Working from home has suddenly become the new norm as Australia faces the spread of the coronavirus. For many, this is accompanied by having children at home.
Loneliness and lack of connectivity are a real risk of extended periods of working from home, as is the risk of burnout for those of us that are juggling homeschooling kids with our regular workload.
Understandably mental health becomes a top priority. So how can we thrive, not just survive, during this period of change and uncertainty?
As someone who has worked from home for several years, I have developed a few ‘start straight away’ practical strategies to help you stay mentally healthy to prevent burnout.
1. Focus on the positives
Firstly, try and focus on the benefits of working from home, like the flexibility and the need for a less extensive wardrobe (even when on a video call only, the top half needs to be presentable – just don’t stand up!). Then there is the opportunity to be more productive with fewer distractions from work colleagues. And, the reduced commuting time which comes with additional environmental benefits.
2. Be mindful of what and when you’re eating
As a nutritionist, food is my top priority and research supports the clear link between food and mood. The freedom of working from home can lead to random eating and snacking, or sometimes not eating at all.
Schedule in food breaks into your routine.
Try to move away from your work station to eat mindfully.
Prepare your healthy snacks and lunch for the day in the morning (do this for the kids as well).
Eat foods that improve your mood.
Don’t think that just because your fridge and pantry are right there, you’ll figure something out when you need to – this is when it becomes easier to reach for the processed convenience foods that negatively impact our mental health. Smoothies are a great ‘go-to’ for a tight deadline and having some chopped veggies prepared for the week can be a life saver!
Ultimately, your diet is only as good as the food you have around you so surround yourself with fresh whole real food.
3. Get moving
Think of creative ways you can incorporate daily movement because your step count will be down considerably! I like to walk around my house during phone meetings. Or check out Pinterest for easy DIY ideas on how to turn your desk into a stand-up station.
Chris Hemsworth wants to keep you fit and sane while in isolation and is offering his Centr fitness app for free for 6 weeks.
You can also find free YouTube videos to suit your level of fitness and exercise preferences.
4. Schedule in some sunshine
Fresh air and sunshine are still possible – even in lockdown
5. Work in sprints and take breaks
I’m a lover of the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ which is all about working in sprints of 25 minutes work, focused on a single task (notification free), 5 minutes rest and then repeat five times.
Then schedule a break – for food, for some movement or even a social video call with a friend. The 5 minutes rest is a great time to stretch, pat the dog, ‘salute the sun’ on the patio, have a drink of water or do a 5-minute meditation (Insight Timer is an amazing free app for this).
Try to avoid, where possible, making your home workspace your bedroom. Sleep is paramount in managing stress, mental health, immunity and overall wellbeing. As tempting as it is to roll over, grab the laptop, and get the workday started while still in your PJs, this habit over time will hurt productivity, prevent the body and the mind from winding down, and mess with your ability to sleep.
7. Stay connected
Lack of connection and loneliness are key risk factors of working at home, even more so now with social distancing and isolation becoming a common part of our daily practice. Now more than ever, it is crucial to be intentional with staying connected. There are a whole host of online platforms to allow this such as Zoom, Facetime/Skype, or apps such as Houseparty.
Schedule in at least two online face to face interactions per day – one for work, one for pleasure. And do this for the kids too – they are also missing their friends.
One of the best ways to stay mentally healthy, motivated, and productive is by listening to music while you work. This is also a great way of blocking out the background noise associated with not being the only one currently in your house if the kids are home.
But not all types of music suit all types of work. Lyrics can be a real distraction, especially if your job involves writing – like mine. Search for playlists on Spotify, Apple music or YouTube, for the type of mood or work you’re doing – there are study beats, ‘beat-strumentals’ that offer purely instrumental tracks from a variety of genres, and even subliminal playlists suited to maximizing creativity, focus, and clarity.
9. Set a knock off time
Research shows that being ‘always on’ while working from home leads to the blurring of work and non-work boundaries resulting in burnout and poor mental health. When working from home, you no longer have the physical boundary of leaving an office building to signal the end of the day. You might not even have the luxury of shutting the door on the home office as the kitchen table becomes not only the place of family gathering but also the main workspace.
Dr. Adam Fraser in his research on the ‘3rd Space’ is an expert when it comes to these transitions in our daily roles. He suggests an approach of ‘Reflecting, Resting, and Resetting’. It can be as easy as a 5-minute daily ritual of packing up your workspace, stopping and reflecting on your day, take three deep breaths to rest and become present, and then reset by deciding how you want to show up in your next role whether that be a friend, parent, partner or another role.
Unprecedented is a word that is well and truly getting a work out at the moment but everything about what we are experiencing is extraordinary and so requires extra ordinary measures to keep us healthy, especially mentally healthy. It is natural to have concerns and feel overwhelmed and it is important to acknowledge these feelings. Speak to a friend, a family member, a colleague or contact professional support services like Lifeline so you don’t feel so alone in these feelings.
The journey to mental health involves what you put in your body – whether that be food, words, thoughts and actions. So, choose foods that heal, words which uplift and actions that motivate, that are kind, and keep you in the flow.