Working from home won’t be new to a lot of us by now but after a break over Christmas and coming into a new year with a third lockdown and restrictions on how and where we can spend our personal time, this might feel extra tricky. For many, workloads and roles may have changes as a result of the pandemic. We may notice ourselves feeling difficult emotions. This may include feeling stressed, frustrated, worried or lonely.
Here are five top tips for looking after your mental wellbeing while working from home.
1. Take the Best from 2020
Last year was a tough one with lots of unexpected change and adjustments, but there will have been some gems in there too. We don’t need to start over from scratch in getting set up to work from home again. Think about what worked well for last year and how you can keep this going now. What were some of the highlights that made you feel good? Equally, you can think about how you overcame difficulties and how you can use these strategies across other situations.
2. Limit Distractions
Modern life is full of distractions and when they grab our attention, this can leave us jumping from one task to the next. Unfortunately, we're not very good at multi-tasking. As a result, we can feel chaotic and overwhelmed and this leave us feeling stressed and anxious. This can impact on our productivity and so our sense of achievement. We may then find ourselves working later to make up for this. We may also notice that we become self-critical if we haven't achieved what we set out to, or worried about the implications of this. We can quickly end up in a negative cycle of feeling like we're fire-fighting rather than systematically working through things.
Phones and incoming emails are common culprits for distracting us. A quick win is to limit time on our phones so we resist the urge to check it or respond to notifications. An out of office can also be helpful to manage colleagues’ expectations if you have limited availability to respond to emails. Additionally, starting you day by noting your key priorities and diarising these can help keep you focused on what's most important throughout the day. Having clear goals can help keep us motivated and engaged which can set us up to better resist distractions.
3. Set yourself a Routine
Humans are creatures of habit. We like routine. Our usual routines have been largely disrupted and the lines between work and home can become easily blurred. These changes can result in a sense of uncertainty or lack of control which can make us feel unsettled or anxious. It can be helpful to create a new routine that fits with our current circumstances. Think of what helped separate work and home life before working from home and how you might be able to create a new routine that builds some of these things in. For example, if you used to commute to and from work, you might try to find an activity to replace this transition, such as a quick walk around the block. If you used to change out of your work clothes when you got home, try keeping your work and home clothes separate so you can keep this going.
We used to be able to physically leave work but now it’s in our home and may be in the same space we use for rest and relaxation. To help gain a sense of switching off from work, put your work equipment away at the end of the day so it’s out of sight. Out of sight might not mean completely out of mind but it should help! Alternatively, try turning your laptop and phone off so you don’t hear notifications and you’re less tempted to check work emails.
4. Stay Connected
As social beings, connecting with others and feeling part of a group helps us feel accepted and so safe and secure in ourselves. One of the benefits of work is its social aspect – the people we meet, the spontaneous conversations we have, seeing people regularly and feeling part of a team. With home working, these once natural opportunities for social connection have been removed. But we can actively create them. If you used to enjoy coffee or lunch with colleagues, consider replacing this with a video call so you can stay connected and still enjoy a social activity. Arranging this for the same time each day or week can help this become part of your routine so you are more likely to stick to it. It can also help with having something to look forward to.
If you’re on video calls a lot for work, you might want to limit this. As an alternative, you could arrange to ‘walk and talk.’ Catching up over a phone call helps you keep in touch with colleagues while also building in movement to help give your eyes a break from the screen and your back a break from sitting.
5. Keep Active
If you’re working from home, you’re to be likely desk-based. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that humans were not designed to sit at desks all day, however ergonomic! Still, we’re often surprised by feeling stiff and creaky. Our physical and mental wellbeing are linked and we know that there is an association between pain and mental health. To both prevent and manage aches and pains, schedule time to get up and move. If work is busy or you struggle to remember this, try setting an alarm to remind you get up throughout the day and do a few stretches.
Being in nature has benefits for our mental wellbeing, including having a calming affect that can reduce stress and anxiety. Sometimes having a change of scene can help us gain a shift in perspective. Getting out for a walk can be a great way to break up the day, get some fresh air and build in gentle exercise. You could also try using a step-counter as motivation to go for a walk and get your friends and colleagues involved too.
If you used to go to the gym at work or as part of your commute, consider an alternative for of exercise. Find an activity you enjoy that feels realistic and sustainable and try to do this at the same time every day so it forms part of your routine. For example, a short workout at home, a walk or bike ride or an online exercise class.
If in doubt, get back to basics. Consider what the most important things are to you and pick one to start with. Once you’re managing this habitually, you can build in another.
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