otrbristol | 30th March 2020

BLOG: Sylwia’s working from home tips

Tips on tackling the mental health challenges of remote work for our supporters

As most of our supporters are staying home and moving to remote work, I have put together a few tips on how to take care of our mental health while working from home. At first, things can get a little bit overwhelming, but there are simple things we can do to take care of ourselves. Working as a freelancer, from home (as well as my role as Community Champion at OTR!), most of my adult life, I have learned through failures but also successes, so I hope this will save you all a bit of stress. Here we go!

Setting up healthy routines

You will have seen a lot of posts about the daily routine and indeed, that’s really important. Plan your day in your online calendar taking into consideration work time but also other aspects of your life (listing all of them might help too). Plan time for the obvious and not-so-obvious activities. We all need to sleep, eat, move and network. Most of us remember to book out me-time, especially now that we share our homes with family or flatmates.

But it’s also important to factor in enough time for transitions and for reflection. So make time for a slow morning transition from home time into work – even if just ten minutes. You will work faster and feel better too. Do not rush into family time – take five to reflect on your day too. You will feel more relaxed if you close off your working time properly.

It is also really important to think about our weekly routines and design our weekends a little bit differently. However it works for you, please do not take work to your weekend time. We all need to rest so take that time off too.

Stay healthy – the basics: sleep, eat, drink, move and play

You probably read about this too, but I will mention it for two reasons. Healthy functioning is important for our physical, but also mental, health. Secondly, staying healthy means that you are helping your local NHS staff focus on people who need them most.

So sleep enough, eat well, move as often as you can. Wake up early enough to have time for yourself in the morning. Transition into your work – move to a dedicated working area, for instance. Don’t skip lunch – we always aim for a good lunch at the OTR offices and so we hope to do the same while working from home.

And finally, do stop when it’s time to stop. Wrap up the work to relax for the rest of the day and connect with others. Have fun! Enjoy the evening. Do not compromise on individual and collective time – both are important to healthy living.

House rules

For those of us who live with other people (family, friends, flatmates) this can prove to be a challenging time so it helps to set some general rules sooner than later. The thing about rules that many parents tend to forget is that they are supposed to apply to everyone in the household so before you set them in stone, think really carefully about your needs and listen respectfully to the needs of others. Defining your house rules might be hard or unfamiliar at first, but it really helps our general wellbeing and collective mood in the long run.

Positive mindset & gratitude

It feels counter-intuitive to think about positivity in the current situation. However, I strongly encourage you to introduce any form of positivity into your routine. Working from home can be really isolating. The current virus pandemic news can be really depressing, scary even. There is a lot we could legitimately worry about. Even in good times, no matter how hard we try, we can very easily slip into our default way of thinking which tends to be negative. So it is important to actively practise positivity.

My simple tip is a morning gratitude practice. Every morning I list three things I am grateful for to set myself up for a more positive outlook on my day. This week is the sunshine, morning coffee in the garden and the bonus time with my dog, for example. But maybe for you, there will be something else – experiment! Come on over to OTR’s Instagram where we’re asking you to share your gratitude each morning.

To connect or to disconnect?

This is a tricky question. It can be really upsetting to read the news all the time. It can feel really isolating to switch off altogether. The healthy approach is finding the right balance for us. I have a personal hack for this: I read the news shared by a few trusted friends and few trusted media outlets that provide the right level of context. This way I feel informed, but also connected to my trusted friends too.

With the prospect of long-term work from home, it is really helpful to make time to connect with family, friends and our local community. We are moving our Wednesday lunches to the virtual world here at OTR to stay connected. Whether you chat to your neighbour over the fence or Skype with a friend, do it on a fairly regular basis to ensure that you do not feel alone and stuck in your new daily routines.

The role of nature

One of the themes emerging on social media at the moment is our new appreciation for nature. At OTR Bristol, we say that our mental health is a healthy reaction to the world around us, so it helps to stay connected to nature. Sitting out on the balcony for a cuppa. Short walk to the park after lunch. Spending some time in the garden or in the allotment. Attending to our house plants. Spending more time with our pets. All of those simple steps can make us feel a bit better. And all those micro-moments of connection with the wider world can improve our mood, even if just a little bit.

Give to your community

Giving is one of the key five themes of the “5 Ways to Wellbeing” report published in 2010 by the New Economics Foundation which provided great guidance to the current mental health provision in the UK. OTR’s core approach goes even further than those five ways, but in times like this, we are noticing an increased level of kindness and collective support. Helping others makes us feel better and more connected to our local community. It helps us move beyond our own challenges and put things into perspective too. We might have new limitations, but there is still a lot we can all do.

So it might be worth thinking about the time we now have saved on commuting to work, for example. Can you possibly use it to help others? Do we have the skills to offer to support your family, friends and neighbours? It really does not have to be complicated – it can just be making more time to stop and have a chat with a lonely neighbour over the fence. We will be posting more ways of getting involved with us, but in the meantime, there is so much you can do. Just ask around, reflect on your skills and opportunities and get involved!

I hope that this post is a little bit helpful and might inspire you to reflect, plan and implement some of the above-mentioned tips. I have spent most of my adult life working from home and I have learned some of those things through bad habits and rather stressful situations. So I hope that now at least I can share my learnings with you.

As mentioned above, in the upcoming weeks, I will be posting about giving and fundraising for us, but if there is anything you would like to know about healthier routines and general wellbeing during the times of remote work, please let me know!

Stay safe, stay well, stay connected.