Taking care of your mental health while working remotely
The ability to recognize and name your emotions, maintaining and growing relationships with coworkers, setting boundaries and separating your work from your private life – these are all incredibly important aspects of caring for your mental health while working from home. It is, however, easy to forget about them amongst a multitude of tasks. Therefore, building healthy habits is so important in keeping a level head.
What impacts your wellbeing negatively while working remotely?
The topic of wellbeing and health of remote workers has gained a lot of attention amongst researchers due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns and their significant effect on the job market – many workers remained at home or adopted the hybrid model even after restrictions had been lifted. Many of them quickly realized that working in a home office is a lot like running your own business. On one hand, the freedom of paddling your own canoe can be intoxicating, on the other, you come across problems you would not have encountered otherwise. Even if you are absolutely convinced remote work is your dream come true, you must be ready for some inconvenience. This isn’t to say you should forfeit remote work and go back to the office but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to protect your physical and mental wellbeing.
One of the negative aspects of remote work is the toxic productivity we wrote about earlier. It can manifest itself as inability to leave your workstation for even a short break; by feeling like you need to be in front of the screen at all times, ready to respond to emails, constantly racing to complete all tasks in record speed and thus proving your worth. Such attitude is accompanied by chronic stress, tension, and exhaustion which could lead to professional burnout or even psychosomatic conditions.
According to research done by the Royal Society for Public Health, the feelings of isolation and loneliness are a notable problem amongst remote workers: a video call cannot substitute real-life interaction with your coworkers. Virtual meetings can also cause more stress in some people and make them feel pressured to always look immaculate in the camera lens.
Another pressing issue around remote work is putting a clear divide between your private and professional lives. Completely ‘switching off’ at the end of a workday often turns out much more challenging than expected, and failure to do so could put unnecessary pressure on your relationships.
Our mental and physical health are closely connected and neglecting one can easily impact the other. Like in a delicate ecosystem, your psychological wellbeing can be affected by physical ailments such as chronic back pain, insomnia, or migraines.
How to take care of your mental health in a home office?
Looking after your mental health and wellbeing starts with creating healthy habits. Taking regular breaks and paying attention to your work hours so that you have time for things other than work - working out, meeting friends, or immersing yourself in a hobby – is essential. You can also plan a digital detox and spend a day or a whole weekend completely unplugged; turn off your devices, log out of social media, and avoid the news. The less additional stimuli you expose yourself to, the easier it is to relax, calm your mind, and decrease stress levels.
Taking care of your relationship with co-workers can decrease the feeling of isolation, let you know your colleagues better, and improve communication.
In order to decrease the risk of cultivating toxic productivity, find out what time of day is best for you in terms of energy levels and motivation. This will help you schedule tasks that require the most effort and concentration around this period. Additionally, learn to prioritize – categorizing your tasks will allow you to better organize your work and decrease its pressure.
Having a separate, designated space to do your work in, even if it is just one corner in the living room, will also help with drawing clear lines between what’s professional and what’s private. Try to make this space especially comfortable and ergonomic to prevent musculoskeletal issues.
Remember to stay hydrated, maintain a balanced diet and regular mealtimes, get an appropriate amount and quality of sleep, as well as physical activity and fresh air – these everyday, seemingly small actions are hugely important to living a balanced life.
And if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. Not only professional help of, for example, a psychotherapist, but also help from the people closest to you, your friends, family, and coworkers.
Effective and empathetic communication
One of the most significant elements that affect our mental wellbeing is the atmosphere in our place of work – a toxic, unpleasant environment full of misunderstandings and arguments can seriously hinder mental stability. How then do you foster healthy relationships with your coworkers?
Our remote team has recently taken part in a NVC workshop on nonviolent communication. During this session we learned to name our feelings and emotions, describe situations, events, and statements without judgement or interpretation, listen with empathy and understanding, formulate requests and distinguish them from demands. One of NVC’s objectives is understanding other people (also yourself) and their needs by observing which of them they are signaling in their statements. This helps in building stronger and healthier interpersonal relationships, communicating more effectively and empathetically, as well as resolving any issues and misunderstandings (or even preventing them).
The NVC coach Paulina Orbitowska-Fernandez emphasizes that communication is a complex process happening as much on the inside (intrapersonal) as on the outside (interpersonal).
On the other hand, it is important to be aware that other people’s statements are influenced by their needs and are not necessarily aimed at us. By skillfully asking them questions, we can get to the bottom of their motivations and, keeping our own needs in mind, seek a win-win solution.
The 4 fundamental components of nonviolent communication are:
- Observation – which allows for objective, neutral description of an event or a situation, statement, or behavior while rejecting generalizations and subjective interpretations by simply registering facts as they are, like a camera would,
- Feelings – naming and describing feelings requires us to focus on our own internal experiences without assuming what the other person thinks of us – by saying “I feel misunderstood” you suggest the other person does not understand you, which is a subjective interpretation of their feelings; by saying “I feel sad” you communicate your own feelings,
- Needs – identifying, naming, and expressing needs require focusing on a certain human experience and not a strategy – “I want to go to the movies” describes a strategy, a way of fulfilling your need to unwind or get inspired, whereas “I want to grow” expresses a need for personal development. With the skills to distinguish needs from strategies of fulfillment, you can let go of specific strategies for your needs and open yourself up to new possibilities,
- Requests – by voicing a request, we show the other person (or a group) a specific strategy and plan of action to fulfill our current need and ask them for help in achieving it. Remember that a request differs from a demand because it can be denied, in which case you need to find an alternative route. It is also important to consider whether a positive response is an enthusiastic agreement or a result of fear, shame, or a feeling of obligation.
A company which adapts empathetic communication has a greater chance to increase psychological comfort and wellbeing of its employees, but also improve the quality of their work:
Taking care of your mental health requires certain effort, self-reflection, and creation of healthy habits (while eliminating those that are harmful) – it is not always easy, but it is always worth it.