The Unplanned Remote Worker’s Guide to Physical & Mental Health
Our lives have been collectively turned upside down and many of us have been thrust into working from home. How can we take care of our physical and mental health as we adjust to the new normal?
At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic has upended pretty much every aspect of our day to day lives. In an unprecedented series of events, major entertainment and service venues (from stadiums and casinos, to churches and schools, to museums and theaters, to local businesses) have been shuttered. Restaurants, bars, and cafes have been closed to in-house service. Events of all sizes have been canceled or postponed. Groups of people have been discouraged from gathering in both public and private spaces. And social distancing is the phrase on everyone’s mind, as states begin to put out different mandates ordering the population to keep our distance and flatten the curve.
One consequence of all of this is a sudden influx in remote workers, as traditional companies encourage (or mandate) their employees to stay home and telecommute for the foreseeable future. Whether you’ve worked remote before, or this is your first time, there is a lot to get used to when your routine changes. I’m sharing some tips from my years as a freelancer, as well as what I’ve learned from my last couple of years as a corporate contractor, to help you ease into this new normal with your health in mind.
Thinking & Feeling
A major and sudden shift to our collective culture is a heavy burden for our minds and hearts to bear. How can we take care of our mental and emotional health as we navigate this new social and work environment?
Be kind and patient with yourself
Living with constant uncertainty is scary and it is hard to stay productive. it’s ok if you’re more anxious, scared, or irritable than useful. Give yourself grace and compassion for doing whatever it is you’re capable of in the moment. Even experienced remote workers are dealing with new challenges, like additional childcare responsibility or loss of outside support networks, so it’s ok if we stumble a little as we figure this out. We are all going through this together.
Step away from screens sometimes
You no longer have a physical work/life separation, so it can be harder to know when to step away if you’re not used to this. Just because you can work all the time doesn’t mean you need to work all the time. At the same time, there is an abundance of information and speculation pulling us towards an endless scroll of news or social sites. Don’t use your all work breaks to simply stare at your screen for another reason. Make sure to put the phone, tablet, computer, or TV away for a little bit of time each day.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude
It’s easy to get caught up in fear of the future and anxieties about “what ifs.” We can counteract some of this by being present through mindfulness and gratitude exercises. This isn’t about ignoring or minimizing our fears and concerns, but rather about remembering what we can be thankful for: internet connections, an income, a roof over our heads, a beloved pet, a warm shower, a funny note from a friend, a favorite game. The practice of gratitude is known to reduce mental and physical stressors, which is important in a chaotic world.
Social distance is not social isolation
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans are social creatures, and social distancing can make us feel detached from our support networks. How can you connect with the people you love in new ways? Schedule calls or video chats, both one on one and in groups. For your friends and colleagues who are working from home, take advantage of the more fluid schedule to set up checkin or social calls at non-traditional times.
If anyone in your network is working a job that requires them to stay in the field, especially if they’re in the healthcare or services industries, they are probably working very long and stressful hours and dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety. Make sure to remind them how much you appreciate their efforts to keep our society running smoothly.
Eating & Nutrition
Whether it’s supporting local businesses through takeout, making sure your pantry is stocked up while grocery stores struggle to refill their shelves to meet demand, or adjusting to a lot more home meals than you’re used to, food is on the tip of everyone’s tongue (pun intended). How can we manage our food and nutrition in a way that emphasizes self care?
Be mindful, not mindless
When you’re stuck at home next to a fully stocked pantry, it’s easy to snack or eat for reasons other than hunger (boredom, stress, general proximity, etc). This is even more true when we are in periods of stress. Certainly listen to your body and eat if you’re hungry, but check in with yourself and see if what you’re feeling is actually hunger or if it’s something else.
Stay hydrated, drink water
I have a large 32oz cup that I try to refill a few times a day with water, in addition to any other liquids I’m drinking. Thirst often feels the same as hunger, so it helps to hydrate. Plus, drinking water has benefits for your entire body, from your skin to your muscles to your gut. As an added bonus, getting up to go to the bathroom more frequently will prevent you from spending too long in your chair.
Get creative with recipes to reduce food waste
Efficiently using ingredients and leftovers is a little bit of an obsession of mine. I often reverse-Google recipes based on the ingredients at hand, rather that starting with a recipe and assembling ingredients from there. This is even more useful when you don’t have an opportunity to get to the store.
