Mental health charities such as Mind have said that the coronavirus crisis is having a detrimental effect on our mental health and wellbeing – causing increased stress and anxiety, particularly for those with existing mental health conditions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also acknowledged that the pandemic is generating stress, and has advised people to avoid watching news that causes any feelings of anxiety or stress.
Back in February, The Lancet published a study on the psychological effects of quarantine, suggesting that the potential benefits from forced self-isolation needs to be carefully weighed against the potential psychological side-effects associated with a loss of freedom and separation from loved ones as well as feelings of uncertainty, ennui and, in some cases, suicide.
Mental health is a growing concern for the self-employed, and those who are already struggling with their mental wellbeing may find the current situation exacerbates their condition – making it much harder to focus on work.
The constant news coverage and social media posts about toilet roll shortages and empty supermarket shelves certainly don’t help matters, and our overly stressed, anxious and risk conscious brains are in danger of losing perspective. Naturally we want to stay informed of the recent developments regarding coronavirus, but it’s important where you go for that news.
If you find the TV or radio news is having a negative effect on your anxiety and stress levels, then stick to the dedicated NHS coronavirus updates and the Gov.uk pages, which are kept up to date with all the latest significant developments.
Working from home
If you are not used to working from home, being forced to self-isolate for an extended period of time can present certain challenges.
For freelancers who are used to working at different sites and meeting new people on a daily basis, being suddenly restricted to staying home can be a significant change to their daily lives.
One of the biggest challenges when you work from home is the inability to “switch off” from work. When your process of leaving work involves a commute of some kind, you have natural “downtime” built into your day where you can leave work behind and relax when you get home. If you’re working from home, you can fall into the trap of never actually “leaving” work.
To tackle this, make sure you have a designated work spot in your home that is separate from where you tend to unwind in the evening. For example, if you usually relax on the sofa watching TV when you get back from work, then don’t spend all day working on your sofa with the TV on in the background – otherwise you might find it hard to escape the “work” frame of mind later on.
For more information, read our guide: Freelancing and mental health – tips to beat depression when you work from home
Working from home when you have children
Having to work from home is one thing, but if you have children and the schools close you will be facing a whole host of challenges. Chief amongst these is the balancing act in terms of being a present and attentive parent, and working enough to be able to pay the bills.
Some freelancers are able to manage their time more freely, so can arrange their parenting requirements around their work e.g. doing most of their work in the evenings. However, for other self-employed workers, it can be another trigger for their mental health, adding more stress and anxiety for them to deal with.
The problem is, there’s no easy answer to this problem. For some people, it can be as easy as sharing the parental load between you and your significant other, and adapting your work schedule to fit in. For others, it won’t be so simple and may require flexibility from your clients in order to fit your work around caring for your children.
Whatever situation you are in, it is important to be proactive and try to take control. For example:
- Talk to the school to see if there’s any homework, coursework or digital learning available to keep them busy
- Do your own research for online learning resources such as BBC Bitesize or Good2Learn
- Try to establish a routine with your children which gives you time to work e.g. putting their favourite film on after lunch to give you a couple of hours of work time
- Equally as importantly, set aside time to spend with your children during the day so that they don’t feel left out and ignored. This will also be a distressing time for them, so they will require reassurance.
Looking after your wellbeing while self-isolating
Perhaps the best advice with regards to your mental wellbeing while working from home is to prioritise it. It is very easy to get swallowed up and consumed by your work, and this new way of working doesn’t offer the same rhythm as working in the office – where you may have established a pattern of behaviour to ensure you get regular breaks, social interaction, professional help, advice and reassurance and so on.
Below we’ve listed a few tips to help you focus on your mental health and wellbeing while you are working from home:
It cannot be overstated just how important staying in touch with people is when you’re working from home. Get in the habit of picking up the phone and checking in with your colleagues as much as possible – if they are self-isolating as well then they will probably welcome a few phone calls a day. You can also use chat services like WhatsApp or video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts to keep in touch throughout the day and hold meetings etc.
As important as it is to keep in touch with colleagues, you also need to remember to switch off at some point. Just because you can check your emails in the evening, it doesn’t mean you should. Also, you may be comfortable continuing to work long into the evening but your colleagues may not – so be sure to consider their mental wellbeing before firing off a work email at 11.30pm.
As well as improving our physical health, exercise can also help our mental health and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you are self-isolating and not able to go outside for a walk or run, there are lots of exercises you can do at home. The NHS has a lot of seated exercises you can do while working from home, as well as a 10-minute home cardio workout.
There are also countless free fitness apps and YouTube channels you can try to help you keep your fitness up while you work from home.
Keep your mind active
Commuting to and from work, nipping out to buy lunch, having meetings and chatting with colleagues – you probably view these day-to-day activities as routine and even mundane. However, they play an important role in stimulating your brain and keeping your mind active.
Keeping our minds active and creating new connections in the brain is hugely beneficial for our mental wellbeing, and can have significant long-term effects.
While you’re working from home, try to set some time aside to do something creative or constructive that isn’t work-related. This could be reading a book, doing a crossword, listening to a podcast or doing a puzzle – anything that requires more brain power than aimlessly staring at the TV.
Stick to your routine
To make sure you stay productive and motivated while working from home, you should try and stick to your old routine as much as possible.
This means getting up at the same time and going through your usual morning routine – don’t succumb to the temptation of having a lie-in and then jumping straight from bed onto your laptop at 9am.
You should also have a good plan-of-action for each day to keep you in a good working rhythm throughout the day.
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