Working from home? Here's how you can stay mentally healthy

When you tell people that you work from home, the general theme of answer is “oh you’re so lucky - I would love to do that!”. 

Not travelling to work every day, making your own rules and times and wearing whatever you like, can sound like a dream. Which came as a huge surprise to me when two weeks in - working from home started taking a negative toll on my mental health.

Working from home can create serious social isolation and disconnection - which makes sense when the only interaction you have all day is your pet. Plus by having the same space as your personal and professional life, it makes it really hard to switch off and the stress you normally leave behind at the office is suddenly always present. 

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, more than 50% of Australians work remotely or outside regular work hours, with the home being the most popular location. This figure is likely to grow as technology becomes even more accessible, which means there’s a growing number of us becoming more isolated.

To create the best environment for you to work from home, try these tips:

#1 Get showered and dressed

Pretty basic huh. It’s very tempting to just sit in your pjs all day whilst typing on your laptop but it’s probably not best for your mental health. Experts believe that you adopt the characteristics associated with what you’re wearing, so instead of staying in your pyjamas all day, put on an outfit you’d likely wear to the office. Feeling competent isn’t just about productivity: research has shown that self-efficacy has a positive impact on our health behaviours.

#2 Schedule your entire day (which includes getting out of the house)

If you're worried about not being productive at home, new research from Stanford University has found that working from home can actually increase productivity. Due to the serenity of being uninterrupted at home, our work sessions can become deeply focused which is great for productivity, but terrible for ergonomic health. The distractions of coworkers and bustling office activity subconsciously prompt us to take a break from our sedentary work often enough to maintain visual, auditory, mental and chiropractic health.

Try to plan your day so it includes a lunch time walk (even just 15-20mins is enough) and one exercise session either morning or night. This ensures that at least twice a day, you’re moving and out of the house. I also like to walk up to our local cafe every second day, which gets me moving, caffeinated and I have some social interaction with the baristas. 

#3 Set up a separate office space

I have recently stopped myself from working in bed, as this can interfere with trying to relax and wind down later on. If you don’t have enough space for a desk or office, try using only one spot as your “office” - e.g. a specific chair at your dining table. This will create associations with your brain with work and that area, so you can create a distinction between your professional and personal life in your mind. 


#4 Be vigilant and organise social catch-ups

When you’re working from home the daily face-to-face interactions with coworkers no longer happens, so it’s especially important to connect with people in new ways. 

If you have the cash, trying signing up for a casual pass to a co-working space (even if you go just once a month, it normally costs up to $50 a day), or alternatively try to work from your local cafe or library. Even just the background noise from people is somewhat comforting!

I also recently signed up to a local women’s networking community which meets every fortnight. Even though networking makes me cringe, it’s a good way to make connections even if it’s just for friendship.

On a personal level, ensure that you’re booking in social dates: think coffee or wine catch-ups with the girls, putting on a dinner, trying a new class or going for a hike with your bff.

#5 Practice self-care

Working from home usually means that you’ve got to be your own boss and it means you’re also the only one doing the work. This can lead to be seriously stressed so it’s important to incorporate self-care into your routine. If you find yourself struggling with mood changes when working from home, find tools that you can work into your day to help. It could be talking with a therapist, meditation, yoga or writing in a journal.