Last Updated November 17, 2023 (originally published January 11, 2022)
The past few years have seen a dramatic shift in how, when and where people work, as many employers loosened the rules on who could work from home. Many employees are continually refining workspaces that blur the lines between home, career, life and family. And, while working from home can be advantageous for many people, it can also create unique mental and physical health challenges, particularly for those who end up spending more time sitting, streaming and snacking.
Fortunately, there are ways you can protect your mental and physical health while working from home—it just takes a little extra planning, communication and discipline.
Creating a healthy work-from-home approach is not only about designing a productive and positive environment that supports your work. It’s also about finding ways to deal with the inevitable stress that comes with this new way of working.
Whether you’re working from home full-time or you’re in a hybrid home/office situation, consider using these tips to help prevent some of the stress that comes with always being just steps away from your workspace.
Create a schedule. The benefit of working in an office is the physical delineation between working and home life and socialization with colleagues. Putting a schedule in place that has clear start and stop times and includes breaks for food, exercise and connection can help you avoid burnout and feeling isolated.
Establish boundaries and communicate them. With a schedule comes the inevitable task of establishing boundaries with coworkers, family members and others who demand your time and attention. Keep in mind, however, that boundaries without communication can lead to misunderstandings, confusion and frustration. Be sure to communicate with the important people in your life what your work and life boundaries are and how and when you will be available to them and meet your commitments.
Take wellness breaks. Often overlooked in a work-from-home arrangement is physical and mental wellness. For many, the routine is wake up, caffeinate, work, dinner, sleep, repeat. Taking wellness breaks throughout the day, however, is as important as any meeting or other obligation. Schedule time for fresh air, movement and hydration. Once per hour, step away from your devices and do something for yourself. Walk the dog, stretch, refill your water bottle, meditate, etc. These breaks from work can help revive your energy, focus and creativity.
Regardless of your work situation, stress inevitably crops up. Here are three strategies that can help you cope with and conquer stress and ultimately protect your mind and body.
Breathing exercises can help increase feelings of calm, reduce stress and improve concentration. Performed regularly, deep breathing may also help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Box breathing, which is described in the video below, is another technique that may help you connect with your breath.
When in a stressful situation, get up and get moving. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long cardio session. Simple, low-impact options that don’t require equipment or even a change of clothing include walking outdoors, yoga flow and dancing. Check out the five-minute mood-boosting workout below.
Stress eating is a very real thing. When you want to stress eat, nourish your mind and your body by choosing a soothing meditation followed by a calming food or beverage. A quick 5- to 10-minute meditation that is uplifting and empowering followed by a cup of chamomile tea may help to reduce stress and improve your mood. Avoid alcohol and ultra-processed foods that may satisfy a craving but will leave you feeling sapped of energy and even more stressed in the end.
No matter where you work, stress is simply a part of life. Learning how to manage your schedule, maintain your health and wellness routines, and deal with the stress that’s sure to come will not only protect your mental and physical health but also make you a better partner, parent, coworker and leader.
5-minute Mood-booster Workout
No equipment needed. Be sure to wear clothes that can move with you.
1-minute cardio warm-up: Dance, jumping jacks, stair climbing, etc.
30-seconds of each exercise:
Alternating reverse lunges
Triceps dips on a step or chair
1-minute cool-down with stretching or yoga poses
To learn more about how to help your clients better manage their stress, check out Stress Management: Reduce Stress for Better Health (worth 0.1 ACE CECs). Or, for a more comprehensive look at creating a truly personalized approach to this element of well-being, take this continuing education course: Sleep, Stress Management and Recovery (worth 4.0 ACE CECs).