Coronavirus COVID-19: How to look after your mental health when working from home
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
As the world grapples with the spread of coronavirus, workers are scrambling to figure out how — or if — they can do their jobs from home.
Personally I have been working from home in Norway and in Spain for over 15 years.
And one thing I have learned over the years is the importance of taking care of your mental health.
"When I first started working from home, I'd wake up, roll to my desk and power through, basically until my housemates came home and pointed out that I hadn't moved since they'd left for work in the morning."
"It was unsustainable, and I burnt myself out completely.
"I had a complete breakdown back in 2015, and part of the process of getting better was learning how to have better work practices."
If you're working from home because of COVID-19, my and others experience might help you to look after your mental health.
Aim for at least one face-to-face conversation each day
Working from home can be lonely, especially when you haven't done it before.
It's something that i struggled with over the years, and I come up with some strategies to help.
"I make sure I speak to a person face to face every day, whether that's the postman, or the cashier at the supermarket, or the person who makes my coffee."
"To have an actual human interaction really helps."
If you're not simply working from home but are in self-isolation too, then physical interactions will be off the cards.
If that's the case, scheduled catch-ups with colleagues or even friends over the phone or online can be really helpful. Video calls are "always" good.
"Maybe organize a call or a videoconference as a brief touchpoint at the start of the day or the end of the day."
"That way you're sharing information, you're communicating, and you're not feeling isolated."
Schedule in some time for yourself
I start my day with my breakfast, and reading some news. Then I get dressed and go through my schedule, and start with my emails and calls. I feel most productive in the morning. Straight afterwards I go for a walk, before I continue with my schedule.
It's worth mentioning because unless you schedule it in, time to look after yourself can be hard to find.
"I always say to aim for an hour in the morning, so you're getting something in for yourself before the day starts."
"You might do some exercise, you might read, or you could sit and meditate. That's key for your mental health."
If you can't find time in the morning, the afternoon works just as well — the point is to find a time and schedule something in.
Other things that can help include spending time with pets, getting outside or spending time in nature. Even if it's only the backyard or a balcony, it can make a difference.
Don't stay in your pyjamas
It's tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day when no-one else is around, but is it really a good idea?
The answer is no.
"There is some research that putting on business clothing helps adopt the mindset of [your] role." This is so important in business, remember that the person at the other end can feel if you are smiling or not.
"We should try to keep to your normal routine as best you can."
It can also be helpful to have a morning ritual or regular routine to help you transition into your workday.
It could be half an hour of exercise before you sit down at your desk, leaving the house for a walk, or even playing some music.
Set boundaries and time limits — and hold yourself to them
One of the challenges of working from home is dealing with distractions, and it can be especially hard if you have other people at home.
I have an end-of-day routine that helps me move back into home life.
If you have other responsibilities, like looking after children or caring for someone, the experts suggests working in "sprints."
The idea is to set aside at least 15 minutes — ideally half an hour — where you can focus on a single task.
"You might set the children a task or play a movie to give you a little bit of peace and quiet to get something done," she says.
After each sprint, you might take a break to check back in with your kids or whatever else you need to do. Then, if you can, you can start the whole process again.
Finally, just as it's important to start the day right, it's important to know when to stop.
One study found that 48 per cent of people who work from home worked longer hours.
In my profession we work often in different timezones and this makes it harder to schedule. Sometimes I need to talk to someone in California(9 hours) or in NY(6 hours). If you have "normal" working hours, its much easier. Then you should knock off at 5:00pm sharp, and make your routine to transition into the evening.
"When I knock off, I pour myself a drink, and I sit in my sofa together with my wife and our dog to watch some TV.
"I know it's the end of the day — and it's my favourite part."
Thanks to Fiona Wright.