The Virtual Team Member’s Toolbox for Staying Emotionally Healthy

Apr 07, 2020

By AMA Staff


We all react differently to stressful situations, and the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is likely to be causing more anxiety, anger, depression, or fear than usual. For those of us not used to working remotely, our new work routines may be stressful. Or we may be feeling other unhealthy emotions.

To learn ways to stay emotionally healthy in a virtual workplace, AMA talked with remote work expert Teresa Douglas, an operations and people manager for Kaplan and co-author of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

What are healthy coping mechanisms for people working virtually?

Teresa Douglas: For many of us, feeling helpless adds to our stress levels, so in addition to tools that are purely for yourself, find tools that benefit society. Call friends and relatives to help them stay socially connected. That is a service. Do you have a skill that you can teach someone over a video call? That is a service.

Personally, I knit, play the guitar, read, write, and run. Knitting lets me create something, which is very calming…. It’s an act of hope and defiance during the pandemic. Running helps me to expend my stress in a positive way. I read when I need to check out for a while. Since I write how-to articles, writing gives me the sense that I am giving back to the community.

Are de-stressing techniques different for virtual vs. onsite workers?

Douglas: Virtual workers still have many of the same stressors that their in-office counterparts have: deadlines, meetings, and (like everyone else) doing more with less. On the other hand, virtual workers have more options to de-stress. They can go for a quiet walk in the middle of the day. Many have more flexible schedules, which allows them to exercise, read a book, or spend time on hobbies. All these things can help workers manage stress. 

What are some tips for staying positive?

Douglas: I use a lot of positive self-talk. I acknowledge that I have a right to be upset, and I tell myself that I can get through this. Definitely get enough sleep, eat regularly, and exercise, but also take a break from the news—you want to stay up to date, but no one needs to hit that refresh button every five minutes. Take a couple of hours off and do something nice for yourself. 

Some advice says to shower and dress every day to prepare mentally for the workday. What do you recommend?

Douglas: When you work at a physical office, a lot of your routine is handed to you. You take lunch when it’s lunch time. The good news is that you can custom build your routine. I read for 30 minutes before I get out of bed. I perform a five-minute stretching routine after I dress. My start time is non-negotiable, so I feel good about logging off at the same time every day. I also use music to help me slide out of work mode at the end of the day.

How do you deal with loneliness and boredom?

Douglas: Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Weirdly enough I have a more vibrant social life now than I did before Covid-19. I attended two virtual happy hours this past week…. My writer’s group will meet virtually on Wednesday, and this weekend I’m going to video call some family. Most of my friends have never used video for social chats, but so far they’re really fun. 

How do you deal with anger, depression or other mental health issues?

Douglas: The only advice I can give is the same advice I give to new virtual workers: Make sure to set up a support structure that will notice immediately if you don’t reply to emails or texts. I attend a 15-minute meeting every workday. If I miss it, people will try to find me.

These are upsetting times for sure. I have friends I can vent with, and I feel better when I do something positive.

AMA wants you to succeed during this difficult time, and we know that learning stress management and emotional intelligence are just as valuable as learning remote technology. Each of our live virtual courses, led by our world-class faculty, give you the skills you need for every aspect of remote work.  

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