Working from home and your mental health

Zoom meetings in your pyjamas, boycotting bras, an extra lie-in because you don’t need to do the dreaded commute, no more awkward small talk with Simon in IT who seems to live in the office kitchen – these are some of the joys of working from home. But like all good things, working from home also has its dark side.

Working remotely can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if you thrive in a busy office environment. Studies have shown that remote workers are prone to feeling depressed, isolated, and overworked. The lines between work and life disappear because you’re always ‘on’, you start to read into each email and analyse what people mean (always assuming the worst), and the usual “what am I doing with my life?” moments seem to hit harder when you feel like it’s you and your laptop against the world.

I’ve worked from home for 8 years now but at least once a week I find myself feeling very down about my lot in life, and I can always link it back to the 8 hours I’ve just spent staring at a screen. This mood always hits after I haven’t spoken to anyone all day – unless you count asking my cat for news from the outside world every time she wanders into the room.

Thanks to a little thing called a global pandemic I’ve seen articles about “how to work from home and still be productive” more times this week than Saoirse Ronan’s been asked how you pronounce her name (ahem! I’m waaay ahead of you). I wanted to share some tips for how to work from home without it affecting your mental health, instead of focusing on productivity all the time.

Stick to your work hours – and just your work hours

As any “how to stay productive while working from home” guide will tell you, it’s important to keep your typical office hours as much as possible. Routine is good.

“Productivity is not a personality type” some wise person tweeted this week and I couldn’t agree more. Unless you’re running for Young Capitalist of the Year 2020, don’t get sucked into working late, doing a few extra hours here and there, or opening your work emails at 8pm “just to see”. Before you know it, your job will cannibalize your life. Feeling like all you do is work never ends well. Have you seen The Shining?

Don’t just take your lunch hour – use it for something you enjoy

One of the best things about working from home is that no one can see you. Take advantage of it! You don’t need to impress your boss by scoffing a salad bowl while typing away, hunched over your disgusting hot desk keyboard.

Thanks to the internet diminishing my concentration skills, I can’t just sit there and savour the concoction I’ve thrown together for lunch. I have to be doing something. So every day, I cook while listening to a podcast. It’s simple, I usually learn something, and the meditative power of cooking is a real stress-buster.

If you’re not an aspiring Nigella, you can still listen to a podcast, watch a Ted Talk, binge on two episodes of The Hills, learn how to contour, whatever takes your fancy. The point is it’s something you enjoy that’s not work, work, work.

Make lists for just about everything

A weird side effect of working from home is that you can often feel like you’re not achieving anything, even when all you seem to do is work. To combat this feeling of “where’s my motivation here?”, I started to make pretty detailed To Do lists. I make a weekly To Do list on a Sunday that covers work and all the bits of life admin we all need to do, then I make daily lists either before I start work for the day, or the night before. It sounds tedious, but ticking things off the list at the end of the day is a great way to see you’ve actually done something with your day, and to give your day a bit of structure. You might also like this post about my morning rituals.

Create a designated workspace

This week I noticed quite a few freelancers arguing over the “don’t work from your bed” dictum. All I can say is, I used to work from my bed Phoebe Waller-Bridge-style, and it really messed up my sleeping pattern after a while because I started to associate my bed with deadlines, worrying, and getting shit done instead of winding shit down.

I know it’s difficult if you’ve got housemates or a significant other who also works from home, but where possible, try to create your own workspace, even if it’s just in your wardrobe or the weird Harry Potter bedroom space under the stairs. To minimise tensions or the risk of becoming a meme, work it out with your housemates about who’s going to work where and when you need privacy.

Move around more

Wait, where are you going? Come back! OK, I won’t spend too long on this point because I hate exercise and I don’t want to be accused of being a total fraud here. BUT, exercise is one of the proven things you can do for your mental health. I hate it, I’ve accepted I’ll probably always hate it, but when you’ve done it, that boost of serotonin is unbeatable. It doesn’t matter if you do yoga in the morning, jog around your neighbourhood, or just drag your arse up and down the stairs five times in a row, move around a bit more and you won’t feel half as sluggish.

FYI – the Jane Fonda workout is on YouTube. No need to thank me.

Talk to someone, anyone!

Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, Teams, it’s never been easier to stay in touch. At the same time, most of us rely on non-verbal communication like emails, Slack messages, or good old SMS to get our message across. If you’ve had years of pointless meetings or you used to sit next to a complete arsehole for too long, you might relish this escape from, well, other people. Skipping conversation exacerbates feelings of isolation. And, to quote the old BT ad, it’s good to talk.

When you start to feel the WFH Mean Reds creeping in, reach out to someone for a chat. Just don’t become that person who sets up meetings that could be a one liner email. No one likes that person. If all else fails, I’m sure your much-neglected succulent would love to hear your dulcet tones.

Give your eyes a rest

No, I don’t mean sleep. Looking at screens all day is terrible but, unfortunately, it’s part of the WFH deal for most of us. Give your eyes a rest by looking away from the screen every 15 minutes. Take a leisurely stroll to the kitchen for a glass of water. Stare out the window. Close your eyes for 30 seconds. Meditate. Or do a Don Draper and have a lie down (whiskey optional).

Got a good tip that’s helped you stay sane while working from home? Leave me a comment or tweet me – I’d love to hear about it!

6 thoughts on “Working from home and your mental health

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