Protecting Your Mental Health While Working From Home

by Michelle Hunter

Thoughts to help you thrive during social distancing.

Working from Home

Things are not exactly ideal right now, are they? Last week I was on a video call with a group and realized someone was seated at a desk inside a walk-in-closet. Another participant was set up at the kitchen counter with a refrigerator for a backdrop. During the call, a hungry teen popped in for a snack. This is the new normal.

I worked from home for years – 7 to be exact – but over the past 12 months shifted my business into a shiny, comfortable office space that I love. However, I’m writing this from a basement bedroom that was recently converted into a sewing room. My cutting table/workstation is now a desk and a space heater is working to warm up the cold concrete floor.  We are all adjusting, aren’t we? 

I’m grateful for a comfortable room with a door I can close. Many of you don’t have that luxury. I’m also grateful for a safe place to work while protecting myself from the risks of going out… others are working in essential ways to protect and serve us. I’m so incredibly grateful for all of you, and your sacrifice puts my situation into perspective. Thank you! 

You don’t need me to tell you that staying home is one of the most important things we can do to limit our risks and protect our own physical health and the health of our families. That message is everywhere, and if you haven’t heard it yet you’re just not paying attention. But – there’s another message you might have missed…

We must actively protect our mental health while we are isolated. 

This is equally important as guarding our physical health… and I believe we must act with intention if we are to successfully navigate this time at home. I’m not really talking about productivity – although staying productive is important. I’m talking about finding meaning in this situation so you can stay motivated and hopeful about the future.

Here’s what I’m doing. I hope you find inspiration here. 

Fight fear and overwhelm. 

Fear is a normal response to a crisis. We naturally consider the situation and begin to think about possible impacts to ourselves and the people we love. Personally, I think about elderly parents and relatives, people I love with chronic illness, and my own vulnerability. I wonder about our economy, our community, and our government. I see risks and I try to think through options and make plans to protect myself and those I love… and then the reality hits me. Some things are just outside my control, which can lead to anxiety and fear. 

Here’s what I suggest and what’s working for me: 

I recognize and acknowledge how I feel. Rather than stuffing down my feelings, I choose to call them out. I admit to myself that I feel afraid and uncertain. I call my anxiety by name and I get it out of my head and into my journal. I’m a writer… so it shouldn’t surprise you that I journal a lot right now. 🙂 

I make a plan for mitigating the risks if I can. Fighting fear, for me, looks like planning. I think through the risks I see and map out ways I can respond. This gives me confidence and clarity about next steps and reminds me that while some things are out of my control, I have options and can choose my response. 

I simplify my life and my routines. Overwhelm is a real risk for me during a crisis. The increased emotional load I carry at these times reduces my overall bandwidth for the monkey-business involved in growing my company and managing my household. My response? Simplification. There are lots of things I CAN do and would normally do as a part of my best life. However, this is not an ideal situation and many of those best things are optional. Let’s just cut out the extra stuff, okay? Works for me!

I limit my exposure to fear, panic, and hype. This means stepping away from the media and putting down my phone. It means limiting my conversations with people who are living in panic mode and staying away from anything that threatens my hope. 

I feed my soul grace, hope, and resilience. For me, this means reading scripture and inspiring stories of people who faced challenges with courage. It means looking at ways people in my community are helping others and joining into their efforts if I can. It also means extending understanding and forgiveness to those around me who are struggling, even if they hurt me in some way. We’re all riding the struggle bus… you can sit next to me. 🙂 

Nurture creativity. 

I believe creativity is one of the greatest assets we have as humans. We have the ability to navigate challenges, innovate, and add meaning to situations through exercising creativity. During times of crisis and challenge, it’s extra important to nurture our own sense of creative energy. 

You see, creativity is expansive and forward thinking. It comes out of an abundance mindset and an appreciation for the details of our lives. When I am thinking creatively, I am moving forward in some way. I am processing emotions and experiences, sharing perspectives, or solving problems with innovation. I need more of this during a crisis – not less. 

How do we nurture creativity? The activities are actually fairly simple, although they may feel a bit counterintuitive just now. Here are a few suggestions… 

  • Play – board games, word puzzles, or made up games like “what can I make for dinner with these three things?” 
  • Practice – a new skill like baking, sewing, or fixing things in your home, a new craft like knitting, card making, or coloring, or a new instrument like piano, guitar, or even spoons (if you want to really think outside the norm). 
  • Experience – nature via a walk or a virtual exploration of our national parks, fine art through museum websites or coffee table books, or culture by watching international films online or listening to opera. 

We spark our imagination and nurture our creativity by weaving variety into our lives. Focus on using your senses – smell, sight, taste, sound, texture, etc. – to add richness to your experience. Notice the sounds in the woods or the smell of a new recipe. Think about how new types of music engage you emotionally or how you feel when you hold the guitar in your hands. So often life moves quickly and we miss things. This is the time to slow down and savor. 

Proactively prepare for the future. 

The current crisis will end. We don’t know exactly when, and there are a lot of variables which remain unknown at this time. But this situation will have an end… and I’m determined to be ready for it when it arrives. 

I want my business to be a part of the economic recovery. I want my family to be one of the first to build bridges back into the community. I want to step into the aftermath as a real part of the solution. In order to do this, I need to prepare now.

For me, this means evaluating my resources and my strengths with a proactive mindset. I’m considering how my business functions and looking for ways I can solve internal problems now so we’re ready for action in the future. I’m taking stock in my personal resources, too, and considering ways I might share my skills with others in the future to help them recover quickly.

Thinking about the future proactively gives me meaning in this time, and helps me stay grounded and positive when things around me seem bleak. 

So what about you? What can you do to amplify the recovery when it happens? Maybe you can teach life skills to others or serve in a tangible way. Perhaps you can use your entrepreneurial mindset to help people in your community explore options for working remotely or managing their finances in this moment. I’m not sure what you can do… but I know this → Finding a way to be useful makes even the most difficult situation feel manageable. So, do something. 🙂 

Stay safe. Stay positive. Stay home. 

You are responsible for your own health… and you are also a part of the greater community around you. During this time of crisis, keep your focus on what really matters. First, guard your own physical health by washing your hands, limiting your risk, and boosting your immunity through diet, exercise, and rest. Next, guard your mental health so you can navigate this time in a positive way and be a part of the solution. Then, guard others by staying home. 

Not sure what’s next for you and your business? This is NOT the time to quit… the economy and your customers and clients depend on you. Keep fighting, and reach out to me for help if you need it. I’ve got you.

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