How to Protect Your Mental Health While Working from Home

Over the last few years, our working lives have changed considerably. The global pandemic made staying at home a necessity, transforming how we work and where. There have been numerous benefits. Less commuting means less pollution. For many, it also means more time at home with loved ones and more time for hobbies and rest. But there are downsides too. As we head into 2022, many of us are working from home again due to another surge of infections caused by the Omicron variant. It seems like a good time to address some of the pressures this can create. So, how can we protect our mental health and thrive while working from home?

Working From Home – Common Struggles, Simple Solutions

Struggle – More Disruptions

From constant deliveries and domestic chores to being interrupted by the people you live with, there are so many potential distractions when working from home. When this starts to affect your productivity and work piles up, it can lead to feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Solution – Awareness & Boundaries

First, become more aware of what your disruptions are. Make a note each time you are interrupted. What causes the disruption? How long does it last and how long do you take to find your flow again? Don’t ignore small disruptions. It might only take two minutes to answer the door, but if it then takes 20 minutes to get back in the zone this will have a significant impact on the amount you can achieve in a day. Little stressors like this can also have a big impact on your mental health over time.

Once you’ve identified the disruptions, it’s time to set some boundaries. Your needs will be unique to your circumstances. If you’re working in a shared space, it might be helpful to communicate your working hours, explain when and how you can be disturbed, and install ‘do not disturb’ notices when needed.

Struggle – Feeling Isolated

Many people feel isolated while working from home and find they miss face-to-face interaction with their usual network of colleagues. In many cases, the shift to home working was sudden and unexpected, so workplaces are still developing systems and structures to support their employees during this new phase.

Solution – Stay in Touch

In and out of work, human interaction is vital for good mental health. Where possible, schedule video calls or pick up the phone instead of emailing. Your colleagues are probably feeling the same. Ask how they’re doing and whether there are ways you can support each other. Make time to socialise virtually. Schedule a digital coffee break or meet online for a get-together. For more help and advice read Social Distancing – Why We Find it Difficult and How to Cope.

Struggle – No Clear Boundaries Between Work and Home Life

Living and working in the same space can make it difficult to switch off. Rooms usually used for relaxation are filled with detritus from the working day. The actions that tell our brain it’s OK to unwind, such as heading out for lunch or leaving the office at the end of the day, no longer apply. This feeling of always being ‘on’ can really take its toll on our mental health.

Solution – Fake it till You Make It

The lines between work and personal time are easily blurred, so it’s important to set working hours for yourself, create a clear schedule and stick to it. Let your team know for accountability too. You could even suggest establishing a ‘no emails after 5pm’ rule.

When planning your schedule, be sure to include a lunch hour and regular screen breaks. Give yourself time to switch off and concentrate on something else so you feel more focused when you return. Where possible, head outside. Green space is great for our mental health and will help you manage feelings of stress and overwhelm. When your working day ends turn off your computer or put your pen away and don’t restart until your next working day. It’s hard to break bad habits so try not to get into them!

Several of my clients have started walking around the block before sitting at their desk each morning. Creating this ‘fake commute’ on foot has so many benefits. Getting a good dose of daylight first thing kickstarts your circadian rhythm which can help improve your quality of sleep. That’s right, getting a good night’s sleep starts in the morning! A morning walk is also great for your metabolism, aiding healthy digestion and increasing your energy, so when you finally make it to your desk, you’ll feel ready to go.

I recently worked with a client whose office was also her bedroom. To help distinguish between work and relaxation, she used a diffuser to create a shift in her environment. As well as using different scents for each portion of the day, she covered her bed with a different colour blanket and set her room up differently for workdays and weekends.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

Mental health problems are not as visible as physical health problems. There is still a level of stigma attached to these issues too, especially in the workplace where there might be concerns about appearing weak or unreliable. But being aware of your own mental health, knowing your triggers and being connected to the psychological landscape of your mind is a real strength.

If you’re struggling, speak to your colleagues or manager about your concerns. Good mental health and wellness at work should be a priority for every employer. Working from home happened very suddenly, so it may be time to go back and evaluate what’s working and what’s not. If people are struggling, it could be a sign improvement needs to be made throughout the whole organisation. Ultimately, an informed workplace where communication is supported and encouraged will benefit from a healthier team.

Further Reading

Working from Home Wellness Action Plan

How to Protect and Improve Your Mental Health and Wellbeing

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