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This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

In these unprecedented times, many of us are finding ourselves forced to work from home for the first time. The situation does not appear to be changing for the foreseeable future, so individuals must take careful steps to ensure they maintain a healthy work environment at home: just because the workplace has moved does not mean that workplace health is not a concern. With that in mind, here are 7 tips to keep your mental health in check while working from home.

One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy while working from home is to structure your time. Many people find themselves with no separation between working hours and recreational hours, which can lead to stress, lower productivity, and feelings of burnout. Set specific clock-in and clock-out times, and stick to them; if you’re supposed to stop work at 5pm, then put everything down as soon as the time arrives. It’s also important to schedule regular breaks throughout the working day. A popular technique to maximise productivity with regular breaks is the pomodoro method, which involves working on a specific task for a short amount of time (traditionally 25 minutes), then taking a short break (traditionally 5 minutes). A longer break is then implemented after 4 repetitions. One 2008 study from the University of Illinois found that regular short breaks like this keep you more focused and energised than long, gruelling sessions, so implementing a similar time management technique can be invaluable for the home working experience (1).

Another way to maintain workplace health at home is to designate a separate space that is only used for work. Even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table, having a specific location that is used only for work and which you leave as soon as work is over helps your brain separate work time from play time, and keeps you more productive while working, but more relaxed when it’s time for recreation. Under normal circumstances, this function is served by the morning routine and the commute between home and the office, but when there is no commute between home and the office, one must take it upon themselves to segregate work and play by location.

Similarly, going through your normal morning routine, including showering, grooming, and getting dressed, can help tell your brain that you are preparing for work and make your working hours more productive and healthier. The picture many of us have of working from home involves wearing pyjamas all day, but the reality is that preparing for work like one normally would is essential to keep work and recreation separate in the mind, and thus maintain a mentally healthy work environment.

While keeping a designated work environment is a good idea, it’s best not to stay there all day. Studies have shown a link between more green space and stress reduction (3), so make sure to spend some amount of time outdoors every day; you could go for a quick walk during a short scheduled break, or do your daily exercise in the garden. Spending some time out in the sun will help keep stress at bay and improve your general mental condition. Having natural light in your workspace will also have a similar effect, so try to work somewhere with plenty of windows. 

Exercise is a cornerstone of mental health in general, but when working from home, it’s especially important to keep up a regular exercise regimen. Studies have shown time and time again the “positive effects of exercise on mood states such as anxiety, stress and depression” (2). Normally, even if one is not accustomed to exercising, commuting and moving around while going about the day provides some level of mild physical exertion. When working remotely, this small amount of exercise is completely absent, so it is even more essential to schedule and make time for regular exercise.  

When working from home, it’s easy to get sucked into your job and forget about other aspects of life. So as important as work may be, you must be careful not to neglect your social life. A healthy and active social life is not only important for mental health but can also help develop interpersonal skills that are important for leadership and effective work. The current circumstances make this harder due to the restrictions against seeing friends or family in person but make an effort to talk to loved ones over the phone, on video calls, or via text. It’ll keep you healthy and make you better at your job.

The final tip to stay healthy while working from home is to keep a consistent sleep schedule. When there’s no office to go to, and no time you have to be in by, it’s easy to get into a cycle of perpetually waking up as late as possible before the first thing you have to do for the work day. However, waking up and going to sleep at different times every day stops you from developing a consistent sleep cycle, and thus lowers the quality of the sleep you do get. Therefore, it’s important to set a wakeup time and a bedtime and stick to them every day, to ensure that not only are you getting the 8 hours of sleep that you need, but they are of the best quality possible. Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone”, so having an irregular sleep cycle can have real and lasting negative effects on mental health (4).

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s easy to feel like we’re losing control over our lives. But when thrust into an unfamiliar situation, it’s important to maintain a grip on the things that are under your control. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to stay physically and mentally healthy, even when working from home for an extended period of time.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health and safety, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. Giesbrecht BA. Pomodoro Technique for time management. :4.
  2. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017 Dec 1;106:48–56.
  3. Ward Thompson C, Roe J, Aspinall P, Mitchell R, Clow A, Miller D. More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2012 Apr 15;105(3):221–9.
  4. Song H, Sun X, Yang T, Zhang L, Yang J, Bai J. Effects of sleep deprivation on serum cortisol level and mental health in servicemen. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2015 Jun 1;96(3):169–75.
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