How to look after your mental health when working from home

As many of us continue working from home it's important to incorporate a healthy boundary between work and home life and do things to support our mental wellbeing. 

So how do we look after our mental health when our home and workplace have become one? Psychologist Sabina Read has some tips on ways to stay heathy, grounded and productive.

Keep a routine

Just because we’re not commuting to a workplace each day doesn’t mean we can’t create structure around our day. In fact, maintaining daily routines is a vital tool to help keep us mentally well.

Work would have been traditionally a very potent source of connection and routine, particularly for people who live alone, and when that ritual is lost, that’s really significant to our wellbeing, says Read.

"For some people, the process of putting on work clothes and doing hair or makeup, even if you’re sitting at your kitchen table, is an important way to symbolise that I’m going to work in the way that I traditionally do. It creates a starting point and the mindset that I’m at work." 

But for others, they’ll feel more productive in their Ugg boots and trackies so there is no cookie cutter approach. It's up to the individual to think, what are those touchpoints throughout my day that have been most useful to me?"

Common rituals that can help create a sense of structure and normality are exercise and social connection.

The first question to ask yourself is, what parts of my day and my routine were the most important and enjoyable for me? Then you work out a plan for how to maintain them, if you can.

If you routinely do Pilates, yoga or a gym session before work, then find a way to adapt that practice for the home setting.

And if you enjoy having lunch with workmates, schedule in a lunchtime video catch-up where you can sit around and chat as you usually would.

Create pockets of certainty

Read said setting specific times for our daily rituals – exercise, meals, social connection, sleep, entertainment – can be grounding at a time when so much feels out of our control.

"We want to create pockets of certainty, moments of knowing, time when we have assurance that we know what happens at this moment in time on this day," she says. 

"These rituals and routines create circuit breakers throughout the day. It just offsets all the uncertainty by knowing that at 7.30 every morning I lie down on my yoga mat on my living room floor with my dog."

Establish ground rules

If you live with other people, suddenly being forced to share home and work space can be challenging, which is why ground rules are important.

"Whether you live with family, flatmates or a partner it requires a conscious and purposeful conversation to identify new ways of being because none of us have had to live in this way before." says Read.

"Yes, we need to come together as a group to do things that fill us up but it’s as important to identify times when we want to be in peace, have quiet time alone and allow that space to be respected."

We also need to set boundaries around our work schedule and ensure there is a clear delineation between working hours and downtime, advises Read. 

That might mean confining work to a certain part of your home, wearing different clothes than you do for leisure time, or creating an email signature that sets out what days and times you will be available – to create boundaries for you and the people you work with.

Maintain your usual coping strategies

While these continue to be challenging times, it’s important now more than ever to try to do the things that you know have kept you well in the past.

Get enough sleep, eat well, avoid or reduce your alcohol intake, meditate, move your body, stay connected to loved ones and limit your exposure to the news.

The brain is hardwired to pull us back to the what ifs and the fear because it thinks that’s what we need in order to survive.

Read said at a time of uncertainty, we need to focus on what we can control and break our day down into small, achievable tasks.

We can’t control the bigger picture, but we can control how we break down our day. It’s these smaller things that are seemingly less urgent and less powerful that are actually the building blocks that create a sense of stability to help us navigate today.

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