How to Avoid Depression Working From Home
Feeling depressed when working from home is not something that has cropped up purely as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped.
More people than ever are now working from home – some while facing huge job insecurity and others while caring for children who would otherwise be in school or childcare.
Is it any wonder, then, that our widespread, enforced social isolation is leaving people feeling depressed?
We can’t change the external factors that have given rise to working from home mental health problems; only a return to our normal working environments can do that.
However, there are actions that home workers can take to help avoid falling into depression. Let’s take a look at some of them…
1. Establish your workspace
It doesn’t matter whether you have a dedicated home office or you set up a corner of the kitchen table with just your laptop and favourite coffee mug.
What matters is that you turn that space into the best working environment that it can possibly be. Here’s how.
How healthy is the air that you breathe? It’s a very pertinent question right now, with air-borne particles being the reason that so many of us have been confined to quarters in the first place.
An air purifier is a quick win. It filters the air to remove pollutants and particles, essentially providing you with cleaner air to breathe.
Of course, opening a window is also a great way to freshen up a room in an instant – and at absolutely zero cost! A warm spring breeze can do wonders to lift your mood.
House plants can also provide you with cleaner air to breathe. Not only do they produce oxygen, but the smart cookies over at NASA have found that they also filter all kinds of harmful pollutants out of the air – everything from formaldehyde to ammonia!
Plants bring additional benefits too. They can reduce stress and physical discomfort and even increase pain tolerance. So pack your workspace with greenery to help stave off depression the natural way.
Start by focusing on natural light. Don’t worry, we’re not expecting you to start adding windows or skylights to your home – a simple mirror will suffice to increase the amount of daylight that floods your workspace.
Interior designers often use mirrors to make homes feel full of light. A carefully placed mirror hanging on the wall can brighten a room in an instant. Not only will the room look better, but you can enjoy the health benefits of bringing additional daylight into your life too.
There’s a clear link between a lack of daylight and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that sufferers often experience during the darker months of the year.
Our bodies get vitamin D from sunlight. A lack of vitamin D means that people can become up to 11 times more likely to experience depression.
If a mirror still doesn’t cut it for you in terms of natural light, a daylight SAD light is well worth considering. Simply turn it on while you’re working and your body will respond accordingly to the increase in daylight.
Take a minute to stop and look around you. What’s on your walls or your desk that inspires you? When did you last put up new pictures, photographs or motivational quotes? Or anything else, for that matter?
If you’re working from home over the longer term, change things up regularly. Whether it’s buying new photo frames (or making them, if you’re a creative type) or pinning up some quotes that inspire you or make you think, jazzing up your workspace can make a big difference to how you feel about working in it.
2. Stick to a schedule
When you work from home, it can be oh-so-easy to let your schedule slip. There’s no need to be out the door at the right time to catch your train into the office. Nobody will know if you end up eating breakfast at your PC at 11 am instead of before your working day starts. Or even if you take a shower before work…
On the flip side, without a regular routine in place, your work can end up creeping into your evening and weekend time more and more. This makes it harder for you to decompress and gain maximum benefit from your leisure time.
Having a routine brings a whole host of benefits when it comes to combatting depression. It can keep you on time and on track, ensuring that you avoid blurring your work and personal time boundaries. Work time can be the time when you are focused and energised. Leisure time can provide you with a chance to relax.
Of course, there will always be times when work encroaches on your personal time. Just make sure those times are the exception and get back to your schedule as soon as your workload permits.
One of the benefits of working from home is that you don’t have to commute to the office every morning, fighting your way through traffic and irritated commuters. However, not commuting can also become a disadvantage.
Commuting marks the transition from your home life to the start of your working day – and from the end of your working day back to your personal time. Its absence can therefore blur the boundaries between work time and leisure time.
To ensure that you distinguish between work and personal time, create a commute-like experience to mark the start and end of the working day.
It could be anything from going for a run to walking the dog. The important part is that it marks a division in your day, helping your brain to know when it has to be switched on and when it can start to power down.
Pretty much any article you read about how to overcome depression will extoll the virtues of exercise – and for good reason. Exercise can help to keep you in shape both mentally and physically.
If you’re trying to build more exercise into your day, make sure that you do it in a way that’s fun. That way, you’re more likely to stick with it.
From online Zumba classes to high intensity workouts, there are plenty of ways to work up a sweat at home, many of them designed to make the experience enjoyable as well as beneficial to your health.
Cue wacky Joe Wicks video…
Anyway, the NHS recommends spending 150 minutes per week engaging in moderate-intensity activity. That’s half an hour out of each of your working days, so why not build exercise into your schedule as a core part of the day?
There are plenty of apps to help you keep in shape, from health trackers to handy little ideas like the seven-minute workout. Experiment with a few to find out what works best when it comes to staying motivated.
Exercise can also be a great way to socialise (barring during the coronavirus lockdown). Joining a local sports club can keep you mentally and physically healthy while also giving you the opportunity to meet like-minded people. This can help to alleviate the isolation and loneliness that many home workers feel.
We’ve covered working out physically, but what about keeping fit emotionally? Being able to disconnect mentally is a hugely important aspect of working from home.
Meditation is the ideal way to do so. It’s free to practice, there are plenty of guided lessons online or available through apps (such as Headspace) and you don’t need any specialist gear in order to get started.
Learning to meditate brings a number of mental health benefits that can aid in staving off depression when working from home. It has been shown to reduce stress, lessen anxiety, increase your attention span and enhance self-awareness.
