By Shaida Hossein, Behavioral Health Education & Training Manager at JFS.
Each May, Mental Health Awareness Month represents a national movement to elevate the importance of our mental health. Right now, it happens to fall against the backdrop of COVID-19—a global crisis affecting millions in myriad ways: of course physically, but also emotionally and mentally. It may feel tempting to “put off” our mental health because it feels like one more thing to deal with, but the reality is that taking care of our mental health is one of the best things we can do for ourselves during this pandemic.
As our routines continue to shift dramatically, finding control where we can is important. Building a routine, however minimal, that you can stick to in daily life will help you feel grounded at such an untethered time. Routine will mean different things to different people, and finding the balance that’s the “Goldilocks fit” for you is what’s important.
Currently, many people are needing to work remotely for the first time, and there may be challenges that arise with combining work and home spaces—such as feeling isolated from coworkers, struggling to find an efficient place to get work done or navigating uncharted waters such as homeschooling. It is pivotal that we all find and create new ways of working while also taking care of our mental health and well-being.
Here are some tips for creating new habits that might be the key to an improved work-from-home experience:
- Carve out a dedicated work area, even if temporary right now. Avoid working from places of rest like your bed or couch. Create an office environment with a comfortable chair, preferably in a well-lit room or one with as much natural light as possible.
- Get showered and dressed as if you’re going to the office. It can be tempting to just dress professional from the waist up, but putting on clothes that help us feel more “put together” can help improve our sense of purpose and outlook. Still, it’s important to dress in comfortable clothes (top and bottom)!
- Create a routine and stay faithful to it. When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from your pillow to your computer can be much more jarring. It can be tempting to wake up late and work odd hours, but your quality of work—and your mental health—will benefit by setting a regular schedule for yourself.
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance by logging your time and setting limits. Track your hours and keep yourself accountable. Take clear breaks—rather than scrolling through Instagram, use your breaks to get away from your desk and stretch your legs.
- Schedule workouts and relaxation practices as you do meetings. Physical workouts, breathing exercises, mindfulness, and meditation can be helpful in decreasing mental distress. It can help to pencil them in before you begin working.
- Get up every hour and get out at least once a day. If needed, set a timer or use an app to remind you to get up and stretch or move around once every hour. Walk around the block and get some sunshine and fresh air. Other ways to increase movement every day could be walking around while talking on the phone, add 15 minutes of walking to lunch time, or integrating a stand-up desk. Studies consistently confirm that even small amounts of physical activity are associated with boosts in mental health.
- Create a soothing environment. If you love scented candles, place them around your desk. If a beautiful view helps you stay calm, set up your desk in front of a window or within eyesight of artwork you enjoy. Add plants and greenery to your work area.
- Communicate expectations with anyone who will be home with you. Of course, you might be working from home but still have “company.” Make sure any roommates or partners respect your space during work hours—this boundary-setting can help with ensuring a healthy and productive mindset for both of you.
- Keep the kitchen stocked with healthy snacks and meals. Nutrition is vital to staying focused and energized throughout the day. Try to plan your meals ahead of time and pre-portioning healthy snacks, such as an orange, nuts, plain yogurt with berries, hard-boiled eggs, or hummus.
- Sit down to eat. When you do sit down to a meal (not in your designed workspace), shut down your electronic devices and practice mindful eating: take small bites, chew your food thoroughly, and notice the flavors and texture in each mouthful.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration may lead to fatigue and headaches. Aim to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day. This can help improve how you feel (mood) and ability to pay attention (thought) throughout the day.
- Stay connected and embrace the webcam. Instant messaging and videoconferencing tools can make it easy to check-in with coworkers. Try to schedule online social time to have conversations and no agenda with co-workers. Still celebrate important events and birthdays with colleagues, friends, and family since this can decrease loneliness and maintain social connections.
- Relax—within reason. If you need a break, “relax, but don’t nap.” Instead, do something calming that won’t cause you to doze off: free-writing, drawing, yoga, brisk walks, or cooking are all examples of activities that can feel relaxing.
- Develop a shutdown ritual. The blending of work and home life may lead to working longer hours than usual because you do not have the prompt of coworkers packing up and leaving the office at the end of the day. Try setting an alarm to indicate your normal work day is coming to an end, or write out a priority list for the next work day.
If you need mental health support, our counseling team is available to help. We offer a sliding scale and also accept multiple forms of insurance. Visit our counseling webpage today for more information. You are not alone in this.