Happier at home – mind-body tips for remote work
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
The pandemic is changing our work life fast and its effects are here for the long haul. We're faced with new challenges mentally and physically, and it's more important than ever to know how to manage our mind and body for the better.
While it can be a blessing to get out of the busy office, some find it impossible to focus at home. You might finally have time to sleep and exercise, or you might feel paralyzed. Some are drowning in work while others stare at the wall. The effects are not equal but change is here for us all. In times of uncertainty we need to pay extra attention to our well being. The state of our mind affects the state of our body and the other way around. Right now the pandemic is posing a threat to our physical health, but in long term it is challenging our mental well being as well. The general guidelines for home office wellness are to take breaks and draw a clear line between work and free time. While this is relevant advice, let's dive a bit deeper.
1. Bring structure with rituals Being free from office hours is fantastic, unless we go on thinking everything else when we should work, and think of work when we should focus on anything else. The days mash in together with no structure and our heads start to feel gooey.
This is a chance to establish new routines, ones that support health. Psychologically we need routine – our brain loves repetition and familiarity. To take a routine to the next level, make it a ritual. Ritual is like routine in a fancy dress, enhanced with sensory experiences and purposeful presence. A good ritual is one that grounds you down to the moment. It's doesn't have to be complex or time consuming. Think of how you begin your day. Could you create a routine that supports your well being and sets a different tone for the day? Instead of scrolling the phone for fifteen minutes in the morning, try gentle movement instead. You might think you're too busy to light up candles and take deep breaths on a yoga mat, but what this actually does it gives you a sense of calm and clarity. Calm and clarity help you focus and therefore, eventually, the ritual gives you more time.
2. Create space in body and mind When your body is stuck and hunched over a screen for several hours a day, you're likely to experience anxiety and feel claustrophobic in your skin. When we are stressed out, we create physical tension, especially in the shoulder area. Our mind and body are not separate entities but tightly interlaced and constantly communicating.
The modern time challenges our brain. There's never been as much stimuli and endless demand for our attention. Adding here the addiction to our 'smart' objects, there's a constant rush hour running in our heads. It's good to keep in mind that our brain is very little developed since the time of steam engines and telegrams. There are many simple ways to create mental space and clarity, but the challenge is to retrain our fast-content-high-stimuli-addicted brains to like that. With more space we reduce stress, improve focus, boost creativity, perform better and feel more calm. Think of ways how you could reduce the daily download and add space. One good solution is to take up meditation. You can start off with YouTube or downloading an app like Headspace or Insight Timer (lots of free content). Writing, then again, is a fantastic tool for clarity. When you write down everything in one place, you get the sense of calm and order. Are you using the best time management tools and to-do-list apps for your needs?
A highway to clarity is to go outside in the nature. A walk doesn't have to take more than ten minutes to work wonders and clear the thoughts. That is, if you steer clear from scrolling your phone as you walk. The same goes for our bodies. Stretch out and breathe deep multiple times a day to create and maintain the sense of space and keep your body flexible.
3. Have a better break Does the quality of a break matter? A better alternative for scrolling while having another cup of coffee are breaks when you consciously care for your body and mind. A wellness-inducing break can include movement, getting fresh air, taking a nap, having a healthy snack in good company, handcrafting or doing a mindfulness exercise. Schedule an afternoon video hangout with your colleagues, and for 15 minutes talk about anything but work. Or do a ten minute yoga class on YouTube.
4. Integrate movement into your days No ergonomic chair or standing desk is a life saver if we stay stagnant the whole day. Five minutes of diverse movement every couple hours helps keep your body open and flexible. Walking is great, but try integrating movement into your days in new ways. Stretch out, fold forward and let your upper body hang over your legs, roll your shoulders open, do squats and do anything you dare to, in the comfort of your home. Your body – especially your back – will thank you. Just be mindful when moving in new ways so your body has time to adjust. If you want to take it to the next level, build a playlist and take song-long breaks dancing every hour. Observe what happens!
Ps. Having your exercise gear readily at hand will multiple your chances for actually using them.
3. Choose restorative free time activities When our minds are tired we naturally go for easy entertainment. Instead, restorative and balancing free time is all about output over input. Due to the endless stream of input our brains are over-stimulated and we keep feeding our subconscious with what someone else wants us to eat. Which is rarely nutritious. Winter is generally winding down time and whilst our bodies are all unique, they definitely require more rest during the dark period. So the more you can offer yourself slow-paced and gentle activities, the more your body and mind will thank you. Go move outdoors, play an instrument, do crafts, paint a wall or learn a new skill. Give your eyes a break from screen time and your mind a chance to restore.
4. Focus on the present moment
Where does stress live? In the same place where the anxiety thrives – in the dark corners of our imagination. The unknown is scary because we are built that way. Mindfulness exercises are all about being conscious in the present moment. Think about it. If you could stop ruminating in the past, past didn't really exist. If you could stop worrying about the future, the future didn't exist either. Most often, in this very moment, everything is quite alright. A great way to bring the focus in the moment is to use our senses. Go through every sense one at a time and observe the feedback. Try mindful eating. Look at your food – the colours and the shapes. Taste every bite like you've never experienced the particular taste before. Most importantly, ruminate in gratitude for a few moments before digging in.
5. Breath work for stress management When we're stressed out, our nervous system goes into fight or flight mode, and staying in this mode for prolonged periods of time can cause all kinds of inconveniences. Luckily we're equipped with our body's own Valium – our breath. Deep, conscious breaths that reach all the way to our belly work like a magic wand. They activate our parasympathetic nervous system that allows the body's normal functions to restore. Check out Lucas Rockwood's TED talk for concrete tips on how use your breath to control your nervous system. (Disclaimer! The same way as this post, the talk does not provide medical advice but represents the creator's own understanding and personal experience.)
6. Amp up the quality of your social connections
No new normal or social distancing is gonna change the fact that we are social beings. During the pandemic many feel lonelier than ever. How could you contribute to your own community? When we don't have our usual face to face contacts at the office, the meaningfulness of work and life in general might start to subside. Do what you can to enhance the quality of social connections. When arranging meetings online, have your video on. We need social interaction where we can see the other person's emotions and how they reflect ours. Could you come up with an activity to benefit your work community? Maybe you have a skill you could share with others. It's time to be innovative about how we can maintain high quality and empathetic human connection through this period in time.
In the end, it's up to us to make the new normal better than the old one, for us and for our community.