Some people plan to learn a new language, others are bracing themselves to tidy the kitchen cupboards. Both noble pursuits of equal ambition, but as we adjust to this new way of life, it’s easy to take an eye off a more pressing matter: our emotional wellbeing. The truth is, extended periods of remote working, social distancing measures and shifting family dynamics all pose challenges to the mental wellbeing of our workforces.
Dr Heather Bolton, Head of Psychology, at workplace mental health platform, Unmind, told us about the seven key areas of wellbeing.
Taking the following measures will help you to proactively manage your mental health while working from home.
Humans are social beings; we’re hardwired to need community. Feelings of loneliness are entirely normal during social distancing. But loneliness isn’t about having no one else around – it’s about forming meaningful connections.
- Schedule in socials: arrange to meet up with friends, family or colleagues through video call, or try using fitness apps or games to connect with people.
- Check in with an old friend or family member: different from a transactional ‘catch-up’, checking in should focus on how you’re feeling. Make sure you’re sharing and listening.
- Share your experiences: we’re all in this together. By opening up about the challenges you’re facing and how you’re dealing with them, you could help others manage their own. A problem shared is a problem halved.
An infectious outbreak is, by anyone’s measure, a stressful scenario. But dealing with this uncertainty in isolation, all while managing our daily duties at work, can lead to additional levels of stress, worry and anxiety.
- DON’T PANIC. Feelings of stress are entirely normal in these unusual circumstances – and they bear no reflection on your ability to do your job.
- Take out your headphones and turn off the television. It’s important to stay informed, but a continuous stream of news that’s spun to tap into nervous energy isn’t always helpful.
- Keep up-to-date with government and public health advice, both nationally and locally. Go to WHO (World Health Organization) or local governments.
There’s no right or wrong. Go out for a run, read a book or watch the snooker repeats. Find what works best for you.
Big changes in our daily lives can tip the balance in our mood. When faced with all manner of challenges, from financial pressures to relationship strains to be expected, we need to take proactive steps to avoid developing sustained low mood or depression.
- Take your daily exercise to get some fresh air and your blood pumping.
- Try not to be self-critical and accept you can’t be perfect.
- If everything seems negative, try to look for exceptions.
- Treat thoughts as thoughts and try to gain some distance from them. Practice mindfulness and just be in the moment.
For those working from home, or living with new family dynamics around the house, the blurring of our normal boundaries can make life a struggle.
- Structure is essential. Speak to your family members or colleagues about setting clear expectations. Agreeing who does what, or what work needs to be delivered, will give everyone the headspace they need.
- Design your day in advance, ideally remaining pretty close to how it was before COVID-19. Get up at a set time, have breakfast, use your would-be commute time to read the paper, listen to music, play Candy Crush (whatever works for you), and then commence your day.
- Shut down at the end of the day. If you are working, close your lid, avoid looking at emails, and batten down the hatches for another evening of self-isolation.
It stands to reason that the longer we’re sat down indoors, the less physical activity we’ll get. Physical and mental health are intertwined – just like the rest of our bodies, our brains depend on good blood flow and glucose metabolism to work properly. So exercise is even more critical in these sedentary times.
- Try not to spend all day cooped up indoors. Take a walk in the fresh air or go for a run around the park.
- To get your blood pumping indoors, there are plenty of guided exercise videos and classes freely available online for everything from mindfulness meditations to yoga classes.
- Eating healthily. As a rule of thumb, to ensure you’re getting the right level of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, try filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.
For those of you who track your biometrics with wearable technology, try not to obsess over the drop in step counts. Plan your diary with plenty of exercise breaks and remember that quarantining will pass and normal routines will be resumed soon enough.
A physically active day will leave our bodies restful and ready for sleep. As our days are typically more sedentary during social distancing, the consequences could be felt at night. Missing out on quality sleep will impact our ability to cope with the pressures of the day, the unfamiliarity of the situation and possible heightened anxiety around the outbreak.
- Get outside during the day. Increased exposure to bright light helps your body, brain and hormones tell you when to be awake and when to sleep.
- Try not to work in your bedroom. It could make you disassociate it with sleep. While this isn’t an option for everyone, most can avoid working from the bed itself.
- Avoid checking emails or using screens late into the evening. Bright light is good during the day, but not at night. Logging off will help your brain unwind.
During these strange and unusual times, it’s important to stay connected to your personal values, and to channel your energy in the right places. While remote working, productivity levels can go both ways. You can fall into the always-on trap of over-producing to keep up professional appearances, or you can lose rhythm and give way to the many distractions that exist in our homes.
- Mindset is key: hold on to the bigger picture and remember it will end.
- Try to stick to a routine.
- Cultivate a sense of achievement and take meaning from small tasks.
- Nurture your relationships and keep connected with video.
- Accept that some relationships will need to be adapted and negotiated.
- Look out for others who might be vulnerable or lonely.
Guest post from Dr Heather Bolton, Head of Psychology, Unmind.
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