How to Protect Your Mental Health When You Work From Home
In many ways, working from home is a pretty sweet gig. You can hang around in your pajamas until noon, don’t have to face rush hour traffic, and sometimes can even duck out to run errands or pick your kids up from school. With personal benefits like these — as well as reduced costs for employers — it’s no wonder so many Americans (43 percent as of 2017) now report working remotely at least some of the time. But there’s a hidden cost to this consistent lack of in-person interaction: Many people who work from home struggle to maintain their mental health. Do you find that telecommuting from your couch and seeing others only on a screen leaves you feeling mentally “meh”? Try these tips to fight the work-from-home blues.
1. Get outdoors. When you get a break between meetings or tasks, instead of going on Facebook, try going outside. Spending time in the outdoors is a well-established way to lift your spirits. A bit of fresh air and natural color (not to mention time away from your desk or screen) may send you back to work refreshed and in control of your emotional state.
2. Get moving. While you’re outside, make it a double whammy of mental health goodness by getting a bit of exercise, like a brisk walk or bike ride. (Or, if the weather doesn’t allow, try an exercise video or lunchtime visit to the gym.) Though 45 minutes three to five times per week appears to be the sweet spot for exercise and mental health, even short bursts of aerobic activity (like HIIT training) release feel-good endorphins in the brain.
3. Get social in the real world. Although you may see coworkers’ faces on your laptop screen or spend hours chatting with them on Slack, these types of interactions don’t necessarily fill your emotional reserves like real-world social time. Face-to-face contact with others has been shown to reduce risk of depression significantly more than digital communication. For a mental health boost when you work from home, try scheduling a weekly lunch date with a friend, a morning walk with a neighbor, or a regular family dinner.
4. Get a pet. Okay, so maybe you can’t linger over a long lunch with a pal every workday — but there’s one companion you can chill with all day long: a pet. Furry friends have a dramatic positive effect on mental health, with research showing that owning a pet improves conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
5. Get a fresh space. Working in the same room with piles of dirty laundry or kids’ toys can be uninspiring, to say the least. And the tedium of staying at home all day, every day, can feel depressingly monotonous. Perhaps a change of scene is in order. If you live in a populous area, look into finding a co-working space nearby. Though some of these sites require paid membership, others do not, offering free WiFi, computer usage, and even coffee — not to mention interaction with fellow remote workers. If a co-working space isn’t available near you, simply getting out to a coffee shop or café places you in a more social environment than your living room. Plus, moving your workday to this type of setting comes with an added bonus: One study found that a low level of ambient noise actually led to more creative work.
Even if your job isn’t mobile, creating a pleasant workspace in your home can go a long way toward helping you feel mentally uplifted. Research shows that our environment makes a major difference in our mental health. If possible, try working in a dedicated spot in your home where you won’t be distracted by stressors like bills or a sink full of dishes. Make it inviting and comfortable by decorating with appealing colors or inspiring images. And do what you can to work in a source of natural light, as this is consistently associated with less depressed mood.
6. Get a routine. Though it may sound counterintuitive — or, let’s be honest, a little boring — sticking to a routine in your work-from-home day is a helpful way to stay on track both with your workload and your mental health. “When we organize ourselves and know what to expect, it’s easier to actively work toward counteracting the thoughts and symptoms of… mental health conditions,” says psychologist Mariana Plata of Psychology Today. Studies show that a consistent schedule of sleep and waking also helps smooth out emotional strain. Pencil in a good night’s sleep, a bit of time outside, some physical activity, and face-to-face time with friends and see what mental health benefits result.
How do you maintain your mental health when you work from home? Tweet us at @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)