Working from home. Once a special, once-in-a-while treat that was characterized by the chance to work in our pajamas, it’s now become the norm for many of us.
But what we’re finding is that the shift to a fully at-home work situation brings its own set of challenges. It strips us of many of the mental wellness strategies that we may have built into our old routines and brings new situational and environmental stressors on top of the change and uncertainty we’re already facing.
We’ve always known that we need to build healthy habits to stay resilient and tackle stress—get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, socialize, etc. But how many of these things became hidden casualties of the pandemic and the work-from-home life?
Think about the mental wellness practices in your pre-COVID work life. The morning and evening commutes (AKA the guilt-free podcast-listening, book-reading, music-enjoying hour). Those little lunchtime walks. Chats with colleagues in the kitchen. After work wind-down sessions with friends. Gym time.
All these things were baked into our old routines and we didn’t really consider the resilience-building effects they had on us… until they were gone.
But first, what is resilience?
Resilience is your ability to bounce back and adapt in the face of challenging circumstances. It’s your ability to keep a stable mental state, despite outside influences.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”
It’s important to remember that resilience isn’t a complete absence of stress or difficulty. It’s not a magical cure-all. It’s a way to help you better understand and manage your own responses—and to recognize warning signs and stressors in the future.
Certain people may be more predisposed to being resilient than others, but resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that everyone can learn and develop.
The Harvard Business Review outlines three key factors that help to make people more resilient: high levels of confidence in their abilities, disciplined routines for their work, and social and family support.
So why is it important?
Resilience is an incredibly important part of your self-management toolkit, because it helps you to better handle the challenges you encounter. When you’re mentally resilient, you’re less rocked by daily changes. And you can acknowledge your stress and the ups and downs of life without being controlled by it all or becoming overwhelmed.
Resilient people also create more resilient teams and contribute to better company cultures, making for healthier places to work.
So now we know why it’s so important, the question is… why are we actively having to cultivate our resilience now, more than ever before?
Why now? A new wave of potential stressors
This new era of working from home brings a whole host of new challenges and considerations to contend with. And many people may be undergoing these added pressures without realizing the effect it’s having on their mental health and well-being.
At work, you might be:
- Feeling disconnected from colleagues
- Feeling like you can’t (or shouldn’t) ask for help
- Receiving negative feedback from stakeholders, colleagues, or customers—and you're not able to address it easily
- Reading the wrong tone in text communications and/or worrying about how your own words come off or sound
- Facing new time management challenges / have too much on your plate
- If you’re living alone, you might suffer a mental toll from spending so much time by yourself
- If you’re living with others, you may be finding it hard to balance everyone’s need for time and space with your own needs
- If you have children, you may now find yourself having to shoulder childcare during work, making sure children are eating and attending classes, and not struggling or feeling lonely
- You might be caring for a family member on top of other responsibilities
From life in general, you might have to endure:
- Receiving bad news, whether personal or on a general level
- Increased uncertainty about the world, the economy, politics, and the pandemic
- Feeling like you’re missing out on life, or that life and career progress have stalled
- Not being able to see your support networks of family and friends
In the past, any or all of these things might have affected your mental health—but now it’s so much more pronounced, and it may be harder to shake the impact off.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Because people are finding great new ways to bring mental wellness and resilience back into their lives while working from home. And we can all learn from the healthy habits they’re discovering.
Best of all, these practices can follow us out into the world when it opens up again.
How to build resilience from home
- Reframe your thinking
In times of change, we often default to our habitual stress reactions without challenging them. To escape this cycle, track your own reactions to stress and consider whether or not they’re valid. Is there really that much work to do, or do you simply remember the last time work overwhelmed you and feel like that may happen again?
Also be sure to externalize your stress. Keep it separated from your person—don’t characterize yourself as ‘stressed,' simply acknowledge that you are experiencing a bout of stress and that it will pass.
Another technique, suggested by leadership researcher Robert J. Thomas, is to ‘reframe’ your tension. Re-characterize your misses and mistakes as learning opportunities rather than abject failures. This way, you will begin to see how you are succeeding because of how you overcame struggles, not in spite of them.
