Working from home – stay on top of your mental health

by Jennifer Harper

Working from home has become the new norm for many people. While it sounds appealing to some, for others this prospect has completely changed their lives – for the better in some cases (say goodbye to that early morning commute), and for the worse in others (juggling the kids, cat and dog while trying to talk to your boss).

So how do you meet this challenge and stay on top of your mental health at the same time?

The following six simple steps can help you to stay in control and help you to look after your mental health at the same time:

1 – Create a dedicated workspace

This sounds obvious but working from the kitchen table doesn’t suit everyone, especially if you have a partner, parent or children trooping into the kitchen too. Setting up a dedicated workspace can help you to focus. It doesn’t need to be a separate room/office, so long as it is somewhere with few distractions where you can sit, concentrate on your work, and walk away from at the end of the working day. Ideally it should have a desk/table, a comfortable chair to aid your posture, and enough space for you to work comfortably.

2 – Stick to a routine

Try to stick to your old routine as much as possible. Get up, get showered and get dressed (leave those lockdown PJs behind!). Routine is really important for reinforcing work schedules and making that distinction between work time and home time, enabling you to feel in control and achieving what you need to.

While it is vital to have that morning ‘going to work’ mindset, it is equally as important to have that ‘end of day’ mindset too. If you usually write a list of the next day’s tasks before you leave the office, stick with that system. This helps you to psychologically prepare for leaving work for the day.

3 – Cover boundaries with everyone at home

If working from home is new to you, others may simply see you as being on holiday, which can cause you stress. While home working can allow you some flexibility, it is important to talk to everyone in the household and help them to understand that you have work to do.

This may mean reminding them that you need some quiet time for phone/video calls. Depending on your Wi-Fi connection, it may also mean times when everyone must come off their devices to ensure you don’t lose connectivity. Implement a system for the kids to know when it’s okay to interrupt and when it’s not, this may be a simple sign on the door saying when you are in a meeting.

4 – Stay connected

Working from home can make some people feel isolated – they miss the social interaction, catching up for a coffee in the staff kitchen or sharing work nights out. Try to talk to your colleagues where possible – email is a great tool but it is easily overlooked and dismissed. Make the effort to pick up the phone or to jump on a Skype or Zoom call.

If possible, consider arranging regular ‘social’ Zoom calls where everyone gets together for general non-work chat. Give the call a theme to inject a bit of fun. Human interaction boosts mental wellbeing.

5 – Take breaks

It can be really easy to forget to take a break when you are settled into your desk and chair. However, think about your old office routine: when would you move away from your screen to make a coffee? Would you go for a walk at lunchtime? It is easy to feel that you must be chained to your desk/laptop while working from home, but short breaks are essential for relieving stress and allowing you some space to think. The NHS recommends a five or ten-minute break every hour to improve mental health and productivity.

Remember to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water too – sitting in one position, coupled with household central heating, can dehydrate the body.

6 – Switch off!

When you have officially finished work for the day make sure you switch off the PC or laptop, or put your files away. Shutting down for the day will help you to mentally switch off and focus on the rest of your day and life – whether that is cooking tea for the kids, running errands for your Mum, getting changed and going for that post-work run, or settling down to watch Netflix. Be kind to yourself.

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