How to practice self-care working from home
Working from home used to be fun. It was a treat, a one-off if your kids were sick, or an occasional tool used to get a head start on a weekend away. Now it’s been forced on us long term by a global pandemic? Not so much fun.
We all need to be proactive in implementing strategies to keep us physically and mentally healthy while we’re at home, and up our self-care game. Here are 11 ideas to get you started.
The connection between nature and mental health is now well documented, and it has been shown that spending time in the natural world can help with many mental health problems. If you’re lucky enough to have some green space nearby, use it as much as you can! Spend your lunch break there, take a walk to bookend your work day, or wake up on a walk with your coffee in a travel cup. If you need an incentive, you could try borrowing a neighbour’s dog on Borrow My Doggy, or even volunteer to walk a dog for someone’s who’s unwell or shielding on the NHS GoodSAM app. If not, plan a getaway to a park or National Trust property at the weekend to get some much needed time in nature.
Optimise your workspace
It’s well worth taking the time to make sure you are safe and comfortable in your at-home workspace. See if your company will spring for a proper office chair and a desk, and if not, consider making the investment yourself. Use what you’re saving on train fare to invest in your home office. An uncluttered desk is key to concentration, and it’s a good idea to hang some pictures (or even motivational quotes!) to make yourself feel at home in a nice environment.
If your office is also your spare room, you might want to take a trip to Ikea to rethink your storage so you’ve got as much space as possible to work in.
Keep your space clean too! Be sure to wipe your desk, screen, mouse, keyboard and phone over with an antibacterial wipe regularly, and sanitize your hands too.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is much more important than most of us realise, and it’s absolutely essential for concentration, focus and mood. Set yourself a bedtime and an alarm for the morning to make sure you get the hours you need. Many modern smartphones have this function built in, so dive into your phone’s settings to see what it can do for you. It’s worth turning off your phone’s blue light after dark too, so you’re not inadvertently keeping yourself up with late night texting. Watch your caffeine intake during the afternoon, and beat the mid-afternoon slump with hydration, nutrient-dense snacks or exercise instead!
Exercise is key to our mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve our mental health instantly after the workout, plus over time if you exercise regularly. That release of endorphins does wonders for us! During the pandemic, it might be safest to take up running and cycling rather than hitting the gym, log in to a YouTube workout on your phone or smart TV or sign up for Zoom yoga classes.
It’s also possible you’re sitting still for longer periods of time away from the hubbub and social interactions of the office environment, and of course you’re no longer walking to the train station or bus stop, so it’s more important than ever to move our bodies and keep them healthy, flexible and strong.
It’s amazing what a well-balanced and varied diet can do for us. Plan your weekly meals and snacks in advance, and make sure you stick to them by doing a big online shop in advance, rather than popping to the corner shop every time you get hungry. Choose nutrient-dense snacks such as nuts, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt instead of crisps, cake and chocolate which won’t provide you with much valuable, long lasting energy.
During a time when it’s more difficult for us to get to the shops regularly, stock up your freezer. Cook healthy meal staples in bulk and freeze them in batches, and invest in frozen vegetables, fruit (frozen raspberries are great on porridge!), and things like sweet potato fries or wedges for a quick and tasty dinner if you’re out of fresh produce.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated too! Keep a refillable bottle of water on your desk (many bottles will now also keep your water cold too!) and take short breaks to top it up or make yourself a herbal tea.
With the benefits of meditation (also known as mindfulness) now well documented, it’s something we should all be giving a go. Just 10 days of using Headspace can increase your happiness by 16%, and 4 weeks can improve your focus by 14%. That’s got to be worth a try, surely?
Beyond this, incorporating mindfulness and being consciously present in our everyday lives can also bring huge benefits and increase our mood. Another important reason to make time for yourself and switch off from work when you can.
Take the time to connect with your colleagues and your boss to prevent you becoming too lonely and isolated. Daily and weekly check-ins with your boss to touch base about what you’re working on and what’s expected of you are a great way of keeping you both accountable, as well as providing such much needed social interaction. Say yes to the group quizzes and Monday morning group Zoom calls with your coffee, and keep your work friends close by on your company chat system to keep up to date with them. There’s a reason humans work in groups - we thrive in tribes and we feel sad when we’re isolated, so do as much as you can to stay connected with your work colleagues.
Take a break from the screen
Give your eyes and your brain a rest and allow yourself plenty of screen-free time during your evenings and weekends. Take up a new hobby such as reading (an actual book if possible!), sewing, gardening, calligraphy or baking. Plan at-home date nights with your partner or housemates that aren’t just watching movies - play cards, cook dinner together and eat at the table (rather than in front of the TV), go for a walk or book a table at a bar for a change of scenery (COVID rules permitting). Take the time to connect with your social circle, and play board games or quizzes together, or call a friend on the phone, not a video chat!
Stick to a schedule
Sticking to a regular routine, as you would if you were going into the office everyday, can be really good for us when working at home. Get up at the same time Monday-Friday, get washed and dressed, brush your teeth and eat your breakfast before you sit down at your desk. This helps things feel normal and gets you in the right frame of mind for work, as well as making sure you’re taking care of yourself in the process! Set an alarm for a quick coffee break mid-morning, and one for lunchtime, as well as the end of the day. If it helps, set yourself a schedule for your workday with your tasks mapped out in hourly blocks. This helps keep you on track, as well as breaking up your day and keeping you engaged.
This is often recommended by therapists and counsellors to help us process what’s going on in our minds. Clear your mind at the end of the day by writing a to do list for the morning, or do 5 minutes of free writing. Let your brain fun free and put your stream of consciousness onto paper. It’s amazing what can happen when we just let our brain do its thing!
It’s a good idea to maintain a strict work-life balance to allow yourself to properly recharge and enable you to log on refreshed and well rested the next day. Switch off your laptop at the end of the workday and leave it on your desk. Delete your work email account from your phone, or turn off the notifications in the evenings at the very least. While there may be pressure to be available 24/7, it’s just not conducive to happy, loyal and productive employees, so don’t get sucked in. Most of us don’t live to work, so why let working from home disrupt your fiercely guarded work-life balance?