WORKING FROM HOME

A wellness specialist learns to practice what she preaches

First in a series about how JHU employees are learning to navigate their new reality

Essence Pierce and her son Joshua relax on the grounds of Lake Montebello near their home in Ednor Gardens.

Image caption: Essence Pierce and her son Joshua relax on the grounds of Lake Montebello near their home in Ednor Gardens.

Image credit: COURTESY OF ESSENCE PIERCE

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, April had been designated National Stress Awareness Month. In harmony with the observance, JHU Wellness Programs in the Office of Benefits & Worklife lined up resources to help employees navigate the new age of anxiety.

Working at home since early March, wellness specialist Essence Pierce has been learning to practice what she happily preaches to the university community while juggling health, career, and family from her home in Ednor Gardens.

A single mom living with her almost-3-year-old son and her mother Carolyn, Pierce most recently was trying to remain calm while promoting the Calm meditation and relaxation app available to employees.

"I'm managing technology, the kid, my mom, back-to-back Zoom meetings, and virtual happy hours," Pierce says. "I thrive on routine, so I am determined to find a new normal so I can do my job and be attentive to my son."

Some of her recent work—which supports employees throughout the university with guidance on exercise, diet, overall well-being and, yes, stress—was done from her son Joshua's play table.

"I sat and worked from there while he 'worked,'" she says. "When we were there together, I was more productive and peaceful" than trying to get things done with her son crawling around under the table.

On the last day of March, Pierce went online to get instructions for improvising a "standing desk" to work at. "It really helped with my 'tech neck,'" she says. "I was also more mobile to [attend to] Joshua."

Limiting the amount of time one spends sitting throughout the day is precisely the kind of advice she is paid to share with others. Pierce works best with routine, she says, a once-regular schedule now upended as she and Carolyn and Joshua work on that "re-situated" goal while being together 24 hours a day.

"In the morning, I try to sneak downstairs to make coffee and breakfast before my son wakes up, but that doesn't happen often," she says, noting that Joshua had recently been declared "officially potty trained" at preschool but has "reverted" since school closed.

Potty time, she says, "is one more thing" that has to be dealt with before settling down to her job.

Pierce's daily to-do list—which no longer hits a hard stop at 5 p.m.—includes coordinating online classes in fitness and mindfulness, coordinating wellness activities with other departments, and managing contracts with instructors and vendors such as WW (formerly Weight Watchers).

When the new normal began to fall in place, Pierce says, she "wrote down a schedule for all of us to stick to while everyone is home together." Laughing, she says, "I spent more time writing it than we do following it."

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