By Keiron Sparrowhawk, neuroscientist and founder of the mind restoring and cognitive workout app, MyCognition
Working from home might be ideal for some, but it can make others feel very isolated, especially when it’s on a long-term basis. This is particularly true for people who are either “deep thinkers” or “creative types”. They often require face to face human contact to express their thoughts and feelings. However, even the most introvert of us need some human interaction. It has therefore never been so important for employers to consider their staff’s mental health when making long-term work from home plans, and for individuals to be aware of their mental health to prevent themselves falling into a rabbit hole of isolation.
What are the key things to consider? How do you look after your mental health while from working from home for a long period of time?
Allocate different sections of your home for different times of the day
If you have a study or spare room that you can work in, that’s great, but, if you don’t try to allocate different rooms to different parts of the day. For example, if the kitchen desk is your ‘home office’, make the living room your break-out area. Try not to work in the bedroom, if you can, as you want to keep this as an exclusively rest- and restore-only area.
Drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and keep good sleep habits
By keeping hydrated you’ll improve your ability to pay attention and focus. Make sure that you take regular breaks from your workstation. Exercise regularly as this will get your endorphins going and release the excess energy you have from being inside all day. Exercise also helps to improve your processing speed which is essential for helping you get tasks done and done well. Keep to a good sleep routine. This is one habit you shouldn’t sacrifice.
Make sure you’re comfortable
Working from home can be tricky, particularly if you have noisy neighbours. However, other things are more in your control, such as the temperature and lighting level. You should do everything you can to ensure that your work environment is comfortable enough for you to concentrate, to have regular breaks and keep to your schedule.
Write lists and celebrate the small stuff
Celebrating the things that you have achieved can feel a bit sad when there is no-one to celebrate with, but remember other people, who understand and recognise your achievements, are only a message away. Create a ‘to do’ list and tick off tasks that you’ve achieved. And if you’ve had a big success, celebrate it by sharing your news with others. If you don’t think you can do that with colleagues, do it with friends or family and do the same for them (a ‘high-five’ bubble!). Don’t underestimate the power of the words “well done.” Try to find something positive every day in your colleagues’ work, so you can celebrate their success, too. It’s vital to include the whole team in this.
Try not to be chained to the kitchen desk
Working from one place, without leaving it, can quickly become very dull and uninspiring. Try to mix it up a bit (if local restrictions allow) by working at different locations now and then, such as a café or hotel, preferably with a friend or colleague. Being able to work with someone, perhaps in the same field, allows you to bounce ideas off one another and, if something bad does happen with work, you won’t be so inclined to internalise it and blame yourself. Talking about any issues will help put them into perspective and to solve them. Obviously don’t disclose commercial confidences or data.
Try to avoid stress
This is easier said than done. Stress is one of the biggest causes of a poor working memory. A good working memory helps you to make good decisions and solve problems – core skills you need for work, and in your personal life. A good working memory is also essential for forming and building relationships. To improve yours, and reduce stress, you need to find an activity that will take your focus away from work, and onto other things. Find something you enjoy, such as a book club, a choir, yoga or learning a musical instrument. All will help you to de-stress. Daily meditations can prevent you from ruminating on past stresses and getting depressed and will also prevent you from getting overly anxious about the future.
Speak to your manager if you’re suffering
HR teams and managers should be organising regular team updates and one-on-one sessions where you can express any concerns. If things are getting you down, talk to them. You’re not alone; a lot of people are struggling right now, so there is no need to be embarrassed. And there are things your manager can do to help you, such as signing up for apps and workshops to improve your mental health. MyCognition is being used by people all over the UK to help improve their mental health through a daily active meditation with personalised cognitive training. We’ve experienced a huge rise in downloads since the pandemic, with many managers subscribing on behalf of their teams who need an extra boost right now.
It is very easy to avoid all social interaction right now. However, socialising with others is essential as it helps to build your executive function, that is your ability to plan, self-regulate your emotions and be creative. It helps you to consider contingencies, so that you have peace of mind and remain calm and in control. Building strong social connections, and interacting with others – either face to face, over zoom or the phone, will help to build up your executive function and make you feel better within yourself, knowing that you’re not going through this on your own.
Use digital technology as an ally
Video-conferencing programmes and online collaboration tools help teamwork survive from a distance and may even improve it with well-defined processes and brainstorming spaces. They are an ally for you and your colleagues to keep collaborating, sharing and socialising from your remote positions, but make sure to use them wisely, with a shared policy in your team which allows you to switch off in your quiet hours. In facts, the risk of being hyperconnected could lead to stress, poor work-life balance and ultimately to poor mental health. Technology should definitely improve your work-from-home experience, not make it worse.