Allow for the other reasons we eat
Food may be fuel, but it is also so much more in human culture. While it’s important to try to eat nourishing things that make you feel good, it’s also ok to choose our food for other reasons besides straight nutritional value. If a particular food brings you comfort, or if you want to cook something fun together as a family, or if you want to order from your favorite local restaurant to help support them, these are all great and valid reasons to enjoy food. As long as your decisions are mindful, you are the best one to make that decision.
Moving & Exercising
Staying home for the first time often leads to moving less, as our daily commute becomes bed to chair to couch to bed. How can we incorporate activity and exercise into a new work from home routine?
At home workouts
If you had a previous gym routine, it can be challenging to adapt to being stuck at home, but there are plenty of ways to stay active. Check if your gym/trainer has online training or consultation options, or see if any others in your area do. It’s a great way to support local business! There are also several trainers online that are publishing free daily workouts, whether that’s through their websites, a streaming service, or even via instagram stories.
Of course, there are also several online subscription services if you’d like more options (I personally use Beachbody On Demand, but there are plenty of others). You can get a great workout with just your bodyweight, but if you’ve been thinking of investing in any at-home equipment (like resistance bands, leg bands, adjustable weights, or bodyweight/suspension equipment) now might be a great time to place that order.
Taking breaks to move
Without a commute, office, cafeteria, or errands to break up the day, you can find yourself sitting in a chair for hours on end. Remember to get up from your chair frequently throughout the day. Set a timer if you need to! Walk around the house, stretch, take care of some minor chores, or get a home workout in during a longer break. Got some other family members around? A playtime break with dog or kids is a fun way to step away from your seat for a while.
Get outside, if weather & other conditions allow
If it make sense for your personal situation, get out and breathe some fresh air when you can. Walks or runs can be a great way to get in movement and a change of scenery. If you have a yard, taking care of gardening or outdoor chores can be a great mental as well as physical break. If you can’t get outside to move around, even a few minutes on the balcony or getting some sunlight in front of an open window can be restorative.
Practice good posture
Since we will all inevitably be sitting more often, remember to check in with your posture. With less access to massage therapy, chiropractic, physical therapy, or other ways of remediating body stress, it’s more important than ever to try not to overstress our bodies. Many at-hoc home work environments are less than ideal (kitchen tables, beds, couches, etc) so if that’s the case for you, take even more frequent breaks and check in with how your body feels.
Work & Productivity
While many of us have years of at home experience, many of our colleagues, clients, friends, and family are trying it for the first time. And even for freelance and remote work veterans, this situation is completely different than our normal lives. How do those of us fortunate to have work from home opportunities make the most of the new daily grind?
For many people, working from home is a brand new experience. It is important for all of us (veterans and newbies alike) to be patient with each other as we learn what our days look like. It may be important to over communicate and over document your efforts for a while, as interactions which come easily when everyone is in an office become very opaque and confusing when everyone works in a silo.
There are plenty of tips out there about work from home productivity, but right now it’s important to remember that it is going to be harder for everyone to be productive (including you!) and that’s ok. Be supportive of your peers and team members as they make the transition, do your best to follow through on what you need to do, and give plenty of advance notice if you need help or extra time to get things done.
Outside of Work
Many people are noting that now is a great time to start a new project or finish something that was languishing, since we have extra time available to us. And if you have the energy for it, that’s great! Some people find that having a goal in mind can help keep them focused and give them direction.
But just a reminder, it’s also ok to binge Netflix, play games, read for fun, or otherwise “not be productive” all the time. We all deal with stress differently, and allowing your mind time to rest and recover will help you be productive later when you need it.
Is there anything else you are doing to stay mentally and physically healthy during this unique time in our history? I’d love to hear more, and I’m sure we will all learn a lot about ourselves and our society as we continue through this. Good luck and much love to everyone out there!
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One Response to “The Unplanned Remote Worker’s Guide to Physical & Mental Health”
Non-contact and virtual dating is now a wide-spread legit thing, at least it can feel that way. And it can seem more conversational/intellectual since there’s no greeting handshakes or hugs (replaced by a ‘namaste”, hand clasp and a head dip) and certainly not a whole lot of pressure or gamesmanship for a hug, kiss or or other “close contact”…just a gracious “be well”, another hand clasp, and a head dip then go separate ways. Yeah, it’s the Interwebs and virtual dates can be Chauncy the Gardener’s playground, but the virtual Exit is so much cleaner than IRL. For the time beiing, there’s opportunities in the search for sanity.