Meditation is a personal journey for all those who practice it. It’s not something that everyone finds easy at first, but perseverance will pay off – the longer you practice meditation, the more natural it will feel.
6. Take regular breaks
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It’s also likely to leave him feeling lonely and depressed.
Regular breaks can make a big difference to your mental state when you work from home, so build them into your day. A mid-morning and mid-afternoon stroll in the sunshine can do much to boost your mental wellbeing. Even taking ten minutes out of your working time to complete a micro-workout can leave you feeling instantly reenergised.
Of course, you don’t have to be ultra all the time. Curling up with a cup of tea and a few pages of a good book can be just as effective in terms of disconnecting you from work for a little while. The important point is that you switch off regularly – how you do it is up to you.
7. Socialise purposefully
Depression is an incredibly isolating condition and one that working on your own all day can quickly serve to reinforce. One important way to try and cope with it is to reach out to those around you.
Social media can be both a friend and an enemy here. Seek out contacts and groups that help to support you and give your mental health a boost. Drop those who don’t contribute to your emotional wellbeing and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into Twitterstorms that will only serve to wind you up.
There are apps (examples include Meetup and Nextdoor) that can help with this by connecting you with people who share similar interests. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, we were already living in an increasingly isolated way, spending less time in our local communities and thus finding it harder to connect with people. These apps are designed to reverse that trend.
Social relationships provide a sense of belonging and help to shape our sense of identity. Both of these can help you to deal with depression, so socialise purposefully when you’re feeling good, to build friendships that will be there to support you when you’re not.
8. Build a Support Network
As an extension of socialising purposefully, take the time to build support networks that will help to bolster your strength when you need it most.
If you’re prone to bouts of depression and find that working from home makes them more likely to occur and/or to last for longer, be sure to connect with networks that can help you through the bad times. There are plenty of forums and channels out there with fellow sufferers who can provide empathy and support.
I’m a particular fan of Big No Know. His content real, honest, raw and incredibly helpful.
You might not feel like building such networks when everything’s looking rosy, but that’s the best time to do so.
Reach out and connect with people when you’re at your best and they’ll be there for you when you’re at your worst. Plus, when you’re coping well, you may have the capacity to support others who are struggling. They’ll later be able to pay your kindness forward.
9. Connect with colleagues
Working closely with colleagues can also help to foster your sense of belonging and connection, reducing the isolation of working from home. Got a phone call booked in? Why not make it a video call instead?
The value of such face-to-face interactions, even when your colleague is on your screen rather than sitting next to you, should not be underestimated. Just 7% of our communication is verbal, while 38% relates to tone of voice.
As such, when you talk on the phone, you’re only picking up on 45% of what the other person is communicating to you.
Switching to video calls means adding a further 55% of communication (that which comes from body language), thus deeply enriching the experience. Opt for video calls as standard and you’ll instantly feel more connected.
10. Dedicate time to your hobbies
What do you like to do when you’re not working? Do you run? Cook? Read? Sew? Paint? Binge-watch Netflix? Whatever it is, make time for it.
It’s important, therefore, to set time aside specifically to spend on your hobby, rather than to view the hobby as something that would be nice to fit in if you can find time. Try to view your hobby as a means of boosting your mental wellbeing and thus as something that deserves to be treated as a priority.
11. Dress for work
This is a topic that tends to split opinion within the home working community. There’s no doubt that some people can roll right out of bed and be at their best while working in their PJs.
However, others find there’s a definite mental benefit in getting yourself up and dressed ‘for the office.’
That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit to work at your kitchen table (though feel free, if that’s what works for you!), just that it’s important to make a distinction between the clothes you sleep in and those that you wear when you’re ready to embrace the day and get the best out of it.
In much the same way as creating a commute helps to mark the start and end of your home working day, getting dressed for work can help you get into the right mindset and start focusing on your tasks.
12. Focus on financial security
Financial security isn’t based solely on what you earn (though that certainly helps). It’s about how you tackle your money. Do you budget effectively? Do you manager your debt sensibly? Or do you invest wisely?
The way that you spend can make a huge difference to how safe and secure you feel, both now and when you gaze into the future – and how safe you feel can make a big difference to how you feel when you’re depressed.
Do what you can to budget within your personal parameters. Are you paying interest on your credit cards? If so, it’s time to sort out some interest-free balance transfers. Do you have a savings plan? If not, it’s time to create one. Do you have savings sitting around that could be earning more for you? Then consider where and how to invest.
Everyone’s financial situation is different. Work with your own situation to ensure that you have as tight a grip on your money as possible.
13. Listen to classical music
If you think classical music isn’t for you, it might be time to reconsider. Listening to classical music has been shown to deliver a number of mental health benefits.
Even if it’s not really your thing, why not experiment with using it as a tool to help you ward off home working-related depression?
Music can connect us with other people and their emotions in powerful ways. From soaring, triumphant chords to sorrow-laced melodies, classical music can take the listener on quite the journey, enhancing feelings of connectedness along the way.
Listening to classical music can also reduce anxiety, lowering the listener’s cortisol levels, and increase blood flow and relaxation. Why not put on some DeBussey and test it out for yourself?
Working from home doesn’t suit everyone. It can be an enriching and rewarding experience, but it can also feel lonely and depressing. Sometimes, it can be all of these in the course of single day.
If you’re working from home over the longer term, try mixing and matching the tips above to find the best balance to suit your personal circumstances.
Make your mental health a priority like never before in these trying times.