There are a ton of (well-documented) benefits to working remotely, from more flexibility to do errands and other tasks, to saving yourself from the stress of a long commute.
But working from home can take a toll on your mental health too.
Some people might think that you have fewer distractions at home since coworkers can’t just drop by your desk and bug you with the latest cat videos, but missing out on human contact does have a few negative impacts over the long term.
For example, did you know that loneliness is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even random pain1? And then there’s the temptation to work in your pyjamas or in your bed… and oh, there are just a few more messages to reply to—wait, how is it 8pm already?
Let’s face it. The #WFH life can be great, but adjusting to it takes time—and can be hard on your mental health. From an increased pressure to work longer hours, to a lack of motivation and loneliness, a whole new set of challenges awaits the growing remote workforces all around the world.
Here are a few ways to keep yourself healthy, both in body and mind—and live the awesome remote work life that you envisioned.
1. Create a work-home boundary.
You’ve heard this one before. Boundaries are healthy.
William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management, co-authored a new study, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being,” in which he found something interesting—and kind of concerning.
“Flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this. If not, get a head start and establish that boundary! Here are three easy ways you can do this right now:
- Make sure you have a workspace that’s just for work. Ideally you’d have an office, but even having a desk in a corner of your apartment that’s designated for work will work.
- Have an “I just got off work” activity. One good thing to do is take a shower, or go out for a walk—this can help you switch off your work brain. If you’re the type to just answer “a few more emails” even when it’s time to leave, then you might need to force yourself to acknowledge it’s the end of your workday and it’s time to log off.
- Change out of your pyjamas! We know, it’s tempting to just stay comfy in the morning. But this is one of the few important habits that you’ll instinctively recognize as a sign that it’s time to get into “work” mode and do stuff.
2. Use a meditation app.
No longer just a fluffy activity for hippies, meditation has been proven to improve mental health, by decreasing anxiety, mental stress—oh and it helps you sleep better too.
If you’ve never done it before, not to worry. It’s easy to get into, and there are a ton of meditation apps out there. Typically, they’re free—and unlike other products, the free options here are more than sufficient if you just want to get into meditation and try it out.
(If you want specific guided meditations, then you might have to pay.)
Headspace, Calm, and Tide are probably some of the most popular meditation apps. Here’s a quick look at how Headspace works:
3. Take a breath. Go for a walk. Drink water. Get a healthy snack.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Exercise is good. Yada yada yada. No but seriously, exercising, even for just 20 to 30 minutes daily, can significantly decrease your anxiety.
And even if you don’t have diagnosed anxiety, sometimes those little pangs of “Wait, did I get that done?” and “Wow, six back-to-back meetings today… right through lunch” can creep into your consciousness and cause anxiety—without you noticing.
So, use the handy timer on your phone—or, get an egg timer so you can have a reminder on your desk at all times to take a break and rest your eyes.
4. Make a checklist.
Long established as the secret weapon of pilots, productivity gurus, and bullet journals, checklists are one of the absolute easiest things you can use to minimize the chaos in your life. And when you’re working remotely, let’s just say the chaos can easily build up.)
We’re not just talking about any old checklist though—there’s a particular style of checklist that’s designed to help you plan out your day, including appointments, events, and more! What’s this magical checklist style, you ask? Check this out:
5. Have a schedule.
Basically, do some time management and plan out your days.
When things are chaotic and unpredictable—as they often are for remote teams—the best thing you can do is have a process. It sounds suspiciously simple, but this way, even if all else goes awry, you’ll still have something that keeps your day (somewhat) organized.
By the way, this is also incredibly helpful because it can act as your reminder to stretch, take a break, and rest your eyes. (Remember #4?)
6. Have an anti-loneliness plan. It’s a big deal.
Loneliness is one of the biggest downsides to working remotely. You go from seeing a few (or maybe even 10 or 20) people a day to, well, seeing your barista in the morning. Maybe.
The sudden lack of social contact and face-to-face interactions can be jarring—and kind of depressing—so make sure you have some social activities scheduled.
Here are a few things to do to fend off the remote work loneliness bug:
- Book a friend (or a colleague, or someone in the same industry!) once a week or once every two weeks for a virtual coffee to catch up—and talk about things other than work.
- Get a video conferencing platform. The next best thing to seeing someone in person is seeing their face on video. There are many apps for this that let you use your computer or phone to make video conference calls. For example, RingCentral’s all-in-one communication app is designed to let you work from anywhere while making not only video calls, but phone calls too—plus other cool features like instant messaging and task management:
- Join an industry group. If you do a little digging on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll find groups and other folks who work in your industry or role—and when you don’t have a group of office buds, it’s another great way to find a community that you can share stories with, ask for help, and find a bit of camaraderie with.
7. Find one thing to look forward to each day.
It might be finally being able to crack open that beer you’ve been wanting to try.
It might be taking your dog out for a walk.
Find something that you can look forward to at the end of every workday to give yourself some perspective and practice a little gratitude.
Hey, sometimes our brains need a little help to unplug for a little bit and think about something other than work. And there’s no better way to do it than by focusing on what really matters in life. (Hint: Usually it’s not work.)
How are you keeping up your mental health while working outside the office?
Whether you’re brand new to working remotely or not, staying healthy and giving yourself a break from time to time is something you should strive for.
No matter how experienced you are or how many hours you think you can work from your couch (because it’s just so comfy), remote work is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint.
Don’t burn yourself out, implement a few of these tips, and stay healthy while you work from anywhere!
Originally published Mar 27, 2020, updated Jan 30, 2023