Protecting Your Mental Health When Working From Home

If you work from home permanently or on a frequent basis, you’ll recognise some of the negative feelings that can creep up on you: the sense of isolation and feeling detached from the office, insecurity about your position with a company or with clients from the lack of face to face contact, and a lack of boundaries between work and home life. Many of our legal consultants at Obelisk Support work from home and may be familiar with these thoughts. It is so important to break this cycle and step out of your bubble. With personal experience, here are my tips for protecting your mental health when working from home.

Create a Comfortable and Protected Workspace

A home office is a necessity. Even if you don’t have space for a room to yourself, making a dedicated and undisturbed work zone is so important – for example, my workspace is one half of the dining room table. I can close the doors for quiet time and for calls and interviews, and I have easy-to-move storage trays for paperwork when the entire table is needed for dinners, my daughter’s homework or various arts and craft projects. Plus if you have regular video calls you’re not scrambling to find a tidy, professional looking space to beam in from each time…

That aside, if you’re finding it hard to concentrate or get motivated, the advantage of working from home is that you can move around freely, without waiting for a meeting room or comfortable chair to become available! Sometimes your comfortable sofa is a better place to jot down ideas for a new project, or you can grab the opportunity for some fresh air outside while on a call.

Declutter Your Home Environment

Though I wouldn’t claim to be a naturally tidy person, since working from home I have become acutely aware of how clutter affects my mental health and concentration. This can be even more difficult to manage when you share your living space with others, particularly with children or if you live with someone who is a natural hoarder.

There are some great tips for sorting your home working space here, but if you find that clutter elsewhere in the home is affecting your mood or encroaching on your space, discuss having a good clear out of your whole living environment. Many people swear by Marie Kondo’s method, and though you might find some of the ideas extreme, it’s a good starting point for better ways to organise your living space.

Use Separate Devices for Work and Leisure Screen Time

Wherever possible, keep your work-related digital communications and documents on dedicated work devices, so they are not popping up in notifications or are sat staring at you on your desktop when you are using those devices during your leisure time. Tracking cookies could also affect your search or social media history with mixed use devices, resulting in ‘tainted’ results. It might seem like unnecessary hassle, but having a dedicated work mobile and personal mobile will help you maintain the boundaries between work and leisure, which so often get blurred when working from home. Plus, it is also easier to keep track of usage for tax purposes if you are self employed – which will also help keep the stress levels down!

Take at Least One Screen-Free Break Each Day

This is important in any work environment, but especially so at home where the temptation of TV and streaming services are at your fingertips. Step away from the computer and do something that requires a different type of concentration. A bit of light tidying in the home, a walk or a run, even simply going for a drive requires a change in thought process and engages different reactions allowing your other faculties to recharge. Anything that gets you up and stretching and out of the house is preferable.

Some fitness devices like FitBit activity trackers remind you to get up every hour and walk at least 250 steps, motivating you to be active during long periods of physical inactivity.

Connect Frequently With Your Communities

We are a social species, and even those of us who are comfortable in our own company need to connect with other people from time to time. Working from home can feel like you are isolated from the core workplace community. Try to ensure that your communication with colleagues/clients and associates is not always urgent and task-focused – sharing ideas, interesting relevant articles you’ve come across helps keeps sense of community and shared inspiration.

For a confidence boost, try getting involved with local community organisations that interest you, to maintain a sense of connection outside of the home. If you are finding that working at home is really taking its toll, talk to friends and family about your feelings. This may then give you the courage to share your feelings with work associates or other support networks who can offer practical help and understanding.

Use Shared Workspaces

A change is as good as a rest, so they say. If you are experiencing a creeping sense of cabin fever, it may be time to make regular use of shared workspaces in your local area for a change of environment. Workspaces are better than working from a coffee shop as they are set up with the facilities and quiet room you need to concentrate and be productive. Public libraries can also offer good working environments. Regarding coffee houses, I am also reluctant to spend much time working in them as it is important to not let places of leisure and relaxation become places of work. If you don’t have a suitable workspace nearby, perhaps enquire with people you know about any spare space they might know or be in possession of.

Remember the Benefits of Working from Home

It’s all too easy to fall out of love with working from home when we slip into bad habits, but try to remember the opportunities and freedoms it gives you. Here are just some of the advantages to remind you why you are one of lucky ones:

  • You’re in charge – you are free to use your home as you wish, there’s no need to ask for permission or to check schedules for meeting rooms
  • You have no commute – you can work that little bit longer and still be present for bedtimes and homework
  • You create a schedule to suit you – as you get into a rhythm you can choose the hours and day structure that suits your energy and peak productivity times.
  • You have access to enjoyable home projects – on your break, you can spend a little time on those other projects you can’t take into the office – that painting you want to finish, the DIY, gardening or craft project that’s been on the to do list for months, there is more you can achieve when work and home are in the same place. Just try to keep them separate and distinct.

Support Networks for Home Workers

If you feel you need additional support and someone to talk to while working from home, online support groups can be a lifeline. Here are just a few examples of organisations you can contact and connect with, digitally and in person:

  • Meetup.com is a place where you can find local and global support groups and events for people working from home.
  • Aoife Lee Parent Support (Ireland) runs corporate talks for working parents.
  • The Samaritans are not just there for people in deep crisis – they campaign for better mental health in society including in the workplace and are always available on 116 123 to listen when you need to talk it out, whatever the circumstance.
  • Facebook features an amazing number of professional-minded groups, some with regional features. Most are closed groups that require admin approval and feature moderated discussions.
  • LinkedIn is another great place to look for professional groups. Some require admin approval and proof on your LinkedIn profile that your area of expertise or professional history are relevant to the group.

However good these networks and groups are, remember to get out of your house and have a fulfilling social life. What’s the point of working otherwise?