Part 3: Working with the Psychological Practicalities of Working from Home
COVID-19 has added a whole new level of stress to our lives and with remote working thrust upon us and it’s vital we remain proactive in protecting our psychological health. Feelings of social isolation, loneliness, fear and anxiety are common and It’s been well documented that the mental health of the nation has been suffering since the pandemic started. Stresses can also be compounded and amplified by marital and family problems and financial uncertainty.
In part 3 of my series on building remote resilience, I share some simple psychological practicalities that can help us build resilience and strengthen mental health whilst working remotely and combining our homes.
1. Be proactive and prioritise you
We are currently living in exceptional times with exceptional stresses and this means that many more of us are at risk of an increase in allostatic load. Allostatic load is defined as “the wear and tear on the body” which accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress. The term was coined by Bruce McEwen and Stellar in 1993. The cost of the ongoing exposure to elevated or fluctuating endocrine or neural responses resulting from chronic stress need to be taken seriously.
During times such as these, we are all far more likely to suffer from chronic fatigue, worry, frustration and experience an inability to cope. If you are experiencing these feelings please remember you are not alone. The challenge with spotting these symptoms is that they are often slow to surface and it’s difficult to notice.
Try to gently notice symptoms, patterns or situations which can lead to a downward spiral and address them immediately. Don’t wait until you reach crisis point and be proactive and reach out to positive friends and family, colleagues and professionals when you need some help. Most of us find it difficult to ask for help and support as it can make us feel weak and unable to cope but you must never be ashamed of receiving help or putting yourself at the front of the queue.
The first step in my mind is to actually admit that you might need to take a bit more care of you and taking the simple step to prioritise you. This means putting yourself first and doing what you need to do to be safe, supported and well. This is hard to do when we live in a world of endless demands and so it is absolutely essential that you make decisions based on what is best for you.
2. Mentally and physically prepare for work
Many of us have lost our commute and face to face meetings have been replaced with zoom fatigue. Going from bed to desk without passing go is becoming the norm and the boundaries between work and home are becoming a blur. Your home, once your sanctuary and personal space, can merge with your workspace and suddenly the sense of security from being at home can quickly evaporate.
When we establish a routine and properly bookend our workday it’s easier to wind down and relax into a new space. Preparing yourself for work and home can help get you into the right headspace. Perhaps a walk, yoga or meditation would help or maybe you just need a few minutes outside and away from everyone with a coffee alone.
If you’re not sure what would help, try something new, just getting up half an hour earlier you might see some benefit. At the end of the day do something that gives the impression of leaving work and coming home and it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
3. Set boundaries and enlist help
With all the demands of work, families and children it is easy to become all things to all people. Friends and family can overlook the fact that previously you were unavailable during working hours. They may now assume you can seamlessly fit in all of the chores because you are at home and this is particularly true if you are female.
This can lead to frustration, resentment, the constant feeling of never finishing anything, tiredness and potentially depression. It’s a double-edged sword as you constantly battle to keep work out of home and home out of work.
Set boundaries with your household, friends and working relationships about what you can and cannot do. Many of us find it difficult to ask for help but this is a critical step and you have to make sure you enlist the help of others, whether that be via your partner, children or external help. Make sure everyone does their fair share depending on their age and ability and resist taking a no as an excuse to not take responsibility.
Think about what area in your life would benefit from some change and seek out the the support you need to grow and spend some time on you. This might be a cleaner, gardener or a personal trainer or just a friend that can help you out. Do whatever best serves you to relieve some of the day-to-day stresses and remember it is a strength to surround yourself with suitable help and support.
4. Eat as well as you can
A 2019 study recently published in the European Neuropsychopharmacology journal concluded that ‘there is increasing evidence of a link between a poor diet and the worsening of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression’.
A poor diet doesn’t mean you only eat junk food. Equally a good diet doesn’t mean expensive superfoods, all-organic food or complicated recipes. Take a proper look at what you are eating to see if you need to make some changes.
It’s easy to drink more coffee and not even notice. Too much caffeine can lead to irritability and anxiety and add to any difficulty in sleeping. With staying at home it’s also easier to eat more sugar and drink more alcohol if this is what you enjoy. Both sugar and alcohol give us a feel good hit and so it’s easy to over consume when there is less escapism in other pursuits.
Don’t beat yourself up for eating nice food and drinking some booze as for many of us this is part of helping us feel good. It might just be good to notice if what we’re consuming is doing more bad than good.
5. Stay active and get some good sleep
A US study published in the Lancet in 2018 found that ‘individuals who exercised had 43·2% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics. All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden’.We know in ourselves that we feel better when we do some exercise so even 20 mins a day by simply moving might just make a little difference to how you are feeling.
It has also been proven that mental health problems can be exacerbated by poor sleep, and poor sleep can exacerbate mental health problems. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all negatively impact sleep and we know that physical activity does help.
Experts recommend practising good ‘sleep hygiene’; use the bedroom only for sleeping or sex. Keep it dark and free of screens. Try to keep a regular waking and sleeping schedule, even at weekends.
Remote working has meant a lot more screen time for most people. The blue light emitted from LED screens has been shown to hold back the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. There is evidence to suggest blue light glasses, worn when using screens, can help people experience less eye strain and sleep better.
6. Do what is best for you
Whether you decide to try something new or just stay as you are, the most important thing is to accept that this could just be a difficult time and you need to do what is best for you. It’s good to admit that there will be times when energy, interest, concentration and engagement are low and recognise when exceptions need to be made and when it’s time to take a break and just be you.
Our mental, physical and emotional health can at times be a fragile thing and building resilience whilst working from home is an even trickier thing. If you are interested in learning more about building resilience or managing stress, burnout, isolation and loneliness please look at my free video clips or my youtube channel
At Feel Good Leadership, we work with high performing executive leaders, managers and teams to become more authentic, inclusive and nurture better relationships enabling collaborative and thriving workplaces.
About the Author
Jenny Rossiter is an international executive coach and facilitator with a passion for weaving together the real human experience with practical science-based techniques to build authentic & inclusive leadership, emotional resilience and mental strength. Jenny has spent a lifetime studying human behaviour and more recently leading-edge neuroscience. She takes her clients through a journey of accompanied exploration in order to discover who they are and who they might become, as leaders, as teams and as human beings.
Please contact Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org