To provide a little context, here are a few facts about declining mental health in relation to working from home as a result of Covid-19. A survey by the Royal Society For Public Health, (published February 2021) revealed that:
- 67% feel less connected to colleagues
- 46% take less exercise, developing musculoskeletal problems (39%)
- 37% suffer from disturbed sleep
- 56% find it harder to switch off
- 34% have been offered support with their mental health from their employer.
- The vast majority of people don’t want to go back to working in an office full time, with nearly three quarters of people saying they want to split their time between home working and working in an office.
There are some obvious mismatches and challenges within these research findings and I am sure we have all met someone who has struggled at some point, for example:
Younger people who ‘need’ the social interaction of the office
Less experienced people and new joiners who are less capable of working without face to face supervision and mentoring
People who live alone or who share a home with strangers
People who have no private space at home apart from a small bedroom
While these are the typical anecdotes we have all heard, I have a close friend who fits into none of these categories. His struggle has been considerable because he thrives on the camaraderie of colleagues, the office banter, the bustle of being in a city centre, the lack of clear division between home life and work life.
It's safe to conclude from all this is that everyone is affected to some extent by the changing patterns of work. Given how things are going, it’s also safe to conclude that looking after our mental wellbeing has never been more important. The good news is that there has also never been more practical advice, freely available, to meet the challenges. The bad news is that being human, we tend to forget. Very few of us are disciplined enough to stick to a daily or even weekly regime. So, for the rest of us, here’s a reminder in the form of a short list of cheekily titled wellbeing activities for the workplace (wherever that may be) that are guaranteed to support your good mental health.
Move Your Butt
Once or twice a day, even if you just take five minutes to do some stretching and breathing exercises, the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing will be considerable. Can you really not spare 300 seconds in the day? You can even do them while on a phone call. Here’s a few employee yoga style exercises to try out while sitting at your desk.
However, it is also important to get away from your desk and computer screen for a longer period of time. Set a target of doing it every day and if you only do it a few times a week, you’re still doing OK! Your eyes, neck and back in particular need a change of position. In addition to the physical benefits, even if you only walk around the block, the mental shift is remarkable. Walking increases the supply of blood to the brain and stimulates your creative thinking, which is why you often come up with good ideas and feel happier while out walking. You’ve probably heard that spending time in nature has been found to help with various mental health problems, so if your walk can take you into a park or woodland, so much the better.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
The first time I was told I can learn to breathe better, I actually laughed out loud. I didn’t need advice about something I’d been successfully doing for over five decades. Then I tried a few simple breath meditation at work exercises and I experienced an amazing change. Numerous scientific studies show that meditative, mindful and yogic breathing exercises help reduce stress, improve mood and sleep, increase energy and even problem solving skills. There’s a few to TRY HERE for yourself, including energy boosting meditations.
If you can spare 155 seconds, you might like to listen to this Radio 4 conversation between Dr Michael Mosley and neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. You can also read more about it on the Radio 4 page.
Coffee And Biscuits Are Delicious, but…
The subject of nutrition is too big and complex a subject to cover here, but my guess is you understand the point of this heading. Caffeine and sugary snacks are a great way to get a quick buzz of energy but the effect wears off quickly and your body and brain will still need proper sustenance. Working from home means we are constantly close to the fridge and food cupboards, so grazing has become a national pastime. A quick search online (here’s one) provides useful facts and practical solutions. You know it makes sense, I’m just reminding you, so now do it!
Your Office Door Is NOT Always Open
Many people don’t have the space to hide themselves away in a private office at home, but it’s worth creating the best working environment you can because it will make a big difference to how well you work from home. Humans are naturally social creatures and we benefit from background noise, so if you are alone at home, try having a speech radio or TV programme on in the background. Make it quiet enough not to be distracted by the content but loud enough to create the human backdrop that helps the mind relax. Pure silence can actually be a greater distraction for the mind as it seeks to focus on something other than the task at hand!
Set boundaries if you live with others. If you don’t have an actual office door to close, use a metaphorical door and make clear (where possible), that you are at work and you’ll be free to chat when you take a (nutritious!) break. Space will make this a challenge for some, but do all you can to separate the area where you sleep from the area where you work.
Leave Work And Stay At Home
The same point about setting boundaries applies to the fact that many people are always open to messages sent by email, whatsapp, text, slack etc. Unless it is a truly urgent matter, something with a time critical deadline, reply to 'after hours' messages in the morning, once you have opened the door to your home office. The mental differentiation of work and leisure time creates a psychological divide that makes it easier for your brain to cut off from the busyness of your working mind. Leisure activities stimulate different areas of our brains to connect and this in turn improves our cognitive functions. Relaxation and playful pastimes make you more creative and help you sleep better – your brain will repay you by performing well the next working day!
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just a reminder about some of the most important ways we can support our mental health while working from home. If you would like to suggest any additions to this short list or if you would like to discuss how you can introduce staff wellbeing activities to your organisation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org