Tips for staying mentally healthy when working remotely

The latest statistics from Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016) indicate that 3.5 million Australians regularly work from home with this figure likely to be a lot higher as technology is more accessible with the introduction of NBN and other infrastructure.  In addition to this, many people have no option but to self-isolate and distance themselves overnight due to COVID-19.

However, home working brings its own challenges when it comes to staying physically and mentally healthy. Feeling isolated after only having the dog for company all day, finding yourself ‘just finishing things off’ at 11pm, or constantly fighting the temptation to polish off the leftover ice-cream are just some of the issues for those of us using our lounge room as an office.

We have compiled a list of common working from home concerns, and what you can do to alleviate the impact.

Could exacerbate feelings of isolation
Working from home can be lonely, especially when you haven’t done it before.
It is so important to:

  • Check-in with your colleagues regularly via video calls, phone, email or chat
  • Attend scheduled meetings online as a lot of software offers that capability
  • Get involved with a virtual community, e.g. LinkedIn.

The lines between work and home can blur and are challenging to turn off
As a result, you may find yourself logging more work hours, which may cut into your family time or affect your sleep schedule.
It is essential to:

  • Set boundaries and stick to a plan or else it can be easy to procrastinate or over-schedule yourself away from your job duties. Sticking to your regular routine i.e., waking up at the same time, showering, getting dressed, having breakfast, and lunch breaks will assist with sticking to a schedule.  Psychologically, this also supports with feelings of productivity; self-efficacy has a positive impact on health behaviours
  • Set up a dedicated physical workspace where you can go for work and that you can leave or walk away from after the workday is done
  • Track your hours and keep yourself accountable.

Appear busy
Working remotely creates a unique pressure to appear busy as you are not physically present in the office.
It is important to:

  • Log your time as you normally would when working from the office. Remember, you are most likely more productive now that you don’t have office distractions
  • Set limits to your workday and be careful not to exceed them
  • Remain focused, organised, and practice excellent communication. Emails and chats will now replace casual office banter, but still vital that you remember to get the message across.

Working in ergonomically unsound positions
Although it is very tempting to plunk yourself down in front of the TV, or even stay in bed with your laptop, your body and brain are not going to thank you for it long term.
It is so important to:

  • Set up a dedicated physical workspace where you can go for work, complete with a supportive chair and table/desk of suitable height
  • Use suitable lighting to avoid eye strain
  • Get up every hour to stretch.

Practicing unhealthy work-life habits
Home comes with a whole range of tempting options, from food to distractions.
Therefore, always try to:

  • Disconnect from work when your workday is complete
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy snacks and meals
  • Stretch regularly
  • Ensure you get out daily for sunshine and fresh air
  • Add time to your schedule for exercise, meditation, and other self-care practices

Communication is lost
Electronic communication cannot accurately convey tone, emotion, facial expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, oral speech, or face-to-face conversation, and it is likely messages will be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
When communicating, try your best to:

  • Use full words and proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation; a few extra seconds can make a world of difference
  • Keep formal conversations at a minimum and use voice chat/telephone for important exchanges of information
  • The human brain is a sense-making machine; if the information is absent, we will make up a motive, and usually, we are wrong! If you read something, and it makes you feel like you have been wronged, try and assume positive intent and clarify the intent with the sender (by picking up the phone and calling them).

It may take a little while to practice, but once you start to include these techniques in your day-to-day routine, it may help you stay healthy, destress and become more resilient to the pressures faced in your new working environment.

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