In some ways, working from home can have a positive effect on your mental health. You can set your own schedule, so you don’t have to suffer the stressful time constraints of a 9-5 job or the more stressful scenario of overtime and overwork. Moreover, if you’re a freelancer or home business owner, you can take part in work that you genuinely enjoy doing, that you actually look forward to doing each day, instead of dreading it. And you don’t have to deal with the stresses of the daily commute, an overbearing boss, or the negative and burdening energy of toxic work colleagues. I can say, emphatically, that all of these aspects of working from home have carried mental health benefits.
On the other hand, working from home can have a less-than-positive effect on your mental health. Loneliness is a major issue, as you are probably spending much of the day alone. Being surrounded by your own four walls for prolonged periods of time can have a negative effect on your mood state, even if you consider yourself more leaning more towards introversion than extroversion (as I do). The problem of isolation has been an intermittent but persistent aspect of working from home for me, so I have to make a conscious effort to get regular social interaction in the week, otherwise, I find myself slipping into states of low mood, rumination, and a subtle, unpleasant feeling of my home feeling more like a prison than a sanctuary (although certainly less imprisoning and uncomfortable, for me, than working in an open-plan office).
While the lesson may be difficult to learn, I don’t believe working from home has to involve unhealthy levels of isolation. Knowing the signs of loneliness and taking steps to counteract such feelings is possible – and if made habitual, can make the home office leagues better than working in an office building. Another pitfall to watch out for when working from home is missing out on the mental health benefits of exercise, which you would naturally benefit from when travelling to and from work.
So, with the above in mind, here are some tips to help you protect your mental health if you’re regularly working from home.
Focus on Your Home Office
If your home office is conducive to a mentally calming state, then you are going to a) be more productive throughout the day, and b) be less stressed out when spending long hours in your workspace.
Ensure your home office is tidy. An untidy room can create an untidy mind; so get on top of your clutter. You can do this by adding more storage furniture to your room, and by finding better ways to organise the paper and stationery you use. Make every effort to have a tidy-up at the end of each day as well; in this way, you won’t experience the stress of walking into a mess when you start work each day.
Then think about your office decor. By painting your walls in calming colours, you should have a calmer mental state (this is something that colour psychologists are interested in studying, with research, indeed, showing that the colours used in décor have an effect on whether people feel calm, relaxed, and cool). You might also want to grab some paintings of nature, as well as photographs of peaceful landscapes, and indoor plants. This is because art and images that reflect nature, and pockets of nature in your home, can have a range of beneficial effects on our mental health, including improved mood and concentration, as well as decreases in negative thoughts, stress, and anxiety. You can also think of adding anything else to your home office that is likely to evoke positive emotions when you’re busy with work, such as photos of travel experiences of or friends and family.
When Working From Home, Schedule Time for Healthy Practices
It can be easy to fall into an unhealthy lifestyle when working from home, but this can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health. This is why it’s important to adopt a certain level of self-care when you work from home.
Firstly, don’t spend all of your day attached to your desk. You will become mentally and physically tired if you do, and you might even fall prey to stress and depression if your entire day is spent working. So, schedule regular breaks for exercise. Get out of your chair and walk to another room for a change of scenery occasionally. Step outside for some fresh air and take a walk around the block or to the local park or other natural surroundings nearby. Also, with the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing and working from home, you can head to the gym in the middle of the day when it’s less busy. But, if you can’t leave your desk for long periods, at the very least, consider some methods of deskercise.
Be sure to eat healthily too. Certain snack foods, especially those that are sugary, may give you an initial mood boost and surge in energy but they aren’t conducive to good mental health overall. The sugar crash is often associated with a drop in mood and a spike in anxiety. A high intake of caffeine is also something to be mindful of. While chugging down cups of coffee can boost alertness and beat fatigue, it can also lead to or magnify anxiety, irritability, and restlessness, as well as interrupt your sleep, which will worsen your mental health the next day.
And even though you’re working alone, don’t assume you need to be alone. Pick up the phone during your break times and chat with a friend or family member or schedule something in the day or evening with someone who’s free. However, if loneliness is a real issue for you during the day, work elsewhere. This could be your local library, a coffee shop, a hotel, or a coworking space. It’s easy to find somewhere to work where you don’t have to feel completely isolated.
If, however, you feel that you need extra support for your mental health, you might want to consider something like online therapy, as this can allow you to speak to a therapist about your challenges from the comfort of your own home and at any time that suits you.
Working from home feels like ultimate freedom until you start to feel it chipping away at your sanity. So, consider the above suggestions and take the steps necessary to protect your mental health. This is absolutely essential if you want to make working from home a sustainable and productive lifestyle.