- Embrace opportunities to adjust your working and living situation and setup
In the office, you probably tuned your personal workspace over time so it was just right. Now, you need to do that for your home workspace.
Find ways to make life easier for yourself by improving your physical home workspace (for example, with better lighting or a new desk chair) and your working methods if possible (such as by finding when you work best and rotating your schedule to account for that, or determining when you might need to fit in a walk or childcare).
Identify what you need in order to feel more secure in your work. Do you need virtual stand ups to feel more in-the-know? Or regular touch-points with colleagues, to feel more connected and engaged?
- Use time blocking: parcel time effectively to segment your day
When working in an office, your day would split more naturally—work stayed at the office and home time was defined and more easily managed. Now, we’re all having to rethink the way we manage time, to ensure we don’t inadvertently end up sacrificing or losing time that should be spent on other things.
By actively scheduling and blocking out your time, you get a bird’s eye view of everything you need to do. This helps you break up and prioritize tasks, which will help to make things seem less intimidating or overwhelming.
Time blocking can also be used to protect your time outside of work. It’s incredibly important that you get the work-life balance you need to relax and to spend on your relationships and home life. It may seem counterintuitive to plan out your free time, but it can really help you to identify the areas you need to spend more time on.
Check out this article on time blocking for more detailed tips on how to use this technique.
- Get outside more often
Your commute may have been a pain, but at least it got you out of the house twice a day. Now, if you want to get in some outside time, you need to actively make an effort to work it into your schedule.
Two easy ways to do this are to plan to take walks on your lunch break or to set up a 'faux-mute.'
By setting up a 'faux-mute' (faux commute, if you’re wondering) before and after work, you can get some much-needed time outside with a walk or a bike ride around the block. It also helps you mentally switch to and from work mode, which can help you to delineate your time better.
- Learn to shut down
On that note, you may need to re-teach yourself that it’s okay to switch off. Office work made the end of the day clear: people started going home, and you had to shut down the computer and leave. But those signals aren’t present at home, which can make it trickier to log off.
Take back your ‘home time’ by building that punctuation into an end-of-day routine—and don’t be tempted to blur lines by checking your emails.
- Take time for yourself
When working from home, your ‘off’ time is often ‘on’ time for other responsibilities, such as taking care of and helping children or doing housework. If possible, do your best to set aside some time to take care of yourself and fully relax.
Perhaps have a sacred uninterrupted half hour each day, where you can be free to take a long bath, do yoga or meditate, or even just read a book quietly. Whatever helps you to relax best.
Of course, not everyone will be able to do this—but if you can, it really does make a world of difference to your mental well-being and ability to center yourself.
- Reach out to others more
A lot of the organic channels for socialization are largely absent from daily life now, which means that you need to make an active effort to feed your need for socializing.
So be sure to regularly check in with those you care about. Maybe set up a weekly call with your friend group, or a coffee morning with colleagues. If you’re managing anyone at work, stay in close contact with them, too—they may not be doing as well as they seem. This blog about supporting employee well-being has some great tips about communication and keeping differing personalities in mind.
And experiment with mixing up your group sizes—it’s great fun to have big catch-ups with everyone, but one-on-one chats are important for getting a more personal element of socialization in.
- Learn new resilience skills
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek out more concrete forms of information gathering. Guided mindfulness sessions offer a fantastic way to develop new skills through evidence-based methods. And expert-led Masterclasses are built into the Calm experience to help you improve your mental well-being and make positive changes to your thinking.
Or, if you’re interested in getting a first-hand account about someone else’s experience, you can read this post in our Mindful Leadership series about a MarCom leader’s road to resilience.
Working from home has changed so much and interrupted many of the mental wellness practices many of us developed over time. But instead of mourning the loss, take this as an opportunity to find new, better ways of managing your mental health and well-being.
Build up your resilience and help those around you to improve their own too. Check in on others, if you can. Your colleagues, family and friends will also need help, as they’ll be going through similar struggles.
Start building mental resilience and well-being into your workspace with Calm for Business. With a diverse set of tools to suit everyday challenges, Calm offers something for everyone. Book a demo for your workplace.