To help ease those anxieties, I’ve shared some of the strategies that I use as a WFH freelancer to minimise the downsides (feelings of isolation, distraction and purposelessness), and maximise the upsides (reduced travel costs and a routine that suits you) that come with working from home.
1. MOVE REGULARLY
This first piece of advice that I’m sharing with you is probably the most important one, and here’s why:
Because your mind and body are strongly linked, whatever you do with your body will have a direct impact on your mood. In a nutshell, ‘motion creates emotion’.
In context, this means that when you sit in the same spot for hours – either at your desk or on your couch - your body becomes stiff and sluggish, and this makes you feel groggy, agitated and unmotivated.
On the flip side, when you move your body – for example, during exercise – you experience an emotional ‘high’, because physical movement stimulates the production of mood-boosting chemicals in your brain.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you hit the gym every day because you’re working from home. But you could use this time to observe how often you do move your body throughout the day, and take steps (pun intended) to ensure your mood stays balanced, your body feels good, and your mind sharp.
So, how can you practically keep yourself moving whilst working from home, without affecting the time you spend actually doing work?
To help answer that question, I've offered some of the quick and easy things that do when I need to refresh and refocus at home:
- Make a brew – just like doing the tea & coffee round at work (if you don’t do the rounds in your office, shame on you!), this is a subtle way to get yourself up and take a breather every hour or so.
- Do some housework - I often use my breaks throughout the day to get some cleaning & washing done (my house gets suspiciously sparkly when I work from home…), but I can get carried away with cleaning. So to make sure I don’t abandon my work for a deep cleaning sesh, I set a 15-minute timer on my phone to tell me when my break is up.
- Take a walk - and don’t stress about rushing back for once! In my experience, if you’re still able to get your work done on time, there’s nothing wrong with taking a longer lunch. Working from home means flexibility, so take advantage. More often than not, going outside for a walk helps productivity by getting the blood flowing round your body and refreshing your mind. But as I mentioned above, don’t get carried away, your work unfortunately does need to be done at some point.
- Home workouts – If you’re a regular gym-goer like me, you’re probably feeling anxious about how the pandemic is going to affect your gym routine. Realising this, loads of health & fitness influencers have started posting home workouts for people to try in case we do find ourselves without a gym to go to in the next few weeks or months. If you have Instagram, you can bookmark these posts and build up a folder of home workouts to use when the time comes.
2. STICK TO A ROUTINE
Now that you don’t need to get up, be in the office, or start work at a certain time, the temptation to start having lie-ins and dawdling about the house with no real plans will emerge.
But take it from someone who’s been in charge of her own schedule for the last 4 years… getting up later than the rest of the world midweek and having no real plan for your day loses its novelty very quickly, and can really take its toll on your sense of purpose and self-esteem.
So to avoid feeling unproductive and purposeless (which is a huge cause of Depression in the UK), try and stick to a routine that you’re familiar with, but with a few substitutes that you’ll enjoy.
For example, how many times have you dreamt about swapping the morning rush for a nice, chilled get up? … Or being able to wake slowly, over a fresh cup of coffee whilst reading that book you haven’t yet had time for? Well, now you can!
Not only that, but to really give yourself the best chances of a balanced and happy mood during this isolation period, make sure you have a rough plan for how your days ahead, otherwise you’ll find yourself at the mercy of procrastination. I’ve made this mistake many times in the past, and it always leads to me feeling crap about myself because I "haven’t achieved anything".
To stop this from happening, I loosely follow this daily routine / plan:
- Get up at 7:30am
- Gym 8am-9am
- Shower, eat and be ready to work (with regular 15-minute breaks) by 10am
- Lunch 1pm – 2pm
- Work (with breaks) 2pm - 5/6pm
- Chill 6pm – 9:30pm
- Bed at 10pm
I say 'loosely' because your mental health partly rests on your ability to be flexible with plans if they have to change.
Also, to avoid throwing yourself off and messing with your body clock, I would suggest you continue to get up at your normal time but fill the time you would have otherwise spent getting ready for work by doing something you enjoy.
I’m aware that the thought of connecting with others during self-isolation or home working sounds contradictory, but ‘connection’ doesn’t have to mean physical contact.
For all the downsides that can come with working from home (loneliness, boredom and feelings of lack-of-purpose), now would be the perfect time to reach out to friends and family members, to reconnect, catch up and distract yourselves from the shitstorm outside and your anxieties about it all.
It takes a few minutes to arrange a call or Facetime (even better!), and the payoff will be tenfold for you.
I used to work from coffee shops whenever I felt the walls closing in on me at home, but that is likely not going to be an option for me very soon, so I’m making it a priority for myself to book in a few catch-up calls with friends I haven’t seen in a while over the next few weeks.
On this note, I also want to commend all the event organisers who have moved their upcoming events online instead of cancelling altogether. These organisers clearly understand the importance of maintaining social connection, now more than ever. So, if you can, follow suit and don’t cancel your meetings or pre-arranged catch ups with friends, just move them online or over the phone.
4. GET COMPANY
Following the last point…
People used to laugh at me when I told them that I have Friends the tv show on in the background when I work from home because it makes me feel less alone. (I also let my guinea pigs run around in my living room, but they are slightly more distracting – it all depends on your ability to focus around certain things).
The truth is, as I mentioned before, feelings of Isolation come part-in-parcel with working from home, and when no one else is around, there’s nothing like a group of funny, unfortunate friends to keep you company. Or the radio..
If you don’t get distracted by background noise, then I would definitely recommend having something light-hearted like this on in the house (I also use: How I met your mother, Suits, & Modern Family).
These are just a few of the things I use to keep myself from going crazy at home. I hope you can take some of them as inspiration to find a routine and home-working situation that suits you over the next few weeks. Feel free to leave your own home-working suggestions in the comments for other people to try out too!
As always, if you're struggling with your Emotional Wellbeing or Mental Health during these turbulent times, please visit our help page for access to our Helpline and more Mental Health resources.