Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals have begun working from home. If you are one of these individuals, kudos to you; you have been forced to make the best of a sudden change that you had very little say in. As time has gone on, you have begun to see that working from home can have its perks; you have the benefit of improved flexibility, more independence, no commuting stress, and best of all-comfy clothes!

However, working from home has some challenges were not foreseeable at the start of this pandemic. These challenges have only started to be understood through the tried-and-true experience of those who have been on the forefront of this new working-from-home era. Difficulties with willpower/motivation, increased distractions, isolation, challenges with a work/home life balance, and feeling as if you have to overcompensate by working around the clock are all obstacles in working from home. If you have taken interest in reading this article, you most likely understand that working from home isn’t the idyllic, carefree playground it is cracked up to be.

Here are some tips to protect your mental health while working from home:

1. Create a designated workspace.

It is extremely tempting to roll over, open up the lap top, and get to work. A basic rule of thumb is if something feels too good and easy, it’s probably not the best thing for your overall mental health and well-being. You’ll want to keep your work zone separate from your relaxation zone as best you can with the space you have available. This can help with motivation levels, and from keeping your mind and body from receiving mixed messages about when it’s time to work and when it’s time to relax. Also, change into “real” clothes, brush your hair, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and whatever else helps you to feel like a HUMAN before starting work. It is easy to “let ourselves go” when working from home, but doing so on a regular basis can have a negative impact on our confidence and zest for life.

2. Keep regular work hours (and stick to them!).

Flexibility is viewed as one of the biggest benefits of working from home. However, we as humans respond best to structure and routine. It is easy to drag out your work day while mixing in household responsibilities. However, doing so can result in being “at work” for much longer than you would be if you worked a typical 8-hour office day. Set work hours and do you best to only work within these hours. DO NOT ANSWER WORK CALLS/EMAILS AFTER WORK HOURS. I repeat-DO NOT ANSWER WORK CALLS/EMAILS AFTER WORK HOURS.Develop an “end of the work day” ritual to further solidify that your work day is over and you are “returning home.” Some suggestions for this can include putting away all of your work items, changing your clothing, putting on some music, or meditating. This will assist in not allowing work life and home life blend into one giant conglomerate mess, and in turn will benefit greatly in maintaining balance-which is something we are all striving for!

3. Take regular breaks.

Speaking of balance-take regular breaks! Often it is tempting to “push straight through,” believing there is no time or usefulness in taking a break. Afterall, won’t a break just cause me to have to work longer to complete what I need to accomplish? Wrong. It has been scientifically proven that taking breaks results in you returning to work more refreshed, centered, and more productive than you were prior to taking a break. Your stress levels will decrease as well. Just as you set regular work hours, set regular break times. Most 8-hour shifts require two ten-minute breaks and one half hour break by law, so keep this in mind when scheduling your breaks. You deserve it!

4. Get up and get moving.

Working from home can result in a sedentary lifestyle. The average person is recommended to take 10,000 steps a day. You are not getting that in your “commute” from your bed to your designated work space, even if you live in the lap of luxury. Take walks around your neighborhood on your breaks, or while making phone calls. Go up and down the stairs if you have them, do some jumping jacks or squats, or even put some music on and start dancing! If you can, set up your computer so you can type standing up. Utilize anything you can think of to get the blood flowing. This will assist with energy, motivation, and releasing feel-good endorphins to help get you through the day!

5. Take time to communicate with coworkers.

WAIT, I thought this was a benefit of working from home??? Not having to communicate with those annoying people you work with and for seems like a dream come true! Won’t this HELP my sanity? Although not having to engage in small talk or deal with difficult coworkers can be a rather enjoyable perk of working from home, TOO much isolation can be detrimental to your wellbeing. As much as we can have an aversion to it, we thrive on human interaction. Make an effort to keep the lines of communication flowing to keep from turning too far inward (it can be scary in that mind of yours!). Plus, it can boost morale and creativity to bounce ideas off another someone else.

6. Stay on task.

Part of the challenge of working from home is the plethora of distractions that are available to us. There are often an endless number of household chores that can be done, shows that can be watched, online purchases that can be made, and naps that can be taken-all of which can be done without anyone “watching over” you. Oftentimes, it can be tempting to distract ourselves from one work related task to another work-related task, and tell ourselves, “We are multitasking!” Hate to break it to you folks, but multitasking is a myth. It is scientifically proven that completing one task at a time is the most efficient way to get things done. Go ahead, google it! We are so trained in distraction that it has become a way of life. Focus on completing one task at a time, and you will see your efficiency skyrocket! This in turn reduce your stress and increase confidence in your own abilities. 

7. Celebrate your victories.

Many of us were thrown into the sea of working from home without so much as a life jacket to help us. Working from home is NOT natural for us, so any day you are able to defy the odds and maintain some semblance of productivity is a successful day! You put real pants on today? Good job! Made it through the whole day without napping? Right on! What you are doing is not easy and requires a huge amount of self-discipline, self-motivation, and inner strength to maintain. So, give yourself a pat on the back; you are doing amazing. 

- Alexandria (Alex) Fairchild, LMSW

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