Making the most of your furlough

It's 6:30 in the morning, and the alarm goes off. It's time for you to get in the shower so you can get ready for work and be at the office by 7:30. Your first few moves out of the bed are slowed down when you remember that you were furloughed and there is no rush to go anywhere. Instead, you have to figure out how to deal with the eight hours that you would have typically spent at work. You grab your cup of coffee and turn the TV on to watch the news, hoping that the government gridlock came to an end, but you find that no compromises were made for thousands of federal employees to return to work. With lawmakers continuing to fight, you spend another day at home, trying to take all such nonsense in, but more, with no paycheck coming your way, scrambling to figure out various strategies you need to put in place to keep your household routines and finances in order.

Taking all this in can be extremely stressful. Some furloughed workers may resort to anger, be more anxious, lose sleep and become more difficult to deal with. But there are ways to live productively during the furlough, and, ironically, the answer comes from the federal government. The "eight dimensions of wellness" model developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies eight facets of wellness that require nourishment: intellectual, spiritual, financial, environmental, occupational, social, emotional and physical. The model furnishes a framework for furloughed employees to convert their emotions and extra time into making a stronger and healthier self.

Rather than opting to sit on the sofa to watch TV, which may lead to deterioration in health, furloughed employees should start by designing a plan for the day with clear goals in mind for what they will achieve. If you've been talking about your need to develop a daily routine of exercise and meditation, now's the time. It can help you manage your weight, promote health and manage stress. Furloughed coworkers may choose to coordinate their workout times in groups to stay motivated and to socialize.

This may also be the right opportunity to visit with your children at school, meet with their teachers, and provide help during homework time. As well, you may reconnect with family members and reestablish communication with those friends whom you may not have seen in a while. Do something positive for your community — start a neighborhood clean up committee or a neighborhood watch group, which may eventually lead you to develop an appetite to do volunteer work in an organization that would very much appreciate any free help.

Remember that free time is what you always have hoped for to straighten your finances and to do some cleaning up? This may be your golden opportunity to go through your email inbox, check those bills that you have piled on your desk, clean up your office and shred what you do not need, work on your budget and on cutting unnecessary expenses, get your records in order for tax preparation time, contact your mortgage company to negotiate refinancing options, and shop for lower credit card interest rates. This may be the spark to get yourself to start the business that you have always dreamed of. With a cleaner office space, you would find the right opportunity to explore your career options and spruce up your resume.

Get your house in order — literally. Now is the time to finish the house repairs you've been putting off. Get a head start on fall yard work or give your kitchen an extra-deep cleaning. Once that's done, you might rekindle your interest in a hobby that you once enjoyed but have not had the time for due to work.

If you use your furloughed time to take care of all those issues that have long needed your attention, including your body, finances and family, you can emerge from what could have been a stressful and unpleasant experience with productive routines that will have a positive impact on you long after you return to work.

Maher Kharma is an occupational therapist at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham. His email is mkharma@aol.com.