Relaxing When You Work From Home: A Guide to Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a massive shift in how we work. Today, 46% of organizations have implemented work-from-home policies. Even as businesses begin to reopen their offices, a study by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) indicates that up to 68% of organizations plan to apply more flexible work arrangements going forward. Research on remote work and its effects on productivity and employee engagement was largely positive prior to the pandemic. On the whole, workers were happier and more productive than their in-office counterparts. Yet relaxing when you work from home is still an integral part of virtual employment. Here’s how to improve your mental health and remain a productive telecommuter.
It’s Not All Rainbows and Roses
Despite its role in productivity and efficiency, remote work was also found to cause a variety of mental health problems, including increased levels of stress, professional and social isolation, loneliness, and in some cases, depression. The reasons for such gloomy feelings include:
Lack of information: In the rush to work remotely, written policies and procedures are unavailable. This leads to feelings of uncertainty and incompetency as remote employees attempt their job-related activities.
Lack of boundaries: Getting up on time is no longer an issue. You don’t have to take lunch at a certain time, and you don’t really leave work at all. This lack of physical boundaries can cause remote employees to flounder, especially with numerous distractions throughout the day.
Lack of physical interaction: Many remote workers miss the interactions that were part of a normal workday in a physical office. Passing people in the hallway and chatting after meetings is an important part of keeping employees engaged.
In addition to these reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of challenges. Stressors stemming from the pandemic include concerns over job security, finances, and the physical health of yourself and others.
The Benefits of Relaxing When You Work from Home
While some stress is unavoidable, too much can result in a variety of physical and mental problems. Without intervention, chronic stress and/or a string of adverse life events will result in a variety of negative outcomes. High-stress levels in individuals with underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of aggravating their condition.
The primary benefit of relaxation is the prevention of more serious mental and physical health problems throughout your life. Relaxation techniques have also been found to improve a variety of conditions from anxiety to labor pain. However, some benefits of relaxation can be felt almost at once, including:
Slowing heart rate
Lowering blood pressure
Slowing your breathing rate
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
Reducing the activity of stress hormones
Increasing blood flow to major muscles
Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
Improving concentration and mood
Improving sleep quality
Reducing anger and frustration
Boosting confidence to handle problems
Tips & Techniques for Relaxing When You Work from Home
When introducing and practicing some of the relaxation techniques below, take time to evaluate how you feel. If you feel some of the above benefits of relaxation, you are doing them right. If not, evaluate what you are feeling and try to identify the source. The results of any technique will vary. Some will work better than others depending on the person and the situation. Experiment with what works for you.
“Whatever you find relaxing and that you can do to break apart your day and institute a clear boundary between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’ is the right thing.” – Kate Sullivan, a Consulting Psychologist with Constellation Careers.
De-stress Your Environment
The first line of stress defense is to investigate how you spend your time. If you feel stressed, chances are your feelings are being triggered, at least in part, by your immediate environment. If you are inundated by distractions and noise, move and reestablish your workspace. Brittney Connor-Savarda, an authority on emotional intelligence and human behavior, recommends “creating a distraction-free and tranquil environment,” and, “if possible, work in a naturally well-lit room.”
Also, don’t forget how your space smells! Studies suggest that aromatherapy using essential oils can help with anxiety and depression. You can purchase oils for use in a variety of different kinds of diffusers that will scent your room. Connor-Savarda suggests lavender as a particularly calming fragrance.
De-stress Your Lifestyle
Stress may also originate from how you spend your time during the day. The blurred lines between personal time and work time can be resolved by setting a sustainable schedule and daily routine. Develop a daily timetable, breaking up your day into manageable chunks to prevent fatigue. Connor-Savarda suggests developing a morning ritual to start your day, for example, five minutes of stretching or meditation. Also, make sure to include scheduled relaxation, advises clinical psychologist, Tim Luis, with Orleans Psychological Services: “This underscores its importance and increases the likelihood that we will follow through with taking a productive break.”
Once you have a workable schedule, keep to it. As Hong Yin, the Clinical Director of New Frontiers Psychiatric & TMS notes:
“Work-at-home personnel can be tempted to continue working outside their usual hours, which can lead to stress and burn out aka the opposite of relaxation. Staying structured and positive is imperative to avoid creating more agitation in your lives.”
Finally, reward yourself for sticking to your schedule with activities that you enjoy. In her personal life, Sullivan (quoted above) uses cooking as a way to relax, stay healthy, and keep her schedule.
