The challenges we are currently experiencing are putting an end to some of us having to commute, wear clothes, and put our makeup on. However, many of us will be yearning to go into work, enjoy a coffee and catch up with colleagues and experience the structure and routine that a typical working day can give. This new way of life can display many extraordinary challenges for anyone having to work from home. Discipline is required as without the structure and routine of going to a place of work, we’re left to our own devices. This can have an impact on our work, but also the choices we make around diet and activity.
On a good day, working from home can mean productive hours, exercise and healthy meals. What about those bad days? We can find ourselves raiding the fridge, over eating, not leaving the house, staying in pyjamas and struggling to find motivation. We all need daily routine, filled with pure, mindfulness practices to lift our mood and energy levels and keep us feeling connected. Mindfulness techniques can be a great way to keep us calm, focused and grounded.
‘I’m no longer a manic stress ball. I was sitting in traffic and missing lunch. I feel calmer and I see so much positivity from this (awful) situation. I’m at home with my dog who I know won’t be with us much longer. I think embracing the stillness will be good for many of us.’
Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment as it happens – to feel what’s going on around us and what thoughts, emotions and sensations we are experiencing. It is having the capacity to observe our own needs and accept things to be as they are as well as acknowledging when things are tough in a compassionate manner. Mindfulness can help us manage difficult moments and to really appreciate the good times in life. The heart of the concept of mindfulness is knowing that we are not our thoughts or emotions – we only experience them. We are observers to our passing experiences. Mindfulness helps us to step back so that we are far less commanded by our thoughts and feelings. In turn this enables us to have a better ability to choose how we respond. There are many mindfulness techniques that can help us with working from home during these difficult times. However, it’s not one size fits all and different approaches and techniques resonate for different people and circumstances.
Routine, routine, routine!
‘Getup like you’re going to work, shower, breakfast, walk the dog. Put on the washing or dishes in then sit down and make a plan for what you can achieve for the day.’
‘Routine has been amazing for my mindfulness and I feel the happiest and most content I’ve felt for a very long time.’
A simple routine can make all the difference. Having a structure can enable us to be more productive and allow us to sense that feeling of normality which is reassuring. It also helps to improve our daily body clocks which in turn can improve our quality of sleep allowing us to feel refreshed. We need to try and get up around the same time every day and start the morning with a good breakfast. This enables us to think with an open and clear mind.
‘I’ve found the best way to ‘get ahead’ is to get up really early before anyone else is up and I feel like I’ve already allowed for the distractions I will come across during the day.’
We should always get dressed in workwear. Wearing shoes whilst working from home can also help as when we put our slippers on, we aren't in work mode as we associate wearing slippers with being at home. If we put our shoes on, we are mentally associating ourselves with being at work. We should always try to treat our morning routine like a ‘normal’ day at work. This changes our state of mind, gives a positive intent and puts us into the correct frame of mind to have a productive, happy day. Without routine it is extremely easy to get distracted with daily chores, home schooling, parenting, partners and pets. Many of the people I interviewed stated that routine was needed for their mindfulness but that distractions in the home hindered their productivity and work flow.
‘I still stick religiously to my morning routine, this involves exercise, journal writing, task setting, affirmations, reading and mindfulness. It frames the mind and body to be primed for the day, and the right stuff gets done.’
‘Now I’ve got myself into a good routine I’m finding it much easier to switch off from everything else.’
‘I’m lucky to have an office at home but it isn’t easy when there is no structure to the day and I’m not working to tight deadlines which I now realise I kind of miss.’
Boundaries are key – they give us structure, security and help us with our routines. A tidy house and work space help to create a tidy mind and tranquillity. We should always try to make our beds, keep living areas tidy, and open the curtains to give natural light. Notice how keeping areas tidy can clear our minds ready for a productive day. We should try to have a designated working space within our homes and try to always work to set times. This will enable us to have a clear focus.
‘I’ve changed my spare room into a dance studio to film my classes and from a mindful perspective it really makes me feel like I’m coaching within a studio and I now feel more prepared for these classes than when I’m not working from home and doing 14-hour days.’
‘I try to get up at the normal time (cheeky lie in every now and again) I break for lunch something I never had time to do before and I finish at 4pm, shut the laptop lid and don’t go back to it. I don’t kick myself if I break off to watch a film with my kids or sit in the sun for an hour.’
It is also extremely important that we don’t beat ourselves up if we have a bad day. We should all allow for this every now and again. After all we are human and living through some extreme challenges. Never forget it’s ok not to feel ok and to always be kind with ourselves. We need to allow these feelings to sit with us, accept them and let them pass.
