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How to look after our mental health while working from home

WFH. Social distancing. Furlough. These are some of the terms that have become the new normal in this strange time.

With a third of the global population now in some form of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, most people are either working from home, on furlough or have sadly lost their jobs. Although this means no more suits and easy access to the fridge for as many snack breaks as you want, isolation is taking its toll on peoples’ mental - as well as physical - health.

The uncertainty of how long the restrictions will last is anxiety-inducing, not to mention the fear of contracting the virus yourself. Furthermore, parents are now faced with the near-impossible task of homeschooling while the schools have closed their doors - in Spain, children haven’t even been allowed to go outside for a walk for six weeks. All of this coupled with the frustration of being cooped up inside while the sun shines the other side of the window is not conducive to a happy, healthy working environment.

So what can we do to look after our mental health while working from home?

Connect

With all those unexpected interactions that occur in the office, face-to-face meetings and even just sitting down to have lunch together gone, it’s really important to stay connected with your team. This comes with its own unique challenges though - maybe there are people on your team that you’d chat to in person but sending a message on Slack to see how they are seems somehow more formal and significant. At these moments, it’s good to remember that they probably feel the same way and would welcome you starting the conversation!

A tradition at Brightec is to play games over lunchtime (my favourite is Coup) so we’ve been trying out various different online games like Skribbl to keep that going. You can read more about some of these here. This is a good time for chatting, catching up and just enjoying spending time with your colleagues without the pressure of a one-to-one conversation.

We’ve also started having an end of week catch up as a team which is a time for us to reflect on the week gone by, talk about weekend plans or just keep changing Zoom backgrounds to progressively more ridiculous things. This has been a really helpful addition to the week because it allows those interactions with people you might not necessarily chat to normally, and just to see your colleagues’ faces is such an easy way of feeling like part of a team. Read more about this here.

Disconnect

Not only is it vital to check in with others, but also to check in with yourself! Having so much time at home, and potentially by yourself if you live alone, is a good opportunity for some introspection and self care. If you have a tidy, uncluttered desk, that can help with feeling more productive and organised. It’s also worth having a plant or two on your desk to improve the quality of air and to bring some nature inside when you can’t go outside as much as you’d like. Having something to look after that isn’t too demanding can be a good way to establish a routine. Plus, you get to see it grow! Simple things like aiming to get outside every day for a walk, reading that book you’ve never had time for or trying your hand at making a trendy dalgona coffee are also great things to do on your lunch break to get away from your computer.

On your days off or at the weekend, try setting aside certain times of the day where you are screen-free. If you’ve got the resources, you could also have a go at doing something creative, whether that’s drawing, writing, making music or even just doing some colouring-in! There’s lots of printable colouring sheets as well as some really lovely adult colouring books.

Remember this is not forever

Although it might feel as though this has been going on for months, and even though at the moment the end isn’t yet in sight, just to remember that this isn’t forever is so important. Going ‘back to normal’ isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s likely that lots of things won’t revert to how they were before. We all miss our friends that we can’t see, our families that we can’t hug, our daily routines that we took for granted. For many, this will be the hardest experience of their life so far. With businesses becoming financially unstable, our loved ones falling ill and the global economy thrown into uncertainty it’s easy to feel hopeless or even lethargic and numb. It would be naive to expect anything different.

But there are things to be hopeful for - we will see our friends again, hearing a daily death toll on the radio will become a distant memory and as a global community we will come through this together. Something I find helpful is to follow positive news accounts on social media - a few examples are Good Good Good, The Happy Newspaper and The Happy Broadcast. This helps me remember that there is good news - and at this time, it’s essential reading. Seeing the level of global cooperation in the scientific community, reading about local communities helping each other and celebrating our NHS and social care workers is a great reminder of how powerful kindness and collaboration is.

So be gentle and kind to yourself, and others. Help your vulnerable neighbours out if you’re able to, check in with that colleague you haven’t spoken to for a while, remember to ask how someone is doing even if they call you for work related conversations. Working from home can be inefficient and distracting sometimes, but just know that for now you’re doing the best that you can given these unprecedented circumstances.

And that’s ok.


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