Look after your mental health while working from home

If you are struggling with the lack of social interaction, you are far from the only one. Man is an animal made for living in groups and, at the moment, the requirement of the authorities to keep a distance to other people may be necessary – but it goes against the nature of most people.

Robert Jonasen, chief psychologist of SOS International explains why you may be reacting emotionally and provides some advice on how to best maintain your mental health.

Corona: Tremendous impact on the mind

Even people who are healthy may suffer physical and mental injury from avoiding social interaction. Studies show that loneliness may cause diabetes, weakening of the immune system and circulatory disorders.

In these corona times, when we are also affected by quarantine, threats of financial ruin, deaths and extreme demands for hand hygiene, the effect on our minds is tremendous.

Who is at greatest risk?

In connection with other epidemics, we have learnt that certain groups feel the emotional impact more than others.

According to research, these groups may be particularly vulnerable:

  • Young persons between 16 and 24 years of age
  • Women
  • Persons with a history of mental disorder
  • Parents of only children (as opposed to people with no children or parents of more than one child).
  • Persons working in the healthcare system
General reactions during the corona crisis:

According to the Danish Psychological Association, a number of emotional strains make themselves felt in connection with the pandemic:

Fear and anxiety:
Feeling worried about being infected or spreading COVID-19 is entirely normal. Feeling anxious about having access to food, medicine and other essentials is also quite normal.

Depression and boredom:
At the moment, the routines of most people have been turned upside-down. Many work from home, some children are taught through distance learning and do not leave the home during daytime. Most people are experiencing difficulty with creating a daily rhythm. At the same time, we cannot catch a break by going to the cinema, to a restaurant or to a party. All things, we normally do for recreation and relaxation.

Anger, frustration and irritability: These emotions are activated amongst other reasons because we have to let go of control of many things at the same time. These emotions may be directed at specific situations (e.g. when someone moves too close to you in the supermarket) or persons (e.g. family members with whom we spend more time than usually). The emotions may also be directed at the authorities that lay down certain guidelines which are restrictive or may lead to lay-offs, etc.

What can you do about it? 
Two factors are particularly important to our stamina:
  • Whether we have any influence on changing the situation in which we find ourselves
  • The duration of the unpleasant situation
It is obvious that, during the corona crisis, these are factors which are outside our immediate control. However and fortunately, we are still able to do a lot to influence our wellbeing.
You can do this:

Acknowledge and accept
Denial is a strategy which may be useful for short periods of time. However, in the longer term, we must acknowledge the stressful situation in which we find ourselves and accept how it affects us.

Stay in contact
Social distancing is not the same as social isolation. Take the opportunity to speak on the telephone, do facetime, organise skype dinner parties, take walks with your friends at a distance, etc. In that way, you ”cheat” your brain and get the feeling of spending time with others.

Focus on positives
Being aware of the positives of this new situation is important. Write a list. By way of example: If you work from home, you may experience greater freedom, you do not spend time sitting in a traffic jam every morning, and you can take a shower in the middle of the day if you feel like it.

Do breathing exercises
Learn to do breathing exercises. You can find guides on YouTube. Learning “tactical breathing” does not take long and this is an excellent way of dispelling tension. 

Help others and feel good
Try to be helpful. When you help others, your brain releases euphoria hormones – this is known as ”helpers high”. This type of hormone helps create a feeling of wellbeing.

Share the good stuff
A fun joke, a lovely photo or a thought-provoking article are worth sharing with others. In that way, you enhance the positive feeling you experienced when you first saw it or read about it.

Do not expect too much of yourself
You increase your stress level if you set yourself unattainable goals. Be good to yourself and do not expect too much. We live in a culture which expects us to get on our horse right away. However, one good piece of advice is to start out with a pony – you can always scale the horse later.

Choose your news carefully
Letting yourself get sucked into following several news broadcasts and press meetings on a daily basis is easy. Do not watch it all. Being well-informed is not the same as being a news centre. Set times every day when you bring yourself up to date – and be conscious of the sources of your news. Remember to also keep an eye out for good news.

Good advice for those working from home

  • Start each day by planning your work. Take breaks and make room for physical activity. Remember to make time for meals. Plan for practical chores such as laundry, food shopping and cooking.
  • Also, plan activities with your family and the children. It is good to plan these activities ahead and for several days. Create your own predictability.
  • Use a calendar to create an overview of each day and of the week. Stick to your plan as far as possible. By looking at the calendar, you can quickly see whether you have made a good plan with room for both work, pleasure and relaxation.
  • It may be helpful to make a ”sub-list” of activities which usually recharge you with positive energy. This could be taking a walk, calling someone special, playing a game – the only limit is your imagination.

  • Spend some time on selecting two or three activities which you can do every day and which will increase your wellbeing.

  • Remember to take breaks when you feel yourself getting tired, get a headache or feel tense. Your brain needs breaks – so-called ”brain breaks”. When you are at home and maybe alone, feeling yourself getting tired may be difficult.
    A break could be e.g. playing a computer game or kicking a ball for a few minutes. Get out and take a walk – even if it is a short one in-between two meetings. If you feel listless and uneasy, trying mindfulness exercises or relaxation may help. You could also try to download a relaxation video or a special calming music compilation.

Sleep is the single factor which provides you with the best possible restitution. In other words, sleep is a primary source of wellbeing and robustness.

For this reason, looking at what you can do to improve your sleep may be a good idea:

  • Where you sleep should be calm, dark and not too warm
  • Make sure to let in fresh air before going to bed
  • Do not look at your telephone nor watch TV in bed right before going to sleep
  • Avoid drinking tea, coffee, cocoa or cola for two to three hours before going to sleep.
  • Taking a warm shower before going to bed is a good idea
  • Listen to calming music to settle down once you have gone to bed

Many of us work from home at the moment. It is important that we still remember to create the best possible working environment in this unusual situation.

We have put together a number of good advice for all of you that you should use to get the best possible working environment at home here.

 

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