It has been a full year since I started working from home. Let’s say my mental health has been all over the place.
People always talked about how cool it would work from home. After having a work-from-home internship in the fall of 2018, I realized it wasn’t my thing. I enjoyed socializing with my co-workers, getting out of my house, and communicating with my team face-to-face. Imagine my surprise when my company’s CEO told us to start working from home. I was less than pleased. There were so many things I was going to miss about working in an office: the free snacks, walks to Starbucks with co-workers, and listening to the fountains in the building lobby. I understood that the whole point was to stay safe, but my mental health quickly deteriorated.
As an ambivert, I enjoy my peace but also need the energy from social settings. I had set boundaries. The office was for work, and my house was for relaxation.
Since the start of Covid, I find myself having stress-induced anxiety attacks, not sleeping well, and even causing severe eye strain. There are even days where I struggle to get up when I used to jump out of bed to get to work.
And to make matters worse, I always feel like I have to be on the clock. Since I really can’t do much out in the real world, working seemed to be my only option. I would catch myself checking Slack, emails, and Google Calendar constantly. I would immediately answer any messages, skip lunch, and go to bed late to get the next day’s work done ahead of time to make myself look better.
Things haven’t gotten much better since a year ago, but I will say that I have been much stricter about my work/life balance. I have learned my symptoms of work burnout when my depression is work-related and reduce anxiety. Here are my mandatory rules to maintain that work/life balance.
Stick to a Schedule
I have a schedule that I try to follow every weekday. I wake up, workout, shower, eat breakfast, work, and spend the evening relaxing or doing small chores around the house. During the weekends, I try to work on the blog, watch movies, and unwind.
Sticking to a schedule can help reduce our stress levels because no matter how crazy the day can be, knowing what will come next can create a feeling of ease. It also allows us to prioritize things that matter, such as family time, meditating, or going to bed early.
Set Physical and Mental Boundaries
I am not going to lie: I am the worst at setting boundaries for working. But I had to force myself to learn if I wanted to be mentally healthy. Stick to a time block of when you are expected to work. Done with work? Log out of everything. It will remove any temptations from checking emails, Slack messages, or anything of the such when you are out.
When I take time off, I delete Slack and remove my email from the Gmail app. I also log out of my email and Slack on my laptop. The temptation is gone, and I can focus on myself. I also recommend downloading security apps, such as Self-Control, to blacklist any work websites.
Establish Your “Office”
I moved in June 2020 to the other side of the duplex. My husband and I made the mistake of sharing an office. We have similar schedules, so we had to share schedules, so we knew when the other had to leave if we had Zoom calls occurring simultaneously. It was a pain in the butt.
Now, my husband and I have different “offices.” I am in our little office, and my husband is in the den. Establishing our spaces has given us work privacy, more space to decompress, silence, and most importantly, it makes us feel like we are apart even though we are under the same roof. I also treat my office as if I was at work. I am only allowed to work on work stuff in a particular room, and if I leave, I cannot check any message or do work.
I HIGHLY recommend not to work in your bedroom because you will not be able to set a boundary, and it can affect your mental health. Use a dining room table, kitchen bar, or coffee table to set up your home office and put everything away nearby.
And you do not need a fancy setup. Get creative, whether it is using books as book stands or a notebook as a mousepad. Find what works best for YOU. But if you want to spoil yourself, go ahead. My husband bought me a standing desk for my birthday to help me stay more focused and improve my posture.
Leave Your “Office” (and your house)
I take two breaks during my work block: noon for lunch and 3 p.m. to check the mail. I use that time to leave my office, stretch, grab snacks, or even go outside to breathe some fresh air. By taking these breaks, I allow my body and brain to relax. Studies have shown that taking breaks can help with productivity. Plus, taking breaks from the screen will help your eyes in the long run.
If you don’t know what to do during your break, I highly recommend taking a quick 15-minute walk around your neighborhood. Other ideas are to stretch, do some breathing exercises, drink water, or eat. I use my husband’s Headspace account to meditate when I really need to zone out. Sometimes I will move my morning workout to the middle of the day to give my day some spice.
Recognize Your Needs
Be honest with your family, friends, and co-workers about your needs. If you need alone time, tell the people around you if they could give you some privacy. Or, if you need to talk, schedule virtual happy hours, game nights, or movie times with your friends and co-workers. On days where I have back-to-back calls, I force myself to get away from my desk to avoid Zoom fatigue.
My husband and brother know that if I have my headset or headphones on, I am on a call or under a tight deadline. As I wear the headset, I should not be bothered unless something happened or they bring me tea.
Recognize your needs and be open and honest about what you need with those around you.
Take Care of Yourself
It is easier now to develop unhealthy habits such as eating more junk or drinking more alcohol. Keep yourself accountable for not developing those unhealthy habits. Consider drinking more water, trying to eat healthier snacks, or at least not overeating unhealthy snacks. Consider adding some ways to help your mental health, such as journaling, meditating, stretching, or even doing some yoga poses. And if you are getting overwhelmed with the news, try to block it out for a certain amount of time.
I have unfollowed plenty of news sources from Twitter to keep my feed clean, and it has done wonders for my mental health. I do get a daily newsletter from the NYT to keep me informed about Coronavirus, but that is usually my only news source.
Other ways I take care of myself include buying a water jug to keep track of my water intake and journaling every single night. I also try to stretch every few hours and make time to work out, even if it’s 15 minutes. By doing all of this, you can allow your brain to rest and not think about work.
Working from home has so many advantages, but it can disrupt your home life. Even a year after working from my house’s comfort, my mental health has been all over the place. Just make sure you are keeping an eye out for yourself and those around you. Use your vacation/sick time if you can, and see what resources are available for you through your work, non-profits, or insurance.
Post Updated: March 10, 2021
Post Originally Published: April 7, 2020