are encouraging people to talk about what they’re experiencing, paying particular attention to thoughts and emotions. According to psychologist Elyssa Barbash, revisiting what one is experiencing, and expressing what one is thinking and feeling may confer protection against PTSD. In addition, avoiding avoidance, i.e. fighting the urge to ignore or repress our thoughts and emotions is also a strategy to prevent the internal dysregulation caused by trauma. If these strategies are not enough and one is still feeling overwhelmed, fearful and helpless, experts recommend seeking for a trained, experienced, and licensed trauma specialist. The OITE also wants to help trainees take good care of themselves during these difficult times; to find group sessions on wellness, resilience, and mindfulness meditation, please visit our website.

Social Restructuring After a Collective Trauma Experience

An event that can help us examine the social impact of collective trauma is that of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11). Even though most people were living far away from the site where the event took place and did not experience a direct threat, there was a national (and international) impact on people’s lives, and many individuals reported elevated stress levels on the days and weeks that followed. At the same time, positive social changes of multiple kinds were evident including increased altruism, kindness, and solidarity. In the political realm, the 9/11 events potentiated a shift towards political conservatism as well as an increase in religiosity and spirituality. This shows us how collective traumatic experiences dramatically affect the way we perceive and react to the world inside and outside of ourselves, as well as in our interaction with others.

As Peter A. Levine once wrote “Trauma is a part of life. The good news is that so is resilience (…), the capacity we all possess to rebound from stress and feelings of fear, helplessness and overwhelm”. Though we cannot deny our inherent biological responses to traumatic events as we cannot escape the events themselves, we must recognize our capacity to survive, adapt and eventually transform these experiences, using it to re-establish our internal homeostasis and ultimately return as a group to a state of social equilibrium. Perhaps keeping in mind the idea that social distancing means, in fact, physical distancing and social togetherness could have a restorative effect in our inner and outer lives and help us overcome the consequences of this word-wide crisis.


Kindness Matters – Now Maybe More Than Ever

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch April 14, 2020

Post written by guest blogger Ana Martins Ribeiro, Special Programs Coordinator in OITE.

Everyone has experienced the powerful impact of a kindness act either done to them or by them. While growing up, we’ve all heard the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. In fact, the ‘healing power of doing good’ has gained relevance over the years as we recognize that being kind and compassionate not only increases our connection to others, but it leads to physiological changes by stimulating the same neural circuits that are involved in chemical “highs” (dopamine, serotonin and endogenous opioids) and by reducing pain while enhancing the release of oxytocin. As scientists, while we’ve always recognized the value of kindness for what it feels like, incorporating it in our daily lives (like we do with a healthy diet!) requires recognizing its non-abstract nature, making it tangible so we can use it for our own benefit as individuals and in our relationships with others.

As social animals, we are probably hard-wired to be altruistic for the benefit of our species, and kindness has most likely shaped our evolutionary path as a form of altruism that encompasses being generous, considerate and friendly when practicing the disinterested selfless well-being of others. Given that extreme environmental fluctuations often modulate social needs leading to explicit behavioral changes, can we clearly observe an increase in kindness and altruism in our communities as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic? The answer is yes. It seems like, as we are forced to grow apart physically, we instinctively hunger for social connection, which has been translated into an increase in kindness behaviors around the globe. As the virus spread threatening individuals, communities, cities and countries, the world grieved for the loss of thousands and for the powerlessness facing the progression of a pandemic that dramatically changed our lives. While there are reports of people who decided to stock up supplies in desperation, the good news is that many more cases of prosocial, kind and altruistic behavior have been described. Deciding to stay at home and avoid leaving except in extraordinary circumstances, wearing protective gear and following strict rules of physical distancing and hygiene to protect vulnerable others are, in its very nature, acts of kindness. All over the country, communities are creating local databases to support seniors by using technology, hoping to lower their loneliness levels. College students are gathering to work on online forms to help students find housing, funds, meals, or rides home. Musicians are streaming mini-concerts over social media, reaching fans to help them cope with physical distancing. Some are painting gratitude rocks for health professionals to let them know how much they’re work is appreciated. People are connecting more via virtual platforms than they did before and social media has helped find our common humanity by realizing everyone is facing this crisis together and that by doing a small part individually, we are doing lot as a community.

Our own NIH community has shared their kindness acts towards others and recognized how much a random set of encouraging words written by a stranger on a tracking path made their day better. We’ve seen some people volunteering in their communities to assist high risk groups with shopping for groceries or medications. To alleviate feelings of loneliness, especially for those who are far away from home and from their culture, the Visiting Fellows Committee (VFC) is organizing movie parties, trivia nights online and are planning a virtual social networking event. Postbacs are doing virtual paint nights via Twitter and labs are doing virtual lunches and happy hours to make sure that people feel connected.

The OITE is using Twitter (@NIH_OITE) to promote the #oitewellnesschallenge, a space where the NIH community can post a short video or some thoughts on a different topic every week describing something they did to increase their well-being. This week’s challenge is on ‘practicing kindness’ – we would like to know about an act of kindness you did for someone or something someone did for you that made you feel appreciated, valued and seen. Remember, as we go through these difficult times together, we can all behave as first responders equipped with kindness, compassion and empathy to attend to someone in need amid the Coronavirus pandemic.