November 4, 2021
Working from home and wellness: how to look after your mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted your employees’ wellness more than you realise. We explore what to watch for, as well as what you need to do.
Working from home has its upsides, but it can also have a tangible impact on our wellness and mental health.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to be impacted by the downsides of working from home – such as isolation, lack of separation between work and home life – without even realising it. We look at how to recognise mental health issues, as well as how to look after your (and your colleagues’) wellbeing.
Understanding wellness and mental health
It can be tempting to think that people are either well or unwell. But when seen through a mental health lens, wellness isn’t a black and white concept. Instead, under the World Health Organisations’ definition, it’s a continuum. At one extreme, you have people in food mental health. At the other extreme are people with mental illness.
Early signs of mental health issues
There are often telltale signs when you or one of your colleague’s mental health begins to deteriorate, including:
- Not getting things done or being able to concentrate
- Becoming more erratic or combative
- Having overly emotional responses
- Becoming indecisive or less confident
- Becoming isolated, including withdrawing from social activities
- Unexplained and unplanned absences
- Increased consumption of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes or drugs.
You may notice some physical signs too, such as:
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Looking constantly tired, sick, disheveled or run down
- Difficulty remembering things
- Headaches or other physical complaints.
Most people aren’t at either end, but somewhere along that continuum. They also move back and forth along it at different points in their lives.
The importance of routine
Working from home means many of the routines of everyday life are missing. Weekday and weekend can blur together. So too can work life and home life (and school life for those with kids). On top of this, a lot of things happening now are outside of our control.
Without formal separation between each aspect of our lives, maintaining our mental health means setting new routines of our own. We can’t be available for work all day, every day and not have it impact your wellbeing. Nor can we expect to be constantly productive if we’re constantly distracted by other intrusions.
To get around this, my advice is to map out a schedule for each day in advance – i.e. the night before – and then do your best to stick to it.
This schedule should include start and finish times for your working day. It should also take into account any meetings or calls and even have quiet, productive time blocked for when you need to be left alone to get things done.
It also becomes easier to establish your morning and evening routines when the family is together and daily time for exercise when you do this.
It’s always good for our mental health to end the day with a healthy activity, such as walking the dog, doing some yoga or something else that’s both relaxing and consistent.
Set the ground rules
Good mental health often depends on being able to get things done. When we feel unproductive, we also feel powerless. So, whether you’re living with the family, a partner, a flatmate or even in a share house, it’s vital that you set ground rules for how you’ll be living.
For instance, work out who’ll do the washing and cleaning and when that will take place. Make sure everyone understands which spaces are used for what purpose (and who gets them when). You should communicate your routine to your family, friends and colleagues where it’s appropriate so that they know when you can be interrupted and when you need to be left alone.
Be sure to take breaks away from your screen and your workspace. This could include going for a walk or the cafe. You should even block these into your daily schedule and stick to them.
Keep the lines of communication open
Isolation is one of the very worst things for our mental health. So if you and your workforce are working from home, it’s important that you stay connected.
In many ways, I like to treat time at the home desk, just as I would time at the office. That means using to connect personally for those times you’d appear at someone’s desk to ask something. It also means checking in and staying good morning and good evening to people personally.
Respond as quickly as you can to tasks, just as you would in the office. And don’t be afraid to interrupt people at times. You would if you were at work, and sometimes it can be a welcome distraction.
You should also be sure to use your meeting apps effectively, whether Zoom, Microsoft Teams or something else. Be sure to hold team meetings but make them productive. Have a meeting agenda, and only invite the people who need to be there.
Make sure you respect other people and their time too by starting and finishing when you say you will and limiting the call to 45 minutes.
That said, I don’t think there’s any such thing as over-communicating. So outside of your meetings, keep checking in, giving feedback and engaging in the workplace banter. You should also keep an eye on people and look for the warning signs.
Keep up the relationships
Humans are social creatures and it’s only natural that we’re all missing our work friend when we’re doing things remotely.
So use your chat channels and other means to keep up the same relationships you’d have in the workplace. Even have a coffee with them or meet them for a walk if you can.
Cut yourself some slack
Finally, be good to yourself and take advantage of the good things about working remotely. Meet someone for lunch, set your work hours to your own rhythm, and pop out to the local cafe for breaks when you need them.
It’s important that you know yourself and others and what motivates you. Then you’ll also understand what you can do to keep your engagement levels high. One thing I find that often helps is to switch off from media each day, especially unhealthy media. It’s too easy to get trapped in a pessimistic spiral and to believe everything is bad. Remember, we (almost) always have something to look forward to.
After all, maintaining a healthy perspective is one of the most important avenues to good mental health.
If you’d like to know more about what your organisation can do to promote wellness when working from home, get in touch.
Beyond Blue offers short-term counseling and referrals by phone and webchat. You can contact them on 1800 512 348 or visit their website at beyondblue.org.au