Looking after your mental health: tips for remote and furloughed workers
We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, so it’s safe to say we’re all experiencing some uncomfortable feelings right now. It is perfectly natural to feel stressed, anxious and uncertain in this situation. In fact, according to the ONS nearly half of adults in the UK are currently reporting high levels of anxiety.
Working from home can negatively impact our mental health under regular circumstances, as we lose those vital social connections within the office, and are prone to get outside and move less. For those with existing mental health problems, this problem is further intensified. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we do all we can to tend to our mental health and engage in activities that are proven to help us become more calm, stable and resilient.
So for those of us working from home, on furlough or otherwise currently unable to work, let’s explore some practical ways to care for our mental well being whilst in lockdown.
Acknowledge your feelings
This is big, scary stuff. No matter what your individual circumstances, we’re all going through some degree of trauma. That’s going to affect each and every one of us in innumerable ways. How you feel and how well you are able to function as ‘normal’ will vary from week-to-week, day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.
Take notice of how you feel, of what emotions, thoughts and behaviours may be popping up. Try not to get frustrated with yourself or those close to you for having these reactions. Resist putting on too much pressure on yourself, and those around you, to ‘thrive’ or ‘achieve’ right now. Take it day by day, and focus first and foremost on caring for yourself and your loved ones.
Working from home, for most of us, usually means moving less. Experts suggest that just 20 minutes of exercise a day and cut your risk of developing depression by a third. For the millions of people already dealing with mental health problems, physical activity is a vital part of many’s stay well plans, and there is growing evidence to support the theory that exercise - particularly exercising outdoors - can elevate our mood and leave us feeling more emotionally stable.
Stay well by incorporating regular activity into your daily routine. If it is safe to do so, get moving outside by going for walks, runs and bike rides. You can also get a really good workout without leaving the house. There are literally thousands of workouts, pilates, dance and yoga classes available on YouTube, Zoom and other video sharing platforms.
You are what you eat
It’s very tempting to turn to chocolate, crisps and booze for comfort right about now. But, if we allow our diets to become unhealthy we are risking our mental, as well as our physical health. Studies show an unhealthy diet (high in trans fats, sugar, processed and refined foods) increases the risk of depression. Conversely, a healthy diet (consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean, unprocessed proteins) has been shown to be as effective as social interventions in the treatment of depression.
That being said, now is also not the time for guilt-tripping or denying yourself small pleasures. Try to eat as healthily and mindfully as circumstances allow, without being too hard on yourself for the odd indulgence.
Go outside (if you can)
Getting enough natural light in the waking hours is important for sleep (more on that next) and ecotherapy (time spent in nature) has been shown to help ease conditions including anxiety, depression and OCD. Time spent out of doors helps maintain both physical and mental wellbeing.
Now, some of us will not be able to get outside much for a while. If you are unable to leave the house, you can still get a little ecotherapy in your life. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, spend as much time as you can out there. In the house, sit near open windows and surround yourself with house plants (you can even grow plenty of plants - including edible ones! - from food scraps).
It’s hard to drag yourself away from the newscycle at the moment, but constant updates are not helpful. Too much news will distract you from your work and lead to greater feelings of anxiety and stress. Limit yourself to a certain number of ‘check ins’ a day if you’re finding it hard to keep away from the news or social media.
Give yourself a break from constant Coronavirus news with some other news, for example the Guardian has this dedicated round up of non Coronavirus news.
It could also be a good idea to impose ‘digital downtime’ on yourself and your family - a curfew in the evening to stop looking at your phone, stop watching the news and allow yourself to wind down. The iPhone’s Do Not Disturb mode is great for this - allowing you to screen all but the most important calls and ignore everything else until tomorrow.
Replacing endless scrolling with calming activities will help still a busy mind. Unwind after work with meditation, yoga, reading, art, crafting, puzzles - whatever works for you.
Sleep is a tough one. Sleeping well is so important for our mental and physical health, but it is not something we can directly control. At times of high stress and significant change, sleep tends to elude us, just when we need it the most.
While we can’t force ourselves to sleep well, we can improve our chances by priming our minds and bodies for sleep. A healthy diet, exercise, getting outside, rest and relaxation - all these things we’ve already mentioned - are shown to have a positive impact on our quality of sleep. Listen to this episode of the Feel Better Live More Podcast for GP-approved advice on improving your sleep quality.
Finally, look for the positives
Let’s be clear - this whole situation is awful. People are suffering, dying, we are scared, stressed and frustrated. But this one little part of it, the being at home part, is not all bad news. It is useful to try and train our minds to seek out the positive aspects of our circumstances, and focus on the things for which we are most grateful.
For starters, those of us working from home should remember that we are fortunate to still be in work, and able to do that work from the safety and comfort of our homes while others risk their health to provide us with vital services.
Other, slightly more frivolous, positives could include:
- Being able to listen to your own music/podcasts (a continual source of conflict in the brightfive office!).
- Eat your funky smelling lunch without getting any dirty looks from your office mates.
- Less time wasted in travel - no one misses sitting in rush hour traffic, surely.
- Time with your pets, partner or kids (although this may bring its own challenges!).
We asked our team what silver linings they’ve been particularly grateful for during lockdown...
“My son and daughter’s relationship has become stronger. When Dan left for uni in October they naturally grew apart. But now they are enjoying walking the dog together, running together and have also resurrected the Wii, playing on Wii Fit and Mario Kart together again like they did when they were younger.” Ellie
“Reconnecting with friends (albeit over video calls), going for a walk is great (who knew?), and I can now do a whole Joe Wicks session without stopping.” Jamie
“I've realised that this time with our children is a gift - with a 10 year old who is quickly growing in independence and a 4 year old starting full time school in September, this is a one-off chance to spend time with them that I never usually get - and I am really enjoying it.” Katie
Share your thoughts, comments and tips for staying healthy at home on our social media channels (linked below).