Due to COVID-19, millions of Americans are working from home for the first time. But tons of people have been working from home for a while, especially people with chronic illnesses like autoimmune arthritis. I personally have rheumatoid arthritis, and while my preference is to go into my company’s office, I work for a company with a great remote work policy. This policy enabled me to work exclusively from home in early 2019 after a hospitalization (a whole month before my doctors felt comfortable with me working in the office). That’s not my only work-at-home experience, as my pain and suppressed immune system have had me at home more days than I would like.
Because we’re in a worldwide pandemic, like many others I’m working from home until further notice. With that in mind, I want to share my tips for working from home productively, as well as tips from other chronic illness patients. Whether you’re new to working from home or you’ve done it before, I hope that you find these tips helpful.
Tip 1 – Set up a workspace: There are a couple of reasons to do this. It’s helpful to have a place that’s just (or mostly) for work. It will also be easier for your brain to distinguish from “work time” and “relaxing time”, and you’re not seeing the exact same view every day, even the weekend.
Tip 2 – Wear “real” clothes: One of the best things about working from home is being able to wear comfy clothes, but putting on “real” clothes will help you feel more put-together and ready to work. I save my leggings for days when my low spine is inflamed and can’t handle jeans.
Tip 3 – Take proper breaks away from your computer: I can’t recommend this enough. Walk away from your computer during your lunch break. Check your phone or even put the phone away. I try to spend at least 10 minutes of my 30-minute break reading.
Tip 4 – Leave the house at least once a day: You obviously have to take precautions if you live in a crowded area, but it will do wonders for your mental health if you leave the house at least once a day.
Tip 5 – Build time in your day to ease into work: Unless absolutely necessary, do not wake up 30 minutes before you have to start working! I like to wake up a minimum of an hour and a half before it’s time to start. That way, I don’t have to rush and I can wait for my morning joint stiffness to ease up.
Tip 6 – Cut yourself some slack and readjust as needed: I hope these tips help you, but more than anything else, remember this is a difficult time for everyone. Cut yourself some slack if you’re not as productive as you would like to be and readjust your work from home schedule as needed.
I asked users on Twitter for any additional advice they would give to the able-bodied folks who are stuck at home right now but aren’t used to it like we are. Here are their responses:
Denise Nolan – “That it’s OK to not be productive – it is not a valid measure of your worth. You are the sum of who you love, what you enjoy, the books you read, the children you play with, the things you enjoy. It’s OK to focus on joy right now, in whatever shape that looks like to you & yours.”
Erin Lafond – “I would suggest that they take time to develop things that they enjoy doing and to take regular breaks from being productive to just relax. It’s hard to know when to take a break when you work from home.”
Kristin – “Keep a routine […] get out of PJs and dress comfortable, figure out a routine of tea, breakfast, clean something …”
If you have tips you would like to add about how you are surviving and thriving during these uncertain times, please share them in the Arthritis Foundation’s special patient storybank or on social media using #WeLiveYes!
Kate Mitchell is a blogger and arthritis advocate based in Boston. When she’s not helping patients and patients’ loved ones with her blog Kate the (Almost) Great, she’s reading historical fiction, watching crime shows, and/or snuggling with her pets. You can find her at katethealmostgreat.com and on Twitter and Instagram.