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Tips on working at home from Team Canada’s psychologist

Team Canada psychologist, Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, shares the below guidance and resources to help with our work from home activities.

As you work from a different place in an ever-changing reality, below are a few reflections from high performance sport. Three aspects I will highlight: who do you want to be, how do humans work, and prioritize recovery.

Who do we want to be?

In working with golfers, we often start with helping them understand who they are and who they want to be in certain situations. This whole idea came from an experience I had when I first moved back to Canada. I had one athlete who was quite young and traveled a great deal internationally. At times, she was very good at what she did and at other times she really struggled. A more experienced competitor sat down with her to have a conversation. He asked her if she knew who she was. She said that she was not sure. And he said that she needed to figure it out, so that she knew if she was in that place each time she stepped to the line.

As you work from home in a new reality, spend some time reflecting on who you want to be in this new context. What do you need to be well in this space? What do you need to stay motivated?

Below are suggestions and tips that other experts have developed for working-from-home (jasonthompson.ca)

  1. Video calls are a great way to feel connected
  2. It’s easy to get lost in texts, emails and social media. Set aside two times per day when you go through these. Focus on your to-dos the rest of the time.
  3. Buy a plant for your workspace. It just feels good.
  4. Go for a walk. It reboots your mind. Some of my best ideas have come on walks.
  5. Set a start and end time each day.
  6. Take advantage of the flexibility and extra work time without a commute.
  7. Dress for work. This may not be the same as your in-office outfit, but if you wear your weekend sweats it will have an effect on your mindset.
  8. Chat about life. Start every call with a few minutes about non-work things and non-COVID things if you can. Remember, we work with people not organizations.
  9. Shared documents are awesome – try and pick one platform and stick with it.
  10. Connect with your team once a day.
  11. If you work from home, despite how wonderfully tempting they can be, don’t get distracted by laundry and tidying up. Do that when your workday is over.
  12. Embrace the situation. If life has taught us anything, it’s that nothing stays the same for long.

Working in high performance sport, we also spend a great deal of time helping a golfer unpack their why. Their reason for doing this and putting in all the hours. In your current context, I think we can extend your why to another level. As we work in these new conditions, what is your why for doing it? Who is your why? Grab a few pictures that remind you of this and keep it close to you.

Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, Derek Ingram
Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, Derek Ingram

Finally, understanding when we are and are not in a good place from a mental wellness perspective can be beneficial. Below is a mental health continuum that I modified for Team Canada men’s golf team (based on a more elaborate version from the Canadian Mental Health Association). It helps all of us start to learn about when we are mentally well. We should all know the things that keep us well, the signs we are not well, triggers and what we can do to get back to being well.

Mental Health Continuum

How do humans work?

We help athletes understand how humans being work. Stress and anxiety are a part of being human. Humans have a brain that is meant to help us survive and as such, we respond to stress and anxiety in a certain manner. We thrive with control, and in times like this, it is very important that we spend time coming back to what we have control over.

Click here to watch a TedTalk by Lisa Feldman Barrett that helps us learn more about the brain and how it operates.

Click here to read an article that talks about anxiety as it related to the situation. There is also a colouring book you can use to speak with coronavirus for those of you who have young children.

Prioritize recovery

And finally, we try to prioritize recovery. Our sport science team speak about being physically and also mentally recovered with Team Canada golf. Meditation and mindfulness can be very helpful tools for keeping us in a positive mental space. Some things to consider as we work to prioritize emotional recovery:

Be self-compassionate. Even people who don’t usually struggle with anxiety are experiencing more worry and anxiety now. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re experiencing more anxiety than usual. Additional information regarding self-compassion can be found here as well as several free tools and activities to aid in practicing kindness to ourselves.

Adrienne Leslie-Toogood

Limit the news and unplug from social media. Understandably coronavirus is the lead story for most news outlets. People on social media are likewise sharing information and stories, some of which are accurate, but others may have little to do with reality. The general public is interested and wants to know the latest details. Yet when our attention is drawn to something, we are more likely to focus on it and continue thinking about it. As we think about and focus more on coronavirus, the PERCEPTION of threat increases (not the actual risk but our perception of it).

If you do watch or read the news, try to limit how often you:

  • Commit to only checking in a couple of times a day and limit the total time to 30 minutes a day.
  • Set a regular time when you check the news every day (standardizing the times you check will help to both think less about it and to reduce fighting with yourself to check).
  • Disable news alerts on your phone so that you get updates when you want them. It can also be helpful to rely on family and friends to provide major updates thereby making it unnecessary to check the media.
  • Make sure that your information only comes from reputable sources, such as: Government of Canada and the World Health Organization.

Strengthen Self-Care. During these anxiety-provoking times, it’s important to remember the tried-and-true anxiety prevention and reduction strategies: (Get adequate sleep; Exercise regularly; Practice mindfulness; Eat well-balanced meals; Make time for activities you enjoy and take time to unwind; Spend time in nature; Employ relaxation techniques when stressed; Connect with people you trust; and talk about your concerns and how you are feeling).

Focus on What You Can Control. Sometimes we fixate on events out of our control. But rather than blaming others or trying to change them, resilient people set their sights on what they can control. Ask yourself, “What can I control in this situation?”

Be in the Present. What do you notice about your breath right now? Our breath is an excellent anchor in the present, but sometimes we get stuck in the past or worry about the future. Practice STOP (Stop. Take a few deep breaths. Observe. Proceed).

So as you work from home and continue to do your job, keep figuring out who you are and who you want to be, honour the fact that you are human and prioritize recovery – knowing that right now the conditions are such that it may be difficult to let go and allow your mind to be at rest.

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