Hackernoon logoProtecting Your Mental Health While WFH by@bethan

Protecting Your Mental Health While WFH

Bethan Hacker Noon profile picture


Maker of things. Podcast Host @thebravelisten.

The past six weeks have been challenging. As someone who thrives off social interaction and throwing ideas around in a room of people, working from home has been a huge shift for me both mentally and professionally.

This transition to working from home has not been one of choice. We have been forced pretty much overnight into unfamiliar working patterns and spaces, often with the additional burden of childcare and other responsibilities.

If that wasn’t enough cognitive load, we are also collectively struggling with feelings of loss, fear and uncertainty. Getting anything done under this kind of pressure is an achievement.

At the beginning of lockdown and working from home full time, I really struggled without the structure of a commute and clear definitions between work and non-work time. My thoughts slipped back into old anxious habits and to be perfectly honest, I started to worry about my mental health and whether I could withstand the weeks to come.

As time has gone on I have found ways of protecting my mental health and am actually starting to get into the remote work lifestyle. These are the things I think make a real difference in protecting your mental health during lockdown:

Get outside once a day (if safe).

Even if this just involves sticking your head out the door and feeling the wind brush past your face, I believe it’s important we constantly remind ourselves that there is more than our current four walls.

I also can’t tell you how important my daily walks have become in allowing me space to think and process what is happening. Some of my best ideas come from these periods out and about, which is unsurprising as a change of scenery works wonders for creativity.

Create a clear start and end to the working day

Without a commute I initially found it quite hard to define the boundaries between work and non-work time. This made it extremely difficult to relax, as I felt like I had to be constantly “on” and attached to my computer or phone.

I’ve tried to replicate my previous routine by incorporating clear “commute” time into the beginning of my day. As I used to walk to work and listen to podcasts or music, I’ve just started doing this for 30m before I sit down at my computer. It makes a real difference in preparing me to start work in the best possible mindset.

I mark the end of the day with a walk or some form of exercise. Again, this gives my mind space to decompress and think. Even if burpees and squats aren’t your thing, I highly recommend doing something active, even if it’s just a vigorous cleaning routine.

Decorate your workspace

Numerous studies have shown that workplace surroundings have a huge impact on both your productivity and emotional wellbeing. One of the things I’ve actually enjoyed about working from home is the fact I can make my workspace fully my own.

I’ve moved my desk to where I can best see out the window, put up prints by my partner (shameless plug: you can see and buy them here) and ensured I’m surrounded by my favourite stationary.

Ideally you should try to create a dedicated area that you can work in which can be shut away at the end of the workday. If that’s not possible, you can at least tidy things away out of view so that the space has some separation. (This is a top tip I’ve stolen from my cousin Kate who is an HR expert).

Plan things to look forward to during the week

This current period can feel expansive and unending in many ways. I’ve been particularly struggling with the fact my weekends very closely match my weekdays, resulting in a big blob of undifferentiated time that seems to pass slowly and painfully.

Taking my cue from interval training, which always seems to go a lot faster than slogging it out for an hour, I’ve started to break up the week with clear chunks of fun time which are planned in advance that can be looked forward to.

Everyone enjoyed different things and I personally love food, so culinary treats have become part of my “looking forward to things” package. I’ve also scheduled in quizzes with my family, luxurious hour long baths and bought the odd video game or two to be played at set times.

Combat Video chat fatigue

If you’re finding all the video meetings, remote family quizzes and chats with friends a bit much at the moment, you are not alone.

Zoom fatigue is real and I think we are all collectively realising 8+ hours of back-to-back calls are just not sustainable in the long term. I’m also getting pretty sick of looking at my own face (pro tip: you can usually hide yourself and this helps a lot, especially if your roots are currently as bad as mine).

During our recent chat for GitLab’s Universal Remote Webcast, Darren Murph (GitLab’s Head of Remote) made a great suggestion on how to break out of interactions that keep you glued to a screen. He advised that where possible, try switching over to a voice call. This way you can get up and move about while talking and even go for a walk if that works.

I’d also suggest that it’s an excellent idea to make sure you get a break in-between calls, even if it’s 5-10 minutes to get up and make a cup of tea or go to the toilet.

Take a break from the Screen

Speaking of breaks, my screen time has slowly but surely increased during this lockdown period. Usually at work in the office I like to go for a walk at lunch to try and get some fresh air and force myself to look further than 30cm in front of my face.

At home there can be a real temptation to jump from device to device, especially as you try and stay connected with friends, Twitter and the news, alongside staying on top of work. However it’s important to disconnect, the same way you did back when in-person social plans and travel were possible.

I’ve set myself a hard rule that I don’t look at my phone after 9pm (also beneficial for sleep) and I spend at least an hour a day doing something that isn’t screen based, be it drawing, reading or listening to an audiobook.

Make post-lockdown plans

This is extremely cheesy, but as I’ve got older I’ve become a believer in the power of hope. “This too shall pass” and all of that.

It’s along the same lines of planning short term things to look forward to, but I think it’s also important to keep your mind focused on the fact that this unusual period will have an end. I can’t promise you things will go back to the way they were, but we should be able to travel again and see friends and family.

That thought is what keeps me going. I’m already starting to research the trip to Orkney I’ve been wanting to take for years. I’ve started thinking about things I want to do at work and the people I want to try and meet when in-person meetings and events are possible.

Be really, really, really, kind to yourself

This again, is something Darren bought up in our conversation. We all have to remember this isn’t the normal working from home/remote working experience. This is working from home during a global pandemic which has upended most of society.

We all need to adapt to these new conditions, but we shouldn’t pretend that’s going to be easy. If you’re struggling, reach out to colleagues and friends. You’re not alone in finding this hard and actually, in some ways, this experience has bought people closer together as so many of us find ourselves in the same situation.

I’ve always found that people actually love being asked for help and there’s no shame in it.

I’d also like to add that if you’re actually doing OK and enjoying working from home, you shouldn’t feel bad about that. We are allowed to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in and enjoy every single thing possible (this is true anytime, not just now)

Finally, celebrate the wins, however small

This builds on the idea above that it is OK to enjoy the good things about this period. Perhaps you’re getting more time with loved ones, or have rediscovered old hobbies. For the first time in my adult life I’ve managed to keep plants alive for more than four weeks.

Professionally speaking, I’ve actually become more productive in some areas, as I’ve been able to get my head down and smash through my to-do list.

Obviously taken on their own, all of the above are satisfying in their own right. But I do this it’s important to celebrate them too. Even if that’s just by mentally congratulating yourself and having a commemorative biscuit.

Most of the big positive changes in my life are a result of consecutive small achievements, not big movie style make it or break it moments.

Previously published at https://www.bethanvincent.com/blog/2020/4/27/6-weeks-into-working-from-home


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