“Taking a true lunch hour and prepping a nice balanced meal for lunch helps me reset and go into my afternoon fresh, while making dinner in the evening provides a clear boundary between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’.”
One of our first reactions to stressful situations is to breathe more shallowly. This makes us feel tense and limits our body’s oxygen supply, points out Keith Myers, CEO of an online review publication with 100% remote workers.
“Taking a deep breath proves to make your body calm, minimizes stress response, reduces anxiousness, and provides the body a healthy dose of oxygen.”
Breathing techniques are a quick and highly effective way to regulate our nervous system. Connor-Savarda recommends setting aside one to three minutes for deep and steady breaths. Try to focus on breathing in for five counts and breathing out for five counts. In an emergency, put a few drops of lavender essential oil on your palm, rub your hands together, and take a few deep breaths.
Bring Yourself into the Present Moment
When working alone, you may dwell on circumstances and situations in the past or future that cause you to feel stressed or overwhelmed. The quickest way to calm yourself is to focus on the present moment. Where are you right now? What do you see right now? What do you hear right now? How do you feel right now? Myers notes, “Being in the moment is the essence of active mindfulness, which may help you keep in a calmer, relaxed state of mind while you go about your days.”
If you have more time, you might want to unplug for 10 minutes or so in mindfulness meditation when you’re relaxing when you work from home. This simply means resting quietly and paying attention to the sounds around you and the sensations you feel. A growing number of downloadable smartphone apps for breathing exercises, guided meditations, and relaxing music may also prove helpful.
Enjoy Some Quality Alone Time
Even if you work alone and think that you are always alone, that’s not really alone time. Your attention is always outside of yourself, thinking about your task, your boss, your co-workers, your distractions, and so on. Quality alone time is when you focus this attention inward.
Options abound for how to spend your alone time—some active and some more passive. Sullivan explains:
“Some people swear by silent sitting meditations, or by using a guided app like Calm or Headspace to unwind. Others prefer physical activity like yoga or Pilates, or something more strenuous like going for a run or a bike ride. Any of these makes a great short interlude in your day to help you relax.”
Quiet Alone Time
Of course, meditation is a universal favorite for relaxing when you work from home. For good reason too! In addition to lowering stress levels, meditation brings with it a host of other amazing benefits. Alan Chu, Chair of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay states:
“The unique benefit of meditation is attentional control and mindfulness. Regular meditation practice helps people be able to shift their focus to the important things, such as being more resilient, by focusing more on the positive than negative emotions. It also helps people be more aware and accepting of their own thoughts and feelings without judgment.”
Active Alone Time
Active methods of alone time may focus on establishing a mind-body connection such as yoga or Tai Chi. According to Professor Chu, the benefits of yoga include flexibility, muscle tone, and strength, as well as lower stress and pain perception. He advises finding the right type of yoga “such as slow or spiritual (e.g., Hatha) yoga, instead of power yoga…”
Practicing Tai Chi emphasizes the balance of Yin and Yang explains Profession Chu, through “movements meant to balance the ‘qi’—vital energy—and calm the mind. Added benefits include improvements in motor coordination, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility.”
Remote workers can also enjoy alone time with more strenuous forms of exercise such as running and cycling. Any form of repetitive activity that frees your mind to contemplate inward will work.
Socializing Is Relaxing, Too
Another great method for relaxing when you work from home is to socialize and have a little fun. Connor-Savarda advises meeting (virtually if need be) with a friend at least once a week to talk about life, “This is key to relieving anxiety. We are tribal creatures who need interactions with others.” This does not include social media engagement, however, which she counsels reducing, “Social media can take away from living in the present moment, create distractions, and lead to anxiety.”
A Change Is as Good as Rest
There is a lot of truth to this old adage. Sometimes relaxing when you work from home means getting a change of scenery. Changing your surroundings is surprisingly effective in changing both your state of mind and your point of view. Luis suggests, “Getting outside for a walk or just sitting in the park is ideal to change the scenery and allow our minds recuperative rest for when we address the next wave of tasks to complete.”
The nature of remote work, combined with the fear and uncertainty of the current disease pandemic, creates the perfect storm for a pandemic of mental health issues as well. While we can’t avoid stress, hopefully, the easy-to-implement techniques presented here will help you to cope with any problems arising during these challenging times.
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