At Impact, I have researched the effects of well-being on performance and leadership in organisations over the past several years. From my research and others, here are five evidence-based ways that you can develop your wellbeing in this uncertain time whilst working from home.
A little bit of structure
Those who work in an office will have a fairly structured day. You wake up, have some “free” time, commute to work, work the hours needed - with breaks and lunch, commute home, have free time then go to bed. The structure of your day may now look and feel a bit different.
Due to the uncertainty and unknowns of the current environment, we put further pressure on ourselves to work harder. Our routines can start to look like this: wake up, eat breakfast - at our workspace, work the hours needed - without proper breaks, eat lunch at our desk, keep working longer than we normally would, short amount of free time, then bed. We lose the time that we normally subconsciously reflect and restore our cognitive resources.
This structure will only lead to burnout.
On top of work, throw in looking after your family, thinking about your loved one’s health and not being able to control certain things in your life.
Structure is needed whether you like it or not.
Review how you are currently working and involve everyone in the household. Make it clear what time is used for working and when free time is. Set clear break times, eat lunch away from your workspace and make sure you have free time between sleep and work, at both ends of the day. This structure will be fluid, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to it. Take these into consideration:
- Manage your screen time
- Don’t waste energy switching between tasks
- Aim for real impact not busyness
- Our “Eureka” moments come in our downtime
- Staring at it won’t solve it
Sharing really is caring
Isolation, connection and burnout are all issues highlighted whilst remote working. They are also the three most highlighted issues according to the State of Remote Working Report 2019. Add in a global crisis and these issues only grow as people new to remote working are adapting.
We underestimate the social connections we have at work until we no longer have them. Those coffees breaks, interruptions while you are at your desk and bumping into people in social areas. These small moments all add up and benefit our mental health. When we no longer have these social interactions where we can share, listen and offer support, we can feel isolated and less connected.
So, create spaces for people to talk, like you would in the office. Arrange virtual meetings with the sole purpose of allowing people to share what their world is like currently. Sharing how we are really feeling lowers our stress levels, we feel more supported, more connected and we get a stronger sense of belonging and togetherness. Use video when you can so people can read body language. Smiles are quite literally contagious and make us feel more at ease in conversations.
Listening is key. Understand what another person’s world is like right now. Let people have the space to share what they are comfortable sharing. Ask questions for understanding not judgement. Offering support can just be as beneficial to your mental health. By helping others, you lower your own stress levels. Be the one to arrange catch ups and check-ins with others as you could really help someone with this simple act.
Talk to yourself like a loved one
As humans we find it easier to give advice and guidance to others than act upon it ourselves. Naturally in these times we think of those we love and who are important to us. However, we often forget to talk positively to ourselves. When faced with an environment of unknowns and uncertainty we often develop irrational thoughts. Simply put, we get automatic negative thoughts. Examples include constantly looking on social media and listening to the news, which can make us catastrophise, think in black or white terms and take things personally.
In order to combat these negative thoughts, we need to disrupt them.
When they come into our head reflect upon this simple question:
Is this thought helping or hindering me?
Focus on the things you can control, including where you get information from and the actions you can take to make yourself feel better prepared. It is okay to acknowledge some things are outside of your control right now, but constant repetitive negative thoughts about the situation can lead you to feel anxious or overwhelmed and are not helpful. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You are only human like everyone else. Talk to yourself like you would a loved one.
Our physical health has a big impact on how you are feeling emotionally and mentally. At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour, which in turn can make you feel worse. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise inside where possible and outside once a day. Get creative with how you exercise. Cleaning and gardening are great examples of moving and staying active. Take the time to stretch. You will be touching your toes in no time.
Feeling anxious or worried can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how you feel mentally and physically, so it’s important to get enough. Maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep good sleep hygiene practices, like avoiding screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine and creating a restful environment.
Small choices, big changes
We have a choice in how we think, behave and act. These choices are based on our daily habits, whether they are positive or negative. Our habits are based on our reward system for doing that habit. We start with a cue, for example feeling uneasy or anxious, we then follow this cue with an action, such as eating unhealthy food. We then get a reward, a rush of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Most of our habits come to us without much thought - we simply create a regular routine.
However, our habits will quickly change as we create a new working routine due to working remotely. Now is the time to create new healthy habits that will enable you to be productive, physically and emotionally well and reduce unnecessary stressors.
Like new year’s resolutions we often aim to change big - like our entire diet or implement an exercise routine to match Olympic standards. The key to a real change of habits is to start small. Such as, making sure you are not sitting down for long periods of time staring at the screen. Have a glass of water next to you. Every time you finish the glass, get up, pour another glass, take two deep breaths, roll your shoulders back and go back to work. Though it seems like a small thing to do, it will hugely benefit you.
Think about what your cues are, what trigger these for you and how do you react to them? This is how you create real behaviour change for the better.
Get in touch to find out how Impact integrates wellbeing into virtual solutions using our Going the Distance principles.
Stuart Kelly is a Performance Psychology Consultant at Impact UK.