Guide to Preserving Mental Stability in the WFH Age
Published: March 26, 2020
Author: Lauren Varney
Welcome back to the future. It’s 2020 and working remotely, working from home, even working from bed is really nothing new. *Here’s where I yawn and reach for pancakes delivered through my window via drone.*
For some (the sweat-pant squad), this is already the daily norm. Yet, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, our cultural atmosphere has rapidly shifted into something new. Now there are thousands of individuals working from home for the first time. For those individuals, including myself, it’s a plush new world of snack breaks and slippers we can’t wait to belly-flop into.
The tech industry, specifically, has been gently curving in this direction for a while, so we have the ol’ WFH routine nailed. Right? I mean, the convenience of eliminating commutes alone is like a glistening Slip N’ Slide on a sweltering summer day. Who could resist!? And yet, without proper planning and preparation, you’ll hardly make it out with your bottoms still on. Rather than diving in ill-prepared, you might want to do your research.
A bottomless rabbithole of how-to articles on WFH-life is already all over the internet. Now resurfacing with vigor, those posts are cluttering our inboxes and homepages with details on how to survive WFH. Let’s cut to the chase: I’ve read them all. Okay, not all of them but a lot (including some interviews), and many have the same key factors. Given it’s my first WFH stretch too, I wanted to share the top truths and kickers of what I’ve found to help you thrive both physically and mentally in WFH life.
We’ll start by going mental (no, not that way).
- Give yourself the morning. Having the time to wake slowly and spend quiet time alone (or at least, without work chaos) can give you a sense of preparedness for the day. Don’t rush into work. Read for a bit, avoid screens, make a hearty breakfast, and stretch. Meditation is a quick and easy way to dust off the dreams. This time is essential for defogging your mental glasses for the day and maintaining a positive environment in your home. We’ll need to reinforce your home as a relaxed, personal place for your non-work time. With that, keep a routine schedule just as you would in the office with a consistent start and end time. Without structure, you’re a physique without bones, a closet without hangers – you get the idea.
- Make a mental commute. Making a “mental commute” means shifting gears to what brings you into your ideal work environment. Not only does that mean having the proper, dedicated office setup, it means dressing the part. Yes, you can wear sweatpants, but there will be a small part of you that remains feeling less than professional, which can seep into your work. Dress as you would in the office; maintain that poise and self respect so you can opt in for the video at leisure. Nothing impresses clients like seeing how prepared and professional you are, no matter where. It shows that you take your work personally. You will carry that confidence into your work, and perhaps just as importantly these days, you will reap the rewards of slipping into something more comfortable when you make the “commute” back home. As silly and simple as these transitions are, they help maintain the essential line between work and home.
- Be your own boss. Sure, you still have some bigger dogs to report to, but you know what you’re responsible for right now. Make a strong, realistic (if possible, handwritten) to-do list. Have it be the only piece of paper on your desk so as you come and go for various breaks, you can revisit your goals clearly and stay on track. The best part is, when everything is crossed off, you have given yourself permission to feel satisfied with the day. Go you!
- Watch the clock. Better yet, set timers! Hours can whiz by before you’ve missed lunch and it’s suddenly 4pm. Set timers for your lunch breaks or even schedule them if your days are packed with meetings. You can’t be an ideal salesman if you black out from hunger or dehydration during the big pitch. Don’t be afraid to also set timers for your scheduled end time. There will always be more work to do tomorrow, and you need to draw a hard line for yourself. Normally you’d see people walking out of the office or the janitors coming in to clean to help clue you into slowing down, but at home you are the janitor, and you don’t have those social cues. Do your best to set your quitting time, and reinforce it! Bonus points for not picking up your laptop later on the couch.
- Decompress. Yay! Work is done and you’re ready to binge Westworld. Not so fast. Sometimes it can be oddly difficult to drop to 0mph after flooring it all day. Try this: imagine a bag of your favorite chips sitting wide-open right next to you. You tell yourself you’re done snacking – in fact, your tongue is slightly raw from them, but what if you don’t put the bag away? In just a few minutes, you are unconsciously rummaging for another handful. You have to put the bag away, just like you have to wind down your work brain. Exercise is the best way to wipe the slate clean and reward your body for the busy day. Reading (non-screen time), going for a walk, or cooking are other ways to slow that Sonic energy down to a halt. Find the decompression routine that feeds your need to shift off the work brain. Then you can binge whatever you’d like, with or without pants.
- Recharge. Finally, in your non-work time you should actively check in on yourself. You can scan all four burners: Friends, Family, Work, and Health, or even create your own. Perhaps one of these areas could use extra attention today. What are we leaning towards? Maybe you haven’t called your folks in a while; maybe you’re feeling alone? These pillars of our personal lives comprise the other half of who we are outside of the office. For some, recharging means laying low with a book, for others it means Facetiming friends, but really what you are looking at is your mental health. In times of increased isolation, Zoom calls and Virtual Happy hours (should we still need to practice social distancing) can be crucial to keeping you feeling connected. Hearing tone and inflection from friends and the physiological act of smiling can shift our moods and our emotions. Never underestimate the power of your community, your friends, and loved ones. Be consistent about scanning your pillars, maintaining them, and speaking up if you start to feel isolated. Diversify your decompression routines, try new things, learn something new. It’s easy to fall into the monotony of watching TV every night and demolishing all the ice cream you can buy, but you have to give yourself as much effort as you do your job, if not more.
Overall, it’s important to train yourself to always be observing your work/life balance. Gently nudge them back to center should they ever swing too far off track. Practicing each one of these tips and tricks consistently will keep your mind healthy, head clear, and work efficient – yet separate.
Next, we’ll tackle the physical side of WFH. Bring the sweatpants.