We all know the pros of working from home. It’s flexible, avoids the stress of an office environment and negates the need for the daily commute. Many people choose home working because their mental or physical health needs cannot be easily accommodated in the workplace, yet making your home your office can bring new challenges. Some people miss the social contact, whether that’s grabbing your manager for an informal one-to-one or catching up with colleagues by the water cooler. With no imposed structure, managing your day and differentiating work and leisure time can be tricky. So how can you organise your workload whilst managing your emotional wellbeing?
1) Find your “virtual office.” What professional networks can you tap into? The SVA’s forum is a brilliant place for discussing home working issues, so if you haven’t yet registered, it’s time to get connected. If you provide support in a specific field you may find online professional communities by searching Twitter hashtags, Linked-In groups or Facebook pages. It’s well worth playing around with social media to find the people who understand what it is you do all day.
2) Find your real life supporters. Who do you know who might also be at home alone? Since I left the office I’ve developed a network of people who need social contact as much as I do. Some are, like me, self-employed – I meet regularly with photographers, journalists and a psychotherapist –some are retired or at home with young children. What we do is less important than the fact we all have to manage long days at home alone (and the fact we all like cake). If you aren’t able to the leave the house, could you maintain similar relationships via phone or Skype?
3) Establish boundaries. With no colleagues heading to the sandwich shop and no cleaners emptying your bin it can be easy to forget you need a lunch break or notice that your working day should have ended. For a good night’s sleep we all need time away from stimulating activities, including use of computers and phones, so our brains can wind down. Some boundaries may have to be negotiated with others (for example, making it clear that you won’t take work calls after a certain time) but it can be just as hard to be firm with ourselves. You could try using an alarm to mark the end of your working day, or find an early evening TV show you like to give you a reason to down tools. If you’re still tempted to work into the evening, try asking an online or real life buddy to call, text or email you to remind you when it’s time to detach.
4) Get physical. Sitting still for hours been linked to poor physical health outcomes, and getting moving can be a great way of allowing your mind to shift gears and de-stress. You could head to the leisure centre for a swim or a gym break, but a walk around the block or a spot of gardening can be just as beneficial. If leaving your home or even your living room is difficult, could you step away from the keyboard for some gentle yoga or a fitness DVD?
5) Seek emotional support. Whether you’re experiencing work stress for the first time or living with a lifelong mental health problem, there’s a support resource out there for you. Mind provides information via its Infoline and booklets as well as offering peer support through elefriends, a safe space where people can share their experiences with others. Remote help is also available via SANE’s forum, Rethink’s helpline and the Black Dog Tribe, a social networking platform for anyone experiencing mental illness. It is also becoming ever more common for mental health charities to offer online forums, live chat or phone support for a specific condition (for example, Anxiety UK, Bipolar UK) so whatever you’re struggling with, there’s a group out there full of people who know what you’re going through.
We all know in broad terms the kind of things we should be doing to protect our wellbeing when working at home. The challenge is in deciding our own health is important enough to nurture. It’s time for me step away from the laptop, but I’ll leave you with a challenge: what specific change are you prepared to make today to support your mental health?
Charlotte Walker is a mental health blogger and activist. She works as an Expert by Experience for mental health charity Mind, giving talks on living with bipolar disorder. Her blog, purple persuasion, won the This Week In Mentalists best mood disorder blog 2012 and is shortlisted for this year’s Mark Hanson Digital Media Award at the Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards. You can follow Charlotte on Twitter as @BipolarBlogger or find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BipolarBlogger