How to Work From Home With Your Mental Health Intact, According to Experts
by Amelia Quint
If sheltering in place has taught us anything, it's that working from home is far from glamorous. It's great to have the freedom to work in your own space, but that comes with its own set of challenges. Whether you’re running your own business or trying to stay in touch with coworkers long-distance, there are plenty of ways to thrive when your workspace is your abode — they’ll just take a little practice!
Dr. Rhea Merck, a psychotherapist and Senior Instructor of Psychology at the University of South Carolina, recognizes how tough it can be when your professional and private spaces become the same.
“The benefit of going to an office is that you have a clear boundary of space, time, and tasks,” Dr. Merck explains. “And now the problem is that they’ve been thrown into a blender.”
She points out that whenever you shift settings from work to home, it requires adaptation, which takes a lot of mental effort. Now that the lines are blurred, we’re making those kinds of leaps more often, and that can be fatiguing.
The best way to combat that fatigue, Dr. Merck says, is to strike a balance between staying connected and setting boundaries. She adds that, from a psychological perspective, there’s no substitute for in-personal social interactions, so it’s normal to feel some edginess if you’re spending more time alone.
But even while protecting your health, she affirms that small touchstones can help keep you stay focused, like listening to music or going for a walk if you can. She also says you can use that same strategy to remind your brain that it’s time to work by setting up an area that exists only for that purpose.
Theresa Reed, an author and tarot reader who’s run her own business for nearly 30 years, says those same kinds of boundaries are what’s allowed her to maintain a thriving client base and write multiple books while working from home.
“My best advice is to treat your home like it’s an office,” she recommends. “Create a dedicated space where you can work undisturbed. Also, if you live with other people or pets, you’ll need to set some ground rules so they don’t interrupt you.” Even if they’re tough to implement at first, she’s adamant that you’ll get lots more done with everyone on board.
Given the current climate, Reed insists that if you’re suddenly working from home as opposed to in-person, the best thing you can do is adapt. She’s no stranger to upheaval, as she recalls shepherding her business through the economic downturn after 9/11. At the time, she was seeing all her clients in-person, but was able to keep herself up and running by taking appointments by phone and online. So, follow her lead and get your favorite Zoom background ready!
But what if you work for a company rather than for yourself? It can be hard to feel like you’re part of a team when you’re looking at one another through squares on a screen. Margo Downs, career consultant and former chief human resources officer at workout apparel brand Lululemon, explains that what we think of as culture within businesses is more than just the snacks or activities.
“Sometimes it’s easy to define culture as how we hang out together,” she says. “But it’s really how your team shows care for whole people." Think about having a call instead of a video chat with the colleague who just attended their first virtual funeral, or consider how you can keep beloved office traditions alive digitally.
In the end, it’s all about letting your humanity shine through. Downs mentions her dogs, who often join her Zoom calls unannounced — like the children in that infamous 'BBC Dad' video.
“Those things have been happening all the time, but now we just see them," she says. “It’s now exposed us as full human beings, and we can treat each other in that way.” And honestly? We wouldn’t have it any other way.