Home working rules, right?

Millions of brits have got their wish and are now home working in the wake of this Corona virus pandemic. Online meetings have become the norm and contact with other humans is limited. Is there any way to manage this experience so it doesn’t feel quite so bizarre, and still maintain good mental health?

In the past whenever I explained my role as SMART Recovery National coordinator to friends who are front line recovery workers the reply is mostly the same, ‘must be nice to be out the office’…
I remember my days as a recovery worker, of excessive caseloads, data entry, risk management and trying to work out who used your milk out the communal fridge. (I’ll be honest that was usually me.)

My job role (pre lockdown) was primarily remote working, from home, coffee shops, libraries and other buildings with wifi, as well as travelling across the country to support our SMART partners. Sometimes I’m away for a few days at a time. A premier Inn deja vu experience with the same 2 veggie items on the menu and an overload of purple, interspersed only with visits to a treatment provider hub or a community centre. Of course now i am mostly confined to my kitchen table and online support and delivery like many of you, too close to the kettle.
I have done a CBA (cost /benefit analysis) on my job many times. I absolutely love what i do, and it certainly has some perks. It’s a relatively autonomous role and I get to travel the UK supporting recovery communities. The costs of that however are that it includes lots of lone working and staring at screens. I miss my family and friends at times when im away from home and it can affect my mood if i get complacent and don’t maintain my positive routines.

If you have heard about the rat park experiments of Dr Alexander, you will know that having a positive environment and connecting with others is essential in us maintaining long term recovery from our addictive behaviours. Now more than ever as we have been made to take a break from our usual routines and stay home, cutting out vital human connection we need to find new ways of managing our recovery and connecting. https://brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/148-addiction-the-view-from-rat-park

So how do we manage our thoughts and behaviours and keep good boundaries working from home? My working week typically involves unhealthy amounts of caffeine so I am in no way asserting i’m an expert here, but I’d like to share my experience and personal rules that have helped me, as someone in long term recovery.

Lifestyle balance is one area we need to be very conscious of. Are you taking breaks, are you working late frequently? A lifestyle balance pie can give us a good insight into areas we need to pay more attention to. I recently updated mine and found that i need to put more focus on fun activities or hobbies. Complete your own worksheet here – https://www.smartrecovery.org/smart-recovery-toolbox/lifestyle-balance-pie/

Check in with yourself regularly – It is very easy to slip into an unhealthy thought pattern and for us to allow it to affect our mood unconsciously. Observing our thoughts is a key part of the SMART Recovery programme, and where necessary disputing them. (DIBS – Disputing irrational beliefs). https://www.smartrecovery.org/how-to-dispute-difficult-thoughts/

Sometimes we work late and other times we get behind, we are all fallible, however this can increase our levels of anxiety as the typical structural norms of office closing do not apply to home working. There is no boss telling you not to work too late, or to stop scrolling social media, or to stop you having that extra coffee break. Of course, we don’t need a boss to tell us what to do. Right?  Absolutely nobody wants to be micromanaged, but it’s my experience that we do need to maintain some clear boundaries in order for us to be as effective in our roles, but also more importantly maintaining our wellbeing and recovery.

Here are a few things I do that help me:

1 – Triggers : Whatever your substance of choice or behaviour, always be mindful of your potential triggers and make a plan for managing them before they happen. Like a fire escape plan, it may not happen but if it does you know where to go and what to do.
(I do not have alcohol in the house, but also on reflection maybe I should get rid of my cafetiere) Remember HALT the BADS. Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? https://smartrecovery.ie/smart-recovery-tools/

We use the hula hoop metaphor for boundaries and being rational about what we can control. In the hoop = I can control. Outside =I cannot control +acceptance

2 – Work Boundaries : Keep to your contracted hours…!!!
When you live and work in the same space, time can feel somewhat immaterial and boundaries can become blurred. Be mindful of sending those emails in the evening, or working all day through your lunch and breaks. Ignoring boundaries is a surefire path to burnout. That presentation can wait until tomorrow. Ask yourself ‘is what i am doing part of my established job role?’ Personal boundaries : If you live with someone, be clear that working from home means ‘working’. Consider any other possible distractions. Procrastination can creep in for me and before i know it im hoovering my living room. Some level of flexibility is of course needed but be aware of your behaviours. What are your personal values? Are your behaviours aligned with those?

In SMART we use the 3 questions exercise. (i) What do i want? (ii) What am i doing to achieve that? (iii) How do i feel about what i’m doing? By bringing focus to the link between our feelings and behaviours it can help keep us motivated. Also ask; What could I be doing differently? How would that make me feel?

3 – Have a plan : Some days I will definitely wing it. Some days require more patience and acceptance. Either way clear structure is really helpful to keep you focussed. Block out your calendar with space for particular projects. Each morning I write down a list of 3 key tasks to be completed, including how i’m going to achieve that and who i need to speak to. This is a bit like a change plan worksheet and lists key tasks to keep me focussed. Of course general duties can sometimes dictate how the day goes and you may have to readjust accordingly. As with any SMART goals achieving them can help keep you motivated so keep them achievable.

4- Establishing positive habits : Without meaning to oversimplify it, maintaining long term recovery is largely about replacing bad habits with good. One of the most helpful bits of advice ive ever received in my recovery is to establish a positive morning routine. ‘Carpe dium’ (seize the day). Our whole day is filtered through that early experience. Rather than muttering about not wanting to get up, snoozing the alarm and chain smoking or drinking coffee as soon as i wake which invariably sets me off on a negative arc for the day, i have made a more concerted effort to focus on the small details of my morning and through repetition it has become normal, (well mostly, i am also fallible and can get complacent)

(i) Start early and create positive triggers. A short cold shower helps get my blood flowing. A morning meditation (even for 10 minutes) helps me calm the chatter in my mind and prepares me for whatever the day is likely to bring. Practice, persistence and patience are key. There are some great apps out there to help you get started such as headspace or calm.
(ii) I don’t look at social media or the news until after I’m at my workstation. Our phones are probably the first thing we pick up when we wake. (iii) Water before caffeine

4- Create your own PIE : (Psychologically informed environment). Make the place you work comfortable practically for those long hours slouched over a computer, but also taking into account your emotional wellbeing. Make sure you get plenty of sunlight. Put some quiet music on if that works for you. Get a plant. Put some positive affirmations up. Make it a place you do not resent being, and try limit potential distractions.

6 – Practice The 5 ways to wellbeing.
Being active (go for a short walk every day. It’s important to keep moving) changing environment can change your emotional state, and we need the sunshine.
Take notice ( inwardly of any physical sensations in your body inc breathing, your emotions. Outwardly notice nature, the sun, the animals at the bottom of your garden. Connect – Reach out to friends and family where possible. Attend online recovery meetings. Make a decision to do this daily. Keep learning – When completing your lifestyle balance pie do you have a slice of learning? Are you focusing on your personal growth? In whatever small way you can. Even if its learning a new hobby. There are many great online resources out there. Give Back – For me this is one of the most important parts of my recovery. from my time in early recovery as a peer mentor, to the charity work i do now. Giving your time in the service of others is an empowering experience.

Stay safe out there all you recovery warriors. social distancing does not mean social isolation. Reach out and connect but keep your boundaries. It may only be an online meeting, but without being dramatic about it that could be the difference between life and death. 💜💜💜

Carl Zuccaro – UK SMART Recovery National Coordinator England

Link to SMART Recovery tools and resources ;