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March 23, 2020
Culture

Notes from the home office: Johnny von Einem

A new normal has dawned, with thousands of Adelaide office workers now working from ad-hoc home offices. As CityMag’s editor, Johnny von Einem, has found, being at home doesn't necessarily mean being calm.

  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Picture above: The remote CityMag news desk, which has since been cleared of laundry.

SPECIAL REPORT: COVID-19 ADELAIDE

For the first three years of my career as a journalist, I was a freelancer.

This meant working from home a lot, usually in the twilight hours between making coffee and sleeping.

Remarks

If you’ve got tips, tricks or a working-from-home story to share, reach out via Instagram Story (@citymagadl).

Having now returned to a home office set up, what’s new this time around is the low-grade but persistent sense of impending doom.

It’s not entirely unfamiliar – anxiety has been a part of my life since age eight, when a doctor told my parents I had an anxiety disorder, helpfully providing context to my intense and uncontrollable panic attacks.

In my adult life, these episodes of panic have been few and far between: my first time overseas was a trigger, as have been occasional bouts of food poisoning. (“Is it just the days-old supermarket watermelon I ate, or perhaps a rare disease and certain death?”)

Last week, with one eye on CityMag’s WordPress dashboard, another eye on InDaily’s front page, a third eye on my email, a fourth on the worldometers.info coronavirus tracker, then a fifth, sixth and seventh eye on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, watching government announcements and local reactions, and then the occasional text from family and friends thrown in between, a familiar feeling of dread crept into my ribcage. My fingers turned white and started to shake, and I began to feel lightheaded.

This happened three times, all from the comfort of my home.

In the newsroom the week prior, my CityMag, InDaily and SALIFE colleagues watched the news roll, everyone swinging between exaggerating and playing down how we thought COVID-19 might play out.

We did this together, and, while worrisome, it was comforting to be emotionally oscillating together.

At the end of the day, I would cycle home, and the hyper-awareness would stay locked away in the office.

Now that home is the office, whatever nervous tension builds throughout the day hangs in the air, seemingly until my body overdoses on stress and initiates panic mode.

Having now fallen into this trap a couple of times in one week, I’m reminded of a few lessons I seemed to have forgotten since my freelancer years.

Create a dedicated workspace. Even if you can’t leave your house, being able to leave behind, or temporarily walk away from, a dedicated space makes the work/life balance much easier to maintain. When I lived in sharehouses this wasn’t always easy – my work desk was usually set up within two feet of my bed – but do what you can.

Get dressed. Working in pyjamas is a very tempting idea, but in reality, it has the effect of blurring the lines between work and relaxation time. Before you know it, it’ll be 10pm, you won’t have showered, and you’ll be flicking between Netflix and a half-finished Word document, unsure of which you’re supposed to feel guilty about.

Go outside. Unless you’re ill and are required to self-isolate, you can still leave the house. Wherever you’re set up at home, try to be near natural light and keep a window slightly ajar if you can. Even then, you’ll eventually crave sunlight, the breeze and seeing a tree up close. Listen to those cravings to stifle any growing Jack Torrance sentiment.

If you’re feeling anxious, do something about it. It will only get worse if you leave it to fester. Go for a walk, as mentioned above; take some time away from your screens – especially if you’ve spent an entire afternoon doomsurfing on Twitter; talk with someone about what you’re feeling and whether they’re experiencing it too (regular check-ins from my wife, Olga, and our housemate, Chuck, who is a dachshund, have been essential); or take a 10-minute mindfulness break. Meditation app Headspace has worked for me, but there are heaps of other options only a Google search away.

I’m not perfectly practicing these steps, and there are surely more I could incorporate into my home office, but as this home/work situation continues, taking positive steps toward good health while working at home will only become more necessary.

Hopefully this week will be better than the last.

If you’ve got home office tips and tricks, or an anecdote to share, reach out to CityMag via Instagram Story.

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