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My extremely cluttered home office
My extremely cluttered home office
Photo by Jef Rouner

5 Tips on Staying Sane and Healthy Working from Home

Last year, I spent some weeks inside the kind of hospital where they ask you why you’re so depressed. One of the things that my doctors talked with me about in great length is how to make working from home healthier.

That seems weird, right? If you tell people you work from home they immediately envy you because you don’t have to wear pants or deal with people and maybe you could have a drink when things get rough. The problem is isolation, lack of oversight, and easy access to harmful substances are exactly the things that can lead you down into an emotional oubliette. I’ve watched a lot of my friends who also work from home confess to depression without connecting the dots regarding their everyday surroundings.

So, today I’m going to share some of the things my health insurance paid for me to hear on the subject as well as others I’ve discovered myself. If you’re going to work from home, you will be the only monitor on your mental health a lot of the time, and contrary to popular belief it’s not automatically easy. Especially if you can’t learn to separate the aspects of your life. Which is why you should…

5. Wall Off Your Work Area as Much as Possible

This advice is usually framed in terms of productivity, but not having your computer glare at you while you’re watching television is also good for your mental health. Working from home has a bad habit of making you feel guilty for not accomplishing more. That can make your professional life and home life bleed together, which is stressful because you’re never off-duty.

Try to put a door between your work area and your living area. You can even set up in a walk-in closet. Don’t eat there, read there, or relax there if you can help it. Conversely, try not to drag your laptop out onto the couch either. The more you keep your work separate the less you will feel pressured to always be one. Also…

4. Set Firm Hours and Keep Them

This has been hard for me because the news never sleeps, and I’ve found myself pecking out a story into the wee hours far more than is healthy. However, in general set up boundaries in time as well as space. You come on at X o’clock, you’re off by X o’clock, and you only work Xday through Xday. If people want you to do more than that, make it clear that it will cost them extra. Working from home is kind of like owning a truck; people take advantage of you because they don’t see it as a real imposition.

Your brain will eventually acclimate to the routine, and you’ll get far more done in the set timespan than you would wandering aimlessly. Plus, it can really help your home/life balance. Your family will thank you if they know when to expect you to be available and you’re reliable about keeping to that schedule.

3. Change Your Clothes

This seems simple, but it can have an amazing impact on how you work from home. Have clothes that you work in and nothing else. Even if you are just changing into another pair of pajamas, make sure they’re your work jammies.

Part of working from home successfully is tricking your brain into not conflating the two. Little things like changing your clothes add up. You’ll slip into them and part of you will realize “time to collate the doodads” or whatever you do. When they come off, that part shut downs.

2. Get Out

Humans are a social species, and interaction is a necessary component to mental health. As much as you might enjoy never having to hear your racist coworker rant again (and I thank God for that every day), the face to face contact is more important to you than you realize.

Schedule regular lunches to talk with clients or with people who work in the same industry as you that you may know. It’s great for me to meet up with other writers, and we both usually learn a lot. If you don’t have that option, try to take your work to the occasional Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. Even if you don’t make a friend, you will benefit just by hearing the conversations around you. Isolation is terrible for you in the long-term. It may seem annoying, but you will be stronger for it.

1. Take Up Micro-Exercising Sessions

There are a lot of things you can do when you work from home that would be unacceptable in an office. Let’s focus on one that doesn’t leave a mess.

Break up your work day with small exercise sessions. I mean very short. I keep a set of kettle bells in my office. I stop whenever I feel myself getting stuck or frustrated and do a rep. You can head outside and do a sprint up to the corner and back or walk the dog. If you have room for a treadmill, put it where you can see your work and think about it while your body burns calories.

Exercise helps natural production of dopamine, and is a primary component in long-term health. You don’t need an hour at the gym every day, especially when you can get your time in piecemeal. That’s an easy advantage of working from home, and you can vastly improve your mental and physical health by doing it.

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