Staying ahead of the mental health curve will make WFH work

corona virus mental health230

TO HELP put a dent in the coronavirus curve, many of us have been forced into swapping cramped and crowded cubicles farms for the creature comforts of working from home.

At the same time many of us are trying to stay ahead of a second curve as we battle to work out how to best perform our jobs from home.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of advice available to help us to make a smooth transition from cubicle to couch.  

The WFH advice covers areas ranging from how to set up an ergonomically ideal home office through to installing the right videoconferencing software on your laptop.  

There even are words of wisdom on how to best manage the time associated with what you consider to be a newly found freedom.

But there is a third curve we must work hard to stay ahead of if we are to be truly effective at WFH: the mental health curve.

Staying mentally fit and healthy while working from home is arguably the single biggest success factor when it comes down to whether a stint of WFH will, well, work.   

The reality is that when it comes to WFH effectively, poor mental health can be a deal breaker. It can kill off the productive self that you were well known for in the office as fast as a child bolts from their homework. 

The truth is we are living in extraordinary times. Many of us were feeling anxious or sad long before we were advised or even directed to WFH.  

We might have experienced prolonged worry in response to the ambiguity surrounding the global economic situation or been upset at losing some of our daily sources of fun and enjoyment.  

Just take worry as a negative emotion. It eats up all our attention and drains us of what might be described as good energy.  

Negative emotions are less than ideal ingredients for lunging into the loneliness and isolation that often accompany the WFH package.

To be effective in WFH therefore starts with us tearing down the coronavirus mindset of doom and gloom that prevails within many individuals and communities and replacing it with a more positive way of thinking.

We need a mindset that embraces opportunity, positivity, hope and gratitude.

Every single client hand that we no longer shake is a new opportunity to make a phone call. 

Those embraces with colleagues back in the office can be replaced with expressions of kindness, warmth and concern, even if delivered electronically including with a considered emoji.  

Every metre we place between ourselves and another person must become a thought of how we might best support that human being.   

We may have retreated inwards in a physical sense, but we need to continue to think outwardly.  

Once you have made the mental leap to a more positive mindset, there are a series of practical steps you can take to bolster your mental health.  

Maintaining contact with colleagues and managers is not only critical to the performance of a business but serves to boost emotional and mental wellness. 

And when it comes to the interactions of the more social variety, consider hosting virtual coffee breaks – perhaps once day – to bring together those working at home. Maybe try a virtual wine time at the end of WFH week.

It is important to get dressed and to have a plan for each day. The plan needs to include a starting and finishing time – and keep in mind that your workday should be made up of a series of sprints, not a single eight or 10-hour distance marathon. Take breaks often.

Over-communicate with your colleagues and clients to ensure clarity reigns supreme, though not to the point that it distracts or hinders others in their efforts.

Get plenty of sleep and de-clutter your home, or at least your immediate workspace, to make you feel more in control.

Check the latest news at regular intervals during the day so you remain connected with the outside world, but don’t overdo it.

And set and smash work deadlines to prove to yourself that you can be super productive, regardless of your work location.

At the same time let yourself off the hook when things do not go to plan by remembering that WFH is nothing like working from the office. Keep in mind also that it is mentally healthier to cut yourself some slack rather than to beat yourself up over something that – in the scheme of things – is simply not that important.

But the most important message is simple: do not neglect self-care.  

Sometimes we kid ourselves that being effective at WFH requires a tireless devotion to a keyboard.   This could not be further from the truth.

Those who neglect self-care often do so because they claim they are too busy. Having others to take care of in the virtual workplace can also restrict the time they can spend looking after themselves. 

But if you have travelled on a plane and listened intently to the pre-take off safety announcements, you will find they contain an important message about self-care.

Airlines will advise you that in an emergency you will need to affix your own oxygen mask before you assist others. 

The easily understood theory is that if you pass out while trying to help others because you have ‘sacrificed’ yourself in pursuit of prioritising the care of others, you are helping no one.

The same theory applies to everyday self-care. 

If you relegate the need to take care of yourself to the back of the queue, you will not be able to serve or support your colleagues or customers in the workplace – virtual or otherwise – especially in the longer term. 

While your pressure valve might have been focussed on going to the gym, getting a massage or meeting friends at your favourite restaurant, now is the time to be creative and reinvent your own self-care in experimenting with new activities.  

It might include virtual meetups or social gatherings, trying out new recipes or throwing yourself at new projects.   

Perhaps it simply consists of you binging on a favourite comedy show that helps to dial down your worries.

When it comes to reinventing self-care, the message is very clear: let your imagination run totally wild. 

Above all, maintain a mindset of being of service to your colleagues, customers and friends – from a distance.  

If there is one way to boost your own mental health, it is to work at supporting the positive mental state of others – but not to your detriment. 

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