How to manage your mental health in the later ages of COVID and remote working
Content warning: Discussions of mental health, isolation, depression and mentions of suicide.
We've all had big changes to deal with over the last few pandemic-consumed years, whether it be learning to navigate the outside world with a deadly virus on the loose, or trying to teach your nan how to use Zoom for the weekly family catch up. It's safe to say that "you're on mute!" has become a much more popular phrase than we could have ever imagined.
However, one of the biggest adjustments for employees everywhere has been the shift to remote working that some of us have never switched back from; a temporary measure that seems to now be a permanent part of a lot of people's working lives.
While a lot of the world has now returned to its pre-pandemic routines and practices, one thing that has stuck around is remote working, with some workplaces allowing fully remote working and some offering hybrid working between the home and the office.
A survey by Flexjobs reported that 65% of people working remotely during the pandemic wanted to continue doing so, and it's no surprise when you hear that they had been saving money on commutes, spending more time with pets and family, and avoiding the distractions and office politics that come into play in person. It's a dream come true, right?
Not for everyone.
“Working alone all day every day, particularly when my partner is in the office, is tough. Sometimes, I won’t see anyone all day, which can be very lonely. I’ve found that instead of taking breaks to chat to people in my office, I pick up my phone. All of the extra screen time has definitely had a negative impact on my wellbeing.”
- Cat, a 30-year-old who works a fully remote job in London.
"Nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely at least sometimes and 17% do all the time. More than four in 10 employees are concerned about retaliation if they seek mental health care or take time off for their mental health."
- A May 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
While for some people, working from home has offered them much-needed flexibility and the presence of home comforts, for others, it has had a much more negative impact on their mental health and overall well-being. Human beings are inherently a social species, so it makes a lot of sense that cutting off our day-to-day contact with others in person would negatively affect us.
So, how can I protect my mental health when working from home?
To combat this negative impact and focus on better supporting our mental health, employees and employers everywhere have been sharing their tips and tricks on how to stay happy and positive even when working in more isolated situations.
A key element in all of these suggestions is reflection and self-awareness. The Scottish Association for Mental Health specifically suggests that you try to stay mindful of your mental health and look out for any changes in your feelings, practice self-care and be aware of any triggers or symptoms surrounding your mental health.
Journalling is often a great way to keep track of your day-to-day moods and habits, which can then allow you to reflect on patterns and make changes to better your mindset and rid of the negative feelings you identify. If you're new to the concept of journalling it can seem a bit overwhelming when trying to find a starting point, so think of it as the diary you kept as a teenager, where you were able to say anything you like and confess secrets and worries without judgement. Journalling is exactly the same and can provide the same feeling of catharsis, and even in adulthood, it can help you understand and take control of your emotions.
For a beginner looking for some journalling techniques, help and guidance can be found here.
Another common suggestion for those working remotely to keep your mental health, well, healthy, is creating a routine that suits your needs and sticking to it as much as you can. Although you may be able to grab an extra half hour in bed due to cutting out that daily commute, aim to wake up around the same time every day and still get showered and dressed. This will help to regulate your internal clock and you’ll feel less tired, and more refreshed, and find it easier to get all the work you need to get done finished within your "office hours", giving you time after your working day to do some much-needed socialising or take some time to yourself any way you like.
Not to mention, dressing for the job will help you stay in the mindset that these hours are for work and changing into some comfy day-to-day clothes when you clock out will allow you to separate the two activities, allowing you to mentally clock out too!
On the topic of remote working and its effects on mental health, Simon Blake, CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England said:
"Everyone should have the right to good mental health and wellbeing, and the best employers will set up their workforces not only to cope, but to thrive as we move out of the pandemic. This starts with finding a balance between keeping their staff connected to their organisation, while empowering them to establish and maintain boundaries to help prevent burnout or harmful working practices. At MHFA England we created free mental health resources for remote working as part of our My Whole Self campaign, with advice on creating routines, building movement and exercise into your day, and connecting authentically with colleagues."
Stay happy, work long and prosper
Everyone is different, and while we all work very hard, not every technique for relaxation and mindfulness will work for everybody. If one technique doesn't work for you, don't give up! Do some research and find another way to tackle that negativity, whether it be exercise, socialising, petting a dog or just letting yourself feel it and have a good cry. You deserve happiness and your value is inherent, don't put your mental well-being on the back burner just because you are working at home - make your mental health a priority, for your own sake. You deserve it!
Whilst many people are struggling with working at home and this is completely normal and okay, if you do feel consistently low or have thoughts of suicide, please do reach out to friends and family, your GP, or contact the Samaritans free of charge here.