‘The first few weeks I found hard due to distractions. Also, my office is my dining table which is not too ideal! I also constantly have the urge to get up put a wash in, hang it out and clean around!’
Weekends and down time should be treated differently, so we don’t get into a habit of allowing the days and nights to all roll into one. We need to differentiate between work and leisure times. It is important that once we have finished our working day, we put away any tools of our trade such as laptops, computers and books and take some time to relax in the evening before the routine starts again the following day.
‘I don’t sit in my living room at all until after 6pm or watch tv in the day so it still feels like an evening luxury.’
‘We make sure we put all work out of sight for the weekends.‘
‘I’m doing yoga every morning and we all go for a walk after the last conference call of the day. I also take a walk in the garden every time I have a cuppa.’
When our minds feel full, or we are worrying we should think about what we are able to control and try to come back to the present moment. We should always be gentle and kind with ourselves and try to use the healthy distractions to overcome our feelings.
We often see the advantages of movement with our physical body, but movement is just as important for our minds and mental state. Regular breaks to move around are crucial during our day and can help make the day pass quicker. Gentle stretches can help release tension, walking up and down in our living rooms or walking around our gardens help get our blood and endorphins pumping or a livelier dance session can be a great way of improving our mood as well as burning some calories! If possible, we should try to go outside daily and enjoy being in nature, but if this is not a possibility we should try and have an outside view from our working areas as this can help us feel grounded.
We should try to give ourselves some relaxing practices every day to help maintain our wellbeing. Try a quick hand massage, a short breathing meditation or just listening to some music to calm our minds. Keeping ourselves well hydrated and full will also help us to think straight.
‘I have taken webinar opportunities on well-being when time permits.’
Slowing down our breath can also help calm our minds and bodies, but if focusing on just the breath feels challenging, try to move with the breath instead. We should be comfortable when doing any form of meditation regardless of how long it is. Short breathing mediations are perfect for us to practice throughout our day. Start by resting the hands with palms up. As we breathe in open the hands and as we breathe out make a gentle fist. Try to focus on moving the hands and notice how this relaxes our breathing and makes us feel centred. This can also be a great diversion from overflowing minds.
‘It is important to accept this is a different way to work and embrace all the aspects of it. Breathe in between tasks and focus on what you can control as well as allowing for self-care.’
‘I’m keeping in touch with the office staff and checking in with them because it’s harder than you think when you’re used to seeing someone every day.’
Communication and keeping in touch with colleagues are vital as working from home can be lonely and isolating! We should make the time to connect with others by talking on the phone, sending text messages but more importantly by having regular facetime meetings or video conferencing calls. By making time to see fellow workers on screen we can keep our relationships more personal and real which is far more effective than just hearing a voice at the end of a phone.
‘I’m managing to keep in touch with colleagues via e mail and Teams chat room. I do miss face to face contact though.’
‘I find this both physically and mentally exhausting - it seems to take a different sort of energy. I’ve doubled my meditation time in the morning, but I haven’t quite cracked the evenings yet and I constantly feel tired.’
No one knows all the answers during this challenging time. Emotions are highly sensitive and heightened as we feel fearful, confused and have no idea of an end date to the nightmare we are living. We should be mindful and never lose sight that these challenges will eventually end, and we always should try our hardest to have a positive mindset. We need to take each day as it comes and use our reset buttons each night. Live in the now and try to practice a positive mental attitude even on those bad days we all have. Practicing gratitude and journaling is also a great way of helping us feel so much better about our circumstances. Research shows that writing down gratitude daily increases our happiness and reduces depression. We should also try to also utilise our time and do something we’ve never found time for. Take up a new hobby or interest and use this time to become wiser and smarter. We are no different from our phones and computers and we should always therefore make time to switch off and nurture ourselves with downtime. Mindful choices include reading books, practicing yoga, meditating, watching TV programmes and films that inspire us, listening to music that we love or trying our hands at journaling.
‘To inspire and entertain others I’ve released my books on Facebook for families to read. I’ve also created colouring books for those who can’t draw but like to colour in. Don’t give up, get a creative plan!’
‘We’re just embracing the positives of working from home such as no commute, saving money, time with our dog and lovely mindful walks.’
Some of the mindfulness techniques discussed may not be ‘the norm’ for a working environment but when we must work from home, we can positively adjust, develop and enhance our working day to suit us in whichever way we want to. The tips discussed can help us to cope with the challenges of working in isolation whilst at home. However, it is extremely important that we are not too hard on ourselves, we always practice kindness with ourselves and allow for those not so good days we may encounter and learn to just accept them. We spend a huge part of our lives working—we might as well be happy while we do it!
‘I finish off the day with a walk. It’s like walking home from work, giving me time to switch off.’
By Yvonne Cookson