Working from home: Keeping the boundaries to protect your mental health
Are you working from home? If so, you may enjoy the flexibility that it brings, as well as the reduced travel time. But a downside to working from home is the lack of a clear boundary between homelife and the office. At times, it may feel as if work has invaded the privacy of your living room, or worse.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Jo and Colm, like many families, are parents who both work from home. Jo was having to turn their bedroom into an office before the day’s online meetings started.
“At the end of the working day, I was having to turn our bedroom back into a place where we could sleep,” Jo explains. It was then that she started struggling to get off to sleep.
Jo would go to bed at her usual time but says, “I couldn’t stop thinking about work and get to sleep.” This left her exhausted the next day. And while Jo’s role as an HR director kept her busy, this wasn’t why she found it difficult to switch off.
Our brains learn by matching pattern for one thing we are familiar with, to new challenges. But Jo’s brain had started to learn that her bedroom was the place to worry about problems at work. “As soon as I laid my head on the pillow, I’d start thinking about work the next day.” Sleep was becoming a problem that made Jo miserable.
Things weren’t much better for Colm who was working in the kitchen. “When the kids get home from school and I’m still in a meeting at the breakfast table, or struggling to concentrate to meet a deadline, it’s far from ideal.”
Having switched to working from home during the lockdown, Colm assumed it would be a temporary arrangement. But when his employers cut back on office space, he found himself hybrid working between the office and the kitchen table.
Jo had also attended a sleep course, which her company had arranged with Suffolk Mind. “It was on the course that the penny dropped – I realised my brain thought that my bedroom was the place to try and resolve work concerns.”
After talking about possible solutions, Jo and Colm decided to invest in a garden office. They soon found that having a separate space to work made a huge difference.
“The short walk through our garden to the office space let me clear my mind before and after starting work,” said Jo, whose sleep began to improve almost immediately.
Colm found that he could work undisturbed when the kids got home from school too. “As well as being able to focus on meeting deadlines, there’s something calming about the natural surroundings and the wooden panels of our garden office. It’s an investment in our wellbeing which has paid off in ways we hadn’t expected.”
Many people report that garden offices have helped them to manage stress levels by adding much needed space. But the benefits go beyond helping with the move to hybrid arrangements and working from home.
Jo and Colm explain that the rest of the family wanted to use it too. “It wasn’t long before the children wanted to use it for playdates and camping too,” explains Colm.
“The garden office has met everyone’s needs,” adds Jo. “When their friends come over at the weekend, they can play in the garden office.” Which gives us time to catch and relax after a busy week at work,” adds Colm.
So, would Jo and Colm recommend a garden office to others? The answer is a resounding yes.
Top tips for working from home
- Try to separate working from home with living at home. If we have a space that is just (or mostly) for working, we should try to keep it that way. Maybe a small screen to section off part of a room for when we are working or when we finish, so that we cannot see our desk while relaxing at the weekend, for example
- Plan a break between working and relaxing – if the walk to the garden office isn’t long, go for a longer walk for more of a break, just as a regular commute would do. Even if that’s just round the block. And it’s even better if we can leave through a garden gate and return through the front door. Anything that breaks that helps distract our brain from work before we relax can help
- Use the break between working and relaxing or being with the family in the evening, to park and process any work related thoughts. It can be helpful to write down a short agenda for the next day, before we consciously tell ourselves ‘That’s for tomorrow so I’ll leave it until then.’