Self-Care: Working from Home

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I’m a big advocate of self-care and promoting mental health awareness given my professional experience in the field. I actually worked with a team that promoted Mental Health Capacity Building for nearly four years in Addictions and Mental Health. During that time, I learned a great deal about the importance of self-care and how to look after yourself during stressful times.

Something that came up in a local Reddit discussion today was how to care for yourself when working at home. A friend of mine who reads this blog – is struggling with this herself.

“Long days,” she said to me. “I find I turn the computer on at 8:00 in the morning and don’t stop until dinner time. Sometimes not until 7:00 pm. I just don’t have time for breaks.”

Another Redditor commented on how sitting at a desk at home for longer hours was hard on his body.

“Working from home is great, but when we are at work, we walk around a lot more. Especially if you take public transportation.”

A third person commented on social engagement at work.

“When at work, we often stop to talk to coworkers. Or walk to the photocopier. Or to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. But at home it’s easy to forget to take breaks. It’s also lonely at times.”

PROS of working at home

There a lot of pros to working at home especially if you are lucky enough to be able to make it as a full time contractor or freelancer on your own schedule. You’ll save time and money on the daily commute with transportation and parking costs. You don’t have to worry about picking out what outfit to wear – unless you have virtual meetings to attend. And if you live at home alone, like me, you have more control over who comes into your office space which makes it a bit easier to set office hours. There’s also less office and interpersonal drama to deal with when you’re at home.

Unless you count the number of hours I argue with myself each day. It’s a byproduct of living alone too long.

You can make your own food, set your own eating schedule. And even save money from not buying coffees or lunches like you normally would when at the office. This can also help with weight loss or managing special diets for medical conditions.

For someone like me with serious allergies to scents, at home – I’m in a controlled environment. I’m not walking past a group of smokers. I don’t have to worry about perfumes that give me migraines.

And the best part – there’s no need to “look busy” if things are slow. You can work on other projects in the background. You won’t have someone constantly monitoring how you are spending your time. As someone who likes to work independently, this is something I’m looking forward to with a stay at home job.

CONS of working from home

There are some downsides to working from home. If you’re a social creature and like to be around other people – being at home can make you feel more isolated especially right now with COVID restrictions.

If you live with children or in a noisy environment, you may get easily distracted. Or like my HR rep discovered the other day in a meeting as her child poked his head into the room. Or while on the phone with my new case manager as her dog howled in the background and we had a good laugh about it. There are just some things that are beyond our control and you have to make the best out of what you have.

The other downside, as my friend MD has said – is not keeping to a regular schedule. Learning to shut off the phone or computer when you are “off the clock” is a really hard thing to do. This results in missing lunch breaks, sitting for prolonged periods or skipping meals which you really shouldn’t do.

So, how can you prevent this from happening? How can you practice the art of self-care when you’re working at home at which seems to be a 24/7 thing? Those are two very good questions.

Calendar Reminders

I recently installed Outlook on my home computer because I found that I would send emails all hours of the day. I started entering calendar reminders to remind me to take breaks and shut off Outlook.

What I started doing was entering personal breaks in my calendar and marking them a green color so that when I did have appointments or calls to make – I made sure to leave enough time for a proper meal break. Even if it was just 30 minutes.

And even though I’m not working now, some of my days are FULL with medical appointments, phone calls, paperwork and research.

By setting a calendar reminder, you are setting boundaries and allowing yourself some personal time each day.

Wellness Breaks

In addition to your daily lunch or midday meal, you can schedule wellness breaks for 10 or 15 minutes in which you are “AFK” – away from the keyboard. If you are a union employee, you would have to check your union agreement for your entitlement to breaks. For example, at my job, we were allowed two 15 minutes break daily. But I found I almost never took these breaks at the office.

Just like your lunch hour, you can schedule these reminders in your calendar or onto your phone. Block off 10-15 minutes every few hours as a reminder to do a few things.

  • Go to the bathroom! Don’t hold it in – go when you have to go
  • Get a water refill or coffee refill. Staying hydrated is important for weight loss.
  • Stretch – get off the computer, go into another room and do some stretches or HIIT training.
  • Get some sun – sit on the balcony, or go for a brisk walk to get some natural vitamin D
  • Read a book or listen to some music – do something that makes you happy

Wellness breaks are something everyone should incorporate into their daily lives. I know it’s difficult with demanding schedules – but this will help boost your mental health and overall mood.

Setting Boundaries “turning it all off”

When working from home, it’s important to set some boundaries. This is especially crucial if you’re a business owner. When you are self-employed, your business can own you for the first few years. It can be difficult to know when to “shut it all off” and make some time to yourself. But trust me when I say this is really important for your mental health and physical health. Burnout is real and can have lasting effects on your body.

What does setting boundaries look like in 2021? Here are a few examples of things I’ve started doing.

Set a work schedule

I deal with “business” related issues in regards to my employer during business hours. They get my attention Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 5:00 pm. It’s what I would normally work when in the office. Outside of those hours, I step away from my email and close out of Outlook. I may check occasionally for personal email – but I’ve switched to using Gmail for most personal issues.

Turn it all off

If you are using a work laptop, then turn it off at the end of the day. This lets your employer know that you are setting your boundaries. If they want you to work overtime or be reachable 24/7, then you should ask to negotiate your job description or contract depending on what kind of work you are doing. If you are a freelancer, you could charge for overtime. This goes for your phone too. Unless you have to be “on call”, there’s no need to respond to work related texts after hours.

I had one manager who was infamous for this – and on my personal cell phone too. Turns out this was a HUGE corporate policy violation. It’s important as a worker to know your rights and entitlements.

Forcing your employees to work overtime without compensation is unethical, though many employers do this. Some organizations require that all overtime be pre-approved. If you are working overtime and not getting paid for it, I highly recommend you start logging your hours that you’ve worked. This is crucial. Keep the documentation. You may need it later to prove the amount of hours you worked while at home.

Emergencies

Work related emergencies do happen in all lines of work, so shutting off the laptop and phone may not be an option for some people. If this is the case, then I strongly suggest you have a chat with your manager or supervisor on how emergency situations should be handled while working from home.

Work Life Balance

For some people achieving a healthy work-life balance can seem nearly impossible. Especially if you aren’t used to working from home. They key things to take away from this post is that even if you are working from home – you are entitled to all the things you are normally entitled while at the office.

Take breaks. Eat your meals like you would on a normal work day. Be social – chat with your colleagues via social media or texting. Or whatever chat platform you use for work. Go to the washroom. Get outside for some fresh air.

These are all things we can do little by little each day to improve our overall mental and physical health. Because at the end of the day, we only have ourselves to blame for how we treat our bodies.

Make sure to treat yourself — AND your body in the way it deserves to be treated.

For more tips on The Art of Self-Care – check out my more popular article here.

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