Six Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health While You Work from Home
Social distancing has become the new norm, which means that many people are transitioning to working from home—many for the first time. Change is always difficult, but moving your work from the office to your house in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic—and all the stress, worry, and uncertainty that goes along with it—can make the transition extra challenging. With so much in flux, taking care of your mental health has never been more important. But how can you take care of your mental wellness while working from home and navigating this new world of social distancing? We tapped several experts to help you find your way.
Separate your workspace from your home space.
One of the challenges of working from home is that your professional life can easily bleed into your personal one, making it hard to "turn off" and disconnect at the end of the day. That's why creating a sense of separation between work and home is so important. "If you have a dedicated work space—a room, a converted closet, even a card table in the corner of a room—that makes it easier to create a physical boundary around your work time," says Colorado-based therapist Dave Wyner. "When you're sitting in that space, you're at work. When you're not, you're not."
If possible, set up your work area away from your main living spaces, like your kitchen, living room, or bedroom; that way, you won't have any visual cues pulling you into work when you're supposed to be spending time at home—or vice versa. "Also, it's helpful to set up all the technology and office supplies you'll need in one place that's separate from any clutter of your life outside of work," says Wyner. "It can become totally overwhelming to be 'at work' and see all the laundry, dirty dishes, and unpaid bills. By the same token, it can be really stressful to be 'at home' after work and see all your unfinished work reports, spreadsheets, or even your work computer."
Schedule video chats with your loved ones.
For many, working from home can feel isolating in the best of circumstances. But when you combine working from home with social distancing, it can feel even more upsetting. "We are social beings, so the idea of social distancing goes against our nature," explains Becca Skolnick, licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of MindWell NYC, a group private practice in Manhattan. That's why it's so important to maintain a connection with your friends, family, and co-workers—even though you can't connect with them in person. "It is very important to maintain contact with friends, family, and colleagues, even from a distance," says Skolnick. "Fortunately, technology allows us to see each other from a distance through platforms such as FaceTime, Google Hangout, [and] Zoom."
Having face-to-face time—even if it's through a screen—will help you feel more connected and less isolated, which is key for supporting your mental wellness. "Having the visual cues of these platforms can help us feel more connected than simply hearing someone's voice on the phone or reading a text message," adds Skolnick.
Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
Exercise is always an important part of mental health—but not being able to hit the gym or your favorite workout class can throw you off course. To mitigate this, carve out time in your new routine to get your blood pumping—and, if possible, make it the same time each day. "I recommend scheduling a time each day designated for some sort of exercise," says New York City-based fitness trainer Miriam Fried. "Having a set time carved out each day for some form of movement will make it easier to stay consistent."
You can find free workout routines on YouTube; many local fitness studios are offering digital classes, too. "If you're someone who normally takes classes, consider seeking out your favorite studio or instructor on social media; most fitness professionals and spaces are offering some form of virtual workouts," says Fried. "They're also losing business right now, so it's a great way to support them."
Social distancing is a must right now, but that doesn't mean you have to stay inside 24/7. Do your brain and mood a favor and get outside every day, even if it's just for a quick walk. "Go for a run or walk outside while maintaining the recommended distance from others," says Skolnick. "Getting fresh air and sunlight can also be helpful for mood and stress levels."
Make productive use of your time—and not just at work.
In the current climate, it can be easy to spend your days working at home from your laptop—and then your evenings and weekends with your Netflix queue. But being productive doesn't need to be relegated to work hours. If you want to give yourself a mood boost, try making good use of your time outside of work—and use all this time at home to learn something new, engage in your favorite hobbies, or tackle a project. "Now is the time to do that puzzle you've been putting off, read a book, draw, play an instrument, play a game, or organize your closet," advises Skolnick.
Limit your news consumption.
When you're working from home and don't have the distraction of an office and co-workers, it can be tempting to check the news every five minutes. But staying constantly engaged with the news isn't good for your mental wellness. "We are constantly bombarded by information on the pandemic, which can be stressful, anxiety-provoking, and unnerving," says Skolnick. "It is important to know the facts and updates, but there is a point where it can become all encompassing and no longer helpful."
It's important to stay informed, but it's just as important to take regular breaks from the news cycle. Try setting designated times to check the news each day (for example, once in the morning and once before you wrap up work)—and then give your brain a rest and try not to think about it, read about it, watch it, or talk about it outside of those designated times.