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Working from home: How to look after your mental health

We share simple tips and tricks to help make sure you look after your mental wellbeing while you are working from home.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing many of us to work from home for extended periods – perhaps for the first time.

Changing from an office setting to a home working can be a big adjustment. And just as you should take measures to ensure your productivity while working from home, it’s also important to be mindful of your mental health.

This advice is true of any scenario when you’re working from home, but even more so in a time when this is a necessity and not a perk.

1. Separate work and home space

This is something almost all remote workers will advise: set up a space for working that’s separate from your relaxation space. That means don’t work from your sofa or your bed.

Even if you don’t have enough space to use a separate room, you can still set aside a separate space.

If you work in the place you want to relax or sleep, you’ll find it much harder to switch off and unwind later.

2. Make your working space comfy

If you’re new to working from home, make sure your workspace has everything you need and that it’s comfy enough to sit there for a whole working day.

This is temporary but could last a while, so you may even want to temporarily rearrange things at home.

Move your desk to under a window or commandeer a comfy chair.

3. Set up a routine

Do something to demarcate your working hours from your free time. Anything that gives structure to your day will make things feel more normal. Routine can be hugely beneficial to mental health.

You could go for a walk just before and come back in and head straight to your desk, or perhaps there’s a morning yoga session on YouTube you could do. Keeping a routine can really support your mental wellbeing.

4. Stick to office hours

Working only during certain hours is a key part of keeping a routine. Even if you and your manager agree to slightly different hours than usual, stick to them as closely as possible.

This will help you to keep structure in your day, and it will also encourage you to really switch off in the evenings after work.

5. Take real breaks and enjoy them

Another way to add structure to your day is to schedule breaks and make sure you take them.

Lunch is especially important. Don’t work through it and don’t eat at your desk.

6. Keep in regular contact with your colleagues

Don’t be tempted to skip meetings or calls. We are social creatures and even virtual interaction can be a real mood booster.

If you are having a bad day, why not see if anyone is available for a virtual coffee break? Even a chat about nothing in particular could make you feel better.

7. Make sure you have enough to do

It might be tempting to slack off, but more likely than not you’ll end up getting bored, which is not going to help your mental wellbeing. Having lots to do makes time seem to pass more quickly.

If you can’t do your regular job from home, speak to your manager about how you can support the team in other ways.

8. Make a plan for the next month or beyond

It’s not certain exactly how long people will be working from home, so make sure you have a plan in place for at least the next month – even if it’s only an outline.

If you can say you know what you’ll be doing in two weeks or even four or six, it could help you to see this period as finite.

9. Set realistic goals

It will take a while to get used to working from home and this may affect your productivity, so be sure to set realistic goals and go easy on yourself if you don’t meet them all.

Also, don’t feel that you have to constantly prove how hard you’re working just because no one can see you do it.

If you feel overwhelmed, try making a to-do list. The act of writing things down can actually reduce the stress you feel about them.1

It’s also a way to keep track of what you’re doing and remind yourself that you are achieving things.

10. Shower and get dressed before you start working

Dress for the home office like you would your regular office. Or at least get dressed for your home office. It will help you feel ready for work. In fact, one study found that people actually perform better when they’re dressed professionally.2

It may be tempting to stay in your pyjamas but getting dressed is not only beneficial to your productivity: it is also a form of self-care. Plus, making an effort can boost your self-esteem.

11. Keep things tidy

It’s easy to neglect things like tidying, laundry or washing up when you feel overwhelmed. But the old adage, ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ has some truth to it.

A cluttered home can add to your stress levels, while a clean and tidy space can make you calmer.3  This is just as true of a workspace as it is of your bedroom.

12. Focus on the positives

Try not to overthink or worry too much and instead focus on the positives of your situation. Do you get an extra hour in bed? Do you have time for a cooked breakfast now?

These may seem like small things but any positive that you can find could be a real boost to your mood.

13. Consider adding background noise

If you are working at home alone, it can be isolating, and quietness can exacerbate this. A little background noise can make all the difference.

You could quietly play music or the radio or, if that proves distracting, find a white noise track that you like.

14. Get a good night’s sleep

Stress and anxiety can make it more difficult to sleep, and in turn lack of sleep can exacerbate stress and anxiety.4

Make sure you’re getting around eight hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to fall asleep, we’ve put together our top tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

15. Eat regular, healthy meals

Eating a balanced and varied diet filled with whole foods and fresh produce is one of the best things you can do to look after your health, both physical and psychological.

Stick to regular mealtimes; routine will also protect your mental wellbeing.

16. Do nice things for yourself

In a normal working week, do you treat yourself to little things like a takeaway coffee or a fancy lunch?

Don’t stop treating yourself just because you’re at home. You can’t go out for coffee, but could you make a special one at home?

Maybe on Thursdays you could make yourself a special lunch, or you could pledge to start each Monday with a cooked breakfast. Doing nice things for yourself will make you feel nice.

17. Get some exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, which naturally boost your mood. Work out to a video online, get into yoga on YouTube, take a walk…

You don’t have to suddenly become an athlete just because you have an extra hour in the day, but a quick cardio session will make you feel better.

18. Cut yourself some slack

You will probably have days where you feel down, lonely or anxious. Moving from an office setting to working from home is a big change, and right now it’s just one of many unsettling things going on.

Be kind to yourself if you are having a bad day. It’s not a sign of weakness.

19. Remember other people might be having a hard time, too

When you’re home alone it’s easy to forget that everyone else is in the same situation and that everyone will have their own personal reaction to things. Some people may breeze through while others really struggle.

Time can seem longer when you’re working remotely, especially during uncertain times. Try to respond to emails and other messages as soon as you can, so that no one worries.

Similarly, if you haven’t heard from a colleague for a while, check in with them in a way that doesn’t seem pressured. A simple ‘Hi, how is your day going?’ can remind someone they’re not in this alone.

20. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help

Most people will feel stressed, anxious or worn out at times, and it’s even more common during times of uncertainty. But if you’re feeling this way for an extended period of time and you don’t feel like you can deal with it alone, help is available.

Call a helpline, speak to your GP or make an appointment to see a therapist or counsellor. Many of these services have adapted to offer remote options during the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s important to look after your mental health just as you would look after your physical health.