How can I manage my mental health while working from home?

For many people, working from home sounds like a dream come true. You’re getting paid, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your living room! In some ways, it can be a real blessing for your mental health. But working remotely also comes with a lot of challenges.

Keep your work and personal life separate

Many people are able to stop thinking about work when they leave the office and head home for the day. That’s healthy—you can’t be “on” all the time! But what happens when your home is your office? Without that dramatic change of setting, it can be hard to shift gears and return to living your day-to-day life.

It helps to establish some part of your home as your “office.” It doesn’t have to be a separate room. Maybe there’s a certain corner where you work, or a specific chair that helps you feel more productive. You might be able to block off a certain portion of your room with a curtain. Whatever you do, don’t work in bed! It’ll make it harder to sleep at night.

Not everyone will be able to have an “office” at home. Maybe you don’t have space, or you just don’t like sitting in one place all day. Instead, try to establish a routine that will get you into “work mode.” Make coffee at the same time every morning, set up the lighting a certain way, or listen to a specific type of music.

Set boundaries with your employer

It’s also tough to maintain a work-life balance when your employer is suddenly “invading” your home. Ever since smartphones made emails and workplace chats available 24/7, this has been a problem for a lot of people—but it’s even worse when you’re working from home.

If you can, avoid answering emails outside of regular work hours. If you must, make sure you’re compensated for the extra time, or adjust your hours later in the week to make up the time.

The coronavirus pandemic has introduced even more challenges. For many parents, this is the first time working from home with small children present has been allowed—let alone required! It might simply not be possible for you to completely separate your work life from your home life. That’s okay—we’re all human, and we can’t all be productive all the time. Do your best, but push back when your employer expects more from you than you’re able to give.

Get organized

One of the biggest challenges for people who work from home is feeling productive. It can be harder to keep track of how much time things take and how much you’ve accomplished. That can make you feel overwhelmed, and less confident and positive about your work. There are a couple things you can do to stay on track.

First, do one thing at a time. Multitasking might make you feel more productive at first, but it’s stressful. When you pile on more stress than you need to, you’ll get tired more quickly and enjoy your work less.

Second, define specific and concrete goals for yourself. For example, “Today I’m going to answer 10 emails and write one report.” At the end of the day, you can look back at that goal and see the progress you’ve made. Start with goals that are small and pretty easy to achieve, and then build on those as you gain confidence.

If you’re technologically savvy, you might try using productivity software to track your progress. There are lots of great tools out there. Trello and Google Keep are good examples, but bullet points in a Word doc might be all you need. Or, go low-tech and use sticky notes and a paper calendar. Don’t spend hours trying to find the perfect tool—pick something and stick with it, and only change if you feel like what you’re doing isn’t working.

Stay connected

Working from home can be very isolating. You may not think of work as a part of your social life… But even if you aren’t friends with your coworkers, there’s still a sense of companionship there. You’re working together on a common goal.

When you work on-site, you tend to see a lot of the same people day after day. You become familiar with their faces and voices. That lets your brain know you’re part of the “tribe.” That’s something you miss out on while working from home—unless you do something about it.

Make an effort to communicate more with your colleagues. Instead of sending an email, hop on a call. If you already have a call scheduled, make it a video chat. Send a coworker a message asking how they’re doing. Set up a digital happy hour to get some quality face time in.

Outside of work hours, make plenty of time for social interaction. If you’re quarantined or socially distancing, follow the same idea—call instead of texting; video chat instead of calling. The closer you can get to in-person interactions, the better!

If you’re worried about your mental health, take one of our online mental health tests to see if you are at risk of a mental health condition. Or, participate in our Workplace Mental Health Survey to help us understand how to improve mental health in the workplace.

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