With many Britons returning to homeworking, and increasing limits placed on our social interactions, this month’s World Mental Health Day will be particularly pertinent for many.
With remote working set to become the norm for the next six months, and with the ever-present threat of a second lockdown, you might be worried about the prospect of a long autumn and winter ahead. This could be especially true if you live alone.
Living alone will have its benefits – you’re not juggling work with childcare or maintaining fraught interpersonal relationships under the same roof – but it has its unique challenges too.
Keeping on top of your physical and mental health is vitally important. So too is recognising the signs that you might be struggling, knowing where to go for help, and feeling confident asking for that help if you need it.
Here are five tips and strategies to help you cope this autumn.
1. Maintain healthy routines
Maintaining familiar routines is important for both your physical and mental health.
As the nights draw in you might feel a desire to hibernate. Lack of sunlight causes our brains to produce more melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy, but too much sleep can be as harmful as not getting enough.
If you developed a morning and evening routine during the initial coronavirus lockdown, adopt similar routines now.
Where possible, go to bed at a similar time each evening. Ban laptops and mobile phones from your bedroom – the blue light they emit can throw off your circadian rhythms – so relax with a book or music instead. Apps such as Calm and Headspace can offer soothing soundscapes to ease you into a restful sleep.
Be sure to get up at a similar time each morning and adopt the same workday routines.
Keep the same levels of communication as you would do if you were in the office. Speak to people face to face where you can, albeit virtually, and outside of work return messages from friends and family to stay in touch and avoid feelings of alienation.
2. Take care of your body
Earlier in the year, you might have been sticking rigidly to your hour-a-day exercise allowance. During this second round of remote working, and with the pleasant weather fading, forcing yourself out into the fresh air for exercise might prove trickier.
But fresh air and exercise are crucial for keeping your body healthy, enabling you to work effectively and efficiently.
Got for a brisk walk or step out into the garden on your lunch break. Whether you’d normally walk, drive, or catch public transport to work, you’re missing out on the fresh air and exercise of a daily commute.
Also, consider your diet. During the autumn and winter, the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough for our bodies to use the ultraviolet light within them to produce vitamin D. The NHS suggests supplements, but a vitamin D-rich diet can also help.
3. Find yourself a non-work-related project
Stuck at home all day, it’s important to find a way to switch off. Whether just for your hour lunch break or in the evening after work, find a hobby or project to occupy you physically and mentally.
Simple DIY tasks like painting your front door or tidying the front garden can be therapeutic while also adding value to your house. Indulging in a craft that you can sell online could be a great way to emerge from the winter with a potential new income.
But be realistic. Whatever your project is, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. This ensures your goal is achievable, should prevent you from becoming disheartened, and gives you a greater chance of success.
Whether or not the winter brings a second lockdown, we’ve all been through it once now and know that homeworking and restrictions on our social lives don’t necessarily equate to greater productivity and creativity in our personal lives.
Binge on Netflix box sets, spend time scrolling through Instagram or updating Twitter if that helps you relax, but have a larger project always at the back of your mind and who knows what you could achieve in six months.
4. Be aware of the signs that you’re struggling
If you begin to struggle with any aspect of the pandemic this winter – the stresses of working from home, lack of social contact, general cabin fever – it’s important that you can acknowledge the fact. That means understanding the signs.
These will be different for everyone but could include:
- Big shifts in mood that make it difficult to function at your usual level
- A change in your sleep patterns – whether too much or too little
- Changes in appetite or weight
5. Know where to turn for help
If the stress or anxiety you are feeling is work-based, your first port of call might be your boss or line manager. However, If you don’t feel confident talking to them, do consider a family member or a health professional.
Many counselling services went online during the summer and you may be able to book an appointment that fits easily around your working day.
Try the following websites too:
Most importantly, know that there is help out there if you need it.