The highs and lows of working from home
Set the scene: working from home, 20 steps to the kitchen, kettle on, making tea, 20 steps back to my workspace. Rinse and repeat between Teams meetings throughout the day, five days a week.
In 2022, just over 30% of the UK’s workforce are working from home compared to 14.5% in 2019.1 Subsequently, this closing of the space between work life and home life is dwindling. Work/life balance, what balance!? Time mulching into one big sphere of sameness. The banality of predictability that tends to leave our mental health flailing in the waters of low mood and lethargy. Elements which if left unchecked and acknowledge can impact an individual’s mental health adversely. However, there is some research that supports positive impacts on your mental health. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) reported that 45% of those surveyed advised working from home was better for their mental health, as opposed to 29% who shared they felt it was worse.2 If you are someone who enjoys working from home, it may still be worthwhile reading further. Being aware of your mental health barometer is a great thing and being able to make small adjustments is likened to an emotional and mental-state service. We do it for cars, why not minds!?
For some, working from home predated the Covid pandemic and I am one of those individuals. I began working from home in April 2019. In truth, it took some adjustment. The socialisation gained from being part of a team, in a communal office space has its perks and on reflection, I didn’t know how much I missed that interaction until I no longer had the interaction. My experience is supported by the RSPH survey, stating that 67% of participants expressed that they felt a significant disconnect from colleagues when home working2. Although, to begin with, there was novelty value to this new style of working. For example, I could hang the washing out if it was a nice day or get the evening’s dinner promptly in the oven five minutes before the last meeting of the day. These getting ahead tasks are all very advantageous, and I repeatedly tell myself how thankful I should be to multitask in this way. Particularly during Covid because my job was as secure as it could be, and I was set up for home working, and a veteran of the staircase commute.
During those lockdown months, the novelty began to wear off and the lack of freedom and liberty was impacting my mood. This circumstance appeared to be similar to many friends and acquaintances I had spoken to. It slowly but surely became more difficult to remain chipper and inspired. It felt as though a workday was an endurance test that could be likened to Groundhog Day; you know the film where Bill Murray’s day resets each morning. Research has suggested that working from home does increase stress and anxiety and has been said the ‘always on’ i.e., not being able to switch off 2 phenomena is attributable to the overwhelming accessibility of technology and that the erosion of boundaries for accessing work outside of working hours is contributory to a decline of an individual’s mental health.3
It was clear I was getting into a rut (and continuous funk) that I needed to extricate myself from. Some of the changes I made may be able to help and support you if you’re struggling to adjust to home working and remain home working with your sanity intact.
Purpose: Don’t let the getting out of bedtime slip. Get up at least an hour before work and take some time for yourself, whether it is a cup of tea and reading a chapter of your book or creating a to-do list of the things you want to achieve that day.
Affirmation: daily affirmations are a great way to fill your soul with self-compassion. Begin with I am…... e.g., wise, healthy, and deserving, then move on to, I am thankful for…. e.g., blue skies, remembering to order Yorkshire Tea in the online shop, being able to wear joggers, matched with a professional-looking top to work. I also add affirmations to a blackboard wallpaper I have above my desk and use coloured chalk pens so that it is bright and reminds me of the positive.
Create separation: It is not always easy but where you can create separation between your workspace and your home space. For example, if you work in the dining room, spend more time in the living room, in your own time. If you don’t have the space, ensure you tidy away all your work equipment at the end of our workday. Be strict with your working day. It is so very easy to begin working longer hours without noticing the increase at first.
Exercise: I would exercise during my lunch hour. Sometimes only for half an hour or on each tea run, I’d complete ten squats or ten-star jumps. Getting your blood pumping and your body moving, in any capacity, can help to break the monotony and maintain good overall health.
A change is as good as rest: I have WFC days. Usually, once a fortnight but sometimes once a week. WFC is an abbreviation for Working from Café. I pick a café and I work from the café for an afternoon. I find that both treating myself to a nice coffee or lunch, alongside being in amongst the energy of life helps to break up your week and recharge your connection with humanity's energy bank.
Internal meetings: Who said you need to be static whilst you attend internal meetings, that you don’t need to formally present in? I often loop around the block with my work mobile, attending Teams call, with my headphones in. Getting fresh air and meeting your work commitments mean you are accomplishing two things at one time.
What we eat: simply put, the more unprocessed foods we can keep in our diet, the more health benefits we will see, both in physical and mental health.
Stay hydrated: being hydrated reduces the risk of the body producing cortisol, a stress hormone. Long-term periods of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression disorders.
Surround yourself with colour: I use neon sticky notes, a sun lamp in the winter, add plants to the room I work in and have a cute little plush dog that I sit my mobile phone in. It doesn’t matter what it is but surround yourself with things that brighten your day.
Worth noting as you consider what you have read so far is that there are benefits to working from home, over and above what has already been shared. The most obvious being the commute to work is mitigated, meaning more time can be spent with loved ones. Furthermore, remote working has meant employees can work from anywhere. Previously there were geographical restrictions on where you worked, whereas in the post-Covid era many more jobs are open to individuals, which has created a buoyant employment market that can afford to offer more in way of salaries due to the cost savings of not paying for office overheads.4 Lifting your gaze and taking view of the broader picture can sometime assist you in gaining perspective. Seeing that perhaps when you list all the pros and the cons of your situation that the benefits and challenges at the very least equate or if they don’t you have some suggested ways to help you improve not only your work/life balance but also your mental health in the process.
If any of the content you have read today does not resonate with you or your life situation, please do read further with the sources shared below. Also, please reach out to a health professional if you are struggling with your mental health. They will be able to provide invaluable support to you beyond this article.