your mental health during a pandemic

As part of the global response to the pandemic, the citizens of many countries are having to stay at home. However, prolonged isolation can take its toll on mental health. In this Special Feature, mental well-being advocates share their top tips on what you can do to cope with anxiety and stress while stuck at home.

mental health

Unique challenges of working from home

Working from home may seem like the dream set-up for some, as it offers the possibility to tap into that latent creativity from the comfort of a cozy, familiar environment.

However, it can also bring a unique set of challenges — especially as an enforced measure.

“While [being able to work from home] can empower and up-level our working life, if taken to the extreme, we end up being switched on the whole time,” Diggory told MNT.

“In many cases, the boundaries between home life and work life can become blurred, and these boundaries are what enable us to stay healthy and well,” she cautioned.

In an enforced “work from home” situation, people may end up continuously sharing a space with other family members, and they may start to feel as though they have to attend to both domestic tasks and work assignments at the same time.

This blending of home and work life may also lead to working longer hours than usual.

“People may […] fall into a pattern of overworking, a sense or feeling that they ‘should’ be working long hours, to show colleagues that they are being productive — even though no-one can physically see them working,” said Diggory.

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Managing stress while working from home

So, how can people address these challenges and reduce the amount of stress that comes with working exclusively from a home environment?

“Firstly, accept that stress levels will likely be higher for many at this time — whatever you’re feeling is valid considering the current context,” said Hounsell.

That is why, “[w]hen working from home, prioritizing your mindset and well-being at the start of the day is essential,” Diggory told us.

One helpful way to set boundaries so that a person does not become overwhelmed with competing tasks is to create a physical space that is for work only, where the person will not face non-work-related disruptions and interruptions.

She also said that people who share their homes with others may actually be able to benefit from the situation by co-opting family or housemates to actively help them stay on track.

For instance, Diggory said, “If you struggle to take breaks throughout the day, you could use living with others to your advantage — perhaps ask for their help in encouraging you to take time away from your desk at lunch or for a mid-morning/afternoon break.”

Cooperation is key, Hounsell agreed. “Be kind and patient with yourself and those around you,” she advised.

She also stressed the importance of maintaining other healthful habits — such as eating regularly and sticking to a healthful diet — because these are, in themselves, a cornerstone of mental health.

How to get back into ‘home time’ mode

Another possible stumbling block when a person has to work from home for long periods of time is effectively getting out of that “work mindset” once work is done for the day.

That can be tricky, especially if the person does not have access to their usual “signals” that work is over — such as their commute from the office, a regular pitstop at the mall after work, or a quick session at the gym.

In speaking to MNT, Diggory suggested that one way of marking the end of the work day — though this could also apply to ending a study period, for example — is to set up something akin to the school bell.

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“Try using an alarm to signal the end of your working day — choosing the hour, or even the minute, that you can press the ‘off’ button, put down your pen, and leave the home office,” she suggested.

Bookending the start and end of the working day with suggestive activities might also help.

“[P]lan a simple short ritual you look forward to in order to ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out’ of your working day,” Hounsell advised.

“It could be anything, like starting the day with a cup of tea and 10 minutes [of] journaling learnings from yesterday, or hopes for today. Then, your check-out could be a short scheduled call with a colleague, friend, [or] family member to share your evening plans,” she suggested.

“[P]lanning enjoyable things to do in the evenings can be a nice reward for all your hard work, and something to look forward to each day,” Diggory noted.

However, Hounsell also advised our readers to go easy on themselves, should this strategy not work perfectly every time.

“[D]on’t beat yourself up if work starts bleeding into the evening — just stop,” she said. “Stop, take a breath, observe what’s happening with kindness, and proceed with intention into the next part of your evening.”