18.05.20 Mental Health,COVID-19

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Alice Davis, IOM's Research Psychologist discusses being kind to yourself and others whilst living and working in the same space.

At the moment, there are more people working from home than ever before. Whilst it is helpful that we have the technology to facilitate working in this way, it is important that this does not mean that we are all constantly connected to work and feel like we are ‘always on’.

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Try to process the day and switch off

If you worked in an office environment before the lockdown began, then when you left the building to return home and it provided a physical distance between your workplace and your home. In some instances, this would have made it more straight forward to define the boundary between work and home life. Whereas now, if you’re working at home then the distance between your living and working space is likely to be just a few steps, and may even be in the same room in your home. Either way, this is a much shorter commute; as a result, there is a reduced physical boundary between your working life and your home life. You may have previously used your commuting time to prepare for work in the morning and switch off from the working day on your way home, where possible you should still try to process the day and switch off.

Be understanding of others and their circumstances


The working day itself may look very different too and you may be juggling childcare, caring responsibilities, volunteering and checking in with friends, families and neighbours, all within a typical day. It is important to remember that your working day may look very different from your colleagues, remember to be kind and understanding of others and their circumstances.


Be kind to yourself - detach from work is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing


It is also important during these times to be kind to yourself. Keep in your mind that we are living through unusual times and need to be realistic about what work we can achieve in our circumstances. When not working ensure that you try to relax. Just because we are working at home it does not mean we do not have working hours anymore, there are still times in the day when you work, and times in the day when you do not work. Having time to recover and detach from work is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. Just because we are now living and working at home it does not mean we have become robots that do not need breaks, we also need to keep in mind the physical and emotional effects that living through a pandemic may be having on us and those around us. If possible try to get some exercise and fresh air. Where we may have previously got up from our desks to attend a meeting in the office, we may now continue to be seated at the same desk, joining virtual meeting after virtual meeting. Whilst the social interaction during virtual meetings is important, we also need to remember to get up and move where possible, perhaps try getting up and walking around your home for a minute before a meeting, just as you would if you were heading to a meeting room in the office. Also do not forget that alongside work meetings, virtual coffee and catch-up could help you and your colleagues to keep in touch.

 

Communicate your working days and hours to others


The boundaries you may have previously set up to manage your work-life balance will look and feel very different now, this uncertainty may feel uneasy, but be kind to yourself. Just because colleagues may be sending responses late into the night, it does not mean you need to, they may have shifted their working hours to suit their situation at home. It is important that if you are checking emails at times outside of your working hours that it is because you choose to, and not because someone else is expecting you to.

It is important to communicate your working days and hours to others, perhaps use your out of office message to alert others to your current practices. This way in your non-working hours it might make it more possible to ignore work notifications as others are aware you are not working, and therefore do not expect a reply. Depending on where you are working in your home when you’re not working it may be helpful to close the door to where you were working or remove working devices from sight if this is not possible then at least turn off these devices to avoid yourself from being distracted by them.


Research has shown that individuals report how useful technology can be in relation to increasing their accessibility and connectivity allowing them to work anywhere and anytime. This has never been more important, however, it still remains important that this does not mean we are working everywhere and all the time.

 

We must be kind to ourselves and resist always being on, even when living and working in the same space.

 

Alice Davis, Research Psychologist, IOM

Stress, wellbeing and psychosocial issues