As the world becomes more digital, many of us are working from home. Some of us freelance, others telecommute, and still others have dedicated themselves to full-time caretaking. While working from home has many advantages, if you have depression, anxiety, or both, they can turn into disadvantages quickly if you are not careful. Working from home can be lonely, and it makes overworking or turning your whole life into your work-space very real problems. While the solutions below are essential for those with depression and anxiety, they are good solutions for anyone struggling with a stay-at-home lifestyle.

Problem: Isolation

Working from home, even if you’re telecommuting for one company, can be a lonely gig. Working as a full-time caretaker gives you company, but not necessarily companionship. Without peers and colleagues to bounce ideas off of, gripe with, or share successes, working from home can become isolation and add to symptoms of depression. Without measuring your work against regular benchmarks, it’s easy to become anxious that you’re not doing enough, as well.

Solution: Create your own social group.

If you telecommute, maybe some of your co-workers live nearby. Even if not, creating a social group with them online where you can talk to each other without discussing work is an easy way to develop friendships and build camaraderie among your colleagues. Look into and take advantage of community events;. public libraries often host a variety of events for business-minded adults, for instance. As a writer, I was delighted to discover that our library hosted write-ins during the month of November in support of National Novel Writing month – and I didn’t miss a single one.

Stay at home parents can join mommy and me workout groups, or take their children to music or tumbling classes. Once the kids are in school, parents can volunteer for field trips or school events. Additionally, attending PTA meetings or community events for full-time caretakers is a great way to find out how others deal with the same daily struggles and triumphs that come along with that role. If leaving the house is a struggle, then turning to online communities can be a good way to get that same interaction.

When making social commitments, keep track of them as though they are a part of your job. If you have to cancel, then try to reschedule as soon as possible, or at least make sure you acknowledge the cancellation. Nurture the relationships you already have instead of adding to your isolation.

Problem: Overworking

When your office is your home, it’s easy to keep working as long as you’re awake. If you don’t set limits on your workday, then you can easily become consumed by your work obligations and start ignoring other elements of your life–time with family or friends, and taking care of yourself and your home can easily become low priority when you’ve got a million deadlines looming. Suddenly you’re not taking care of yourself, you may even forget to take your medications or go too long without showering. It’s also very easy to neglect your sleep schedule and/or skip meals when you’re not paying attention.

Solution: Create a Work Schedule

Treat work like you would if you HAD an office – that is, create a work schedule and stick to it. Personally, I work better if I sleep a little later and stay up past the conventional work day. That means my workday lasts from 10am-7pm. Sometimes I take a break when my fiancé comes home from work, but that means I stay up later and work to make up for lost time. I do my best to disconnect from social media during those hours, and leave my phone out of arm’s reach, just like I would if I were working in an office. If I get up a little late and have to make breakfast “during work”, I eat at my desk instead of watching television, as my work day has already begun.

I have to admit I’m guilty of skipping meals every now and again. In order to combat this, I make sure we have meal bars or easy-to-make food in the house so that I minimize that risk. And no matter where I am when my fiancé comes home from work, if he’s making dinner, I take a break and join him.

While working from home, no matter your role, self-care must become part of your job. Whether you struggle with a mental illness or not, self-care is essential and should be part of your daily routine, making it easier to integrate into your stay-at-home schedule.

When you break away from your job that means no work tasks are allowed. Lunch breaks, even when working in an office, are proven to help with socialization and productivity. Stepping away from a nagging task or just the monotony of the work day and giving your mind time to rest will help you reset for when you return. Breaks can be anything from watching an episode of your favorite show to taking a walk around the block to going to a coffee shop and treating yourself to a Frappuccino. Just make sure you treat it like a lunch break and give yourself a set time to return to your desk.

If parenting or caretaking is your full time job, then you absolutely must make time for yourself. Pick up a new hobby, or dedicate yourself to an old one, and request that you get time to yourself while working on it. If you have a partner, ask if they will take care of the kids while you enjoy a hot bath, some quiet time to read, or an hour at the gym. If you don’t have that option, then you’ll need to be a bit more creative. Finding “me” time as a single parent is a bit more difficult, but certainly possible with a few adjustments to your daily schedule. Parents should also do their best not to overbook themselves – especially in a multi-child household. Don’t be afraid to say no! You can’t help anyone if you’re down for the count.

Problem: Work/Life Imbalance

Working from home can also mean that you treat the whole house like your office. It’s easy to stay in pajamas, drag your feet to the couch and sit down with your computer in the same space where you lounge at the end of the day. If this is the case, you’re more likely to keep working well past your “work day” schedule (because now you’ve created one) and lose track of time. If you don’t separate your workspace from your life space in some way, it can affect everything from your mood to your sleep schedule, making depression and anxiety even worse.

Solution: Create a Designated Work Space Separate from the Rest of the House

In a best case scenario to this problem, you will have an office with a door that you can close for your work hours. Being in this space will signal to you and to others that you’re at work, and it will help you focus and be more productive. If you don’t have a whole room for working, then creating a work “space” separate that isn’t used for anything else is a close runner-up. Maybe there’s a desk in the kitchen where only your work files go, or a corner of the living room where you keep your computer and books related to your job. If you absolutely have to improvise, then almost everything can be compromised on but one thing: get out of your pajamas. Getting dressed in the morning signals to your body that sleep time is over, and work time is up next. This doesn’t mean you have to sit at your dining room table in a suit, but you should at least put on jeans and a clean shirt.

If your home is not conducive to work, then take your computer to a local coffee shop or diner and work there – either with or without headphones. Local libraries also offer quiet places to work and, once you get a library card, you can often access their computers and digital files if you don’t have one of your own. Separating your workspace from the rest of your life helps signal to your mind and body that there are still different modes in your life, and keeps you from getting distracted when you’re trying to relax or spend “me time”.

If you’re the caretaker, then get out of the house when you can! I can’t overemphasize the importance of your local library enough, as they will likely have programming for kids or elderly members of the community.

Local playgrounds and parks are also great distractions, or ways to get out and get fresh air. Create somewhere in the home that is just for you, whether it’s a meditation space or a reading nook, and make sure the family knows not to bother you while you’re there.

If you are working from home and struggling with depression or anxiety, the best advice is to always talk to your doctor first. While there’s plenty you can do to combat these illnesses, a medical professional will have more information on the symptoms and what may be causing them. As Telepsychiatry becomes more popular, it is certainly a viable option for those of us who work from home. Talking to a medical professional over skype or on the phone is a very easy way to take care of ourselves without sacrificing our workday. Talk to a doctor today if you think telepsychiatry is the right option for you.

If you are interested in meeting with a behavioral health care provider to support mental health and wellness, try online videoconferencing through Inpathy

Sources

Bratskier, Kate. “Eating Lunch at Your Desk is Terrible for You and Your Work,” Huffington Post; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eating-lunch-at-your-desk_us_56d0847fe4b0bf0dab31debd.

Gray, Sherry. “How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind,” Entrepreneur; https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253800.

The National Sleep Foundation. “5 Things You Should Not Do in Your Bedroom,” Valley Sleep Center; http://valleysleepcenter.com/5-things-you-shouldnt-do-in-your-bedroom-2/.

Stanger, Melissa. “10 Tips for Working Effectively At Home,” Business Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-be-more-productive-working-from-home-2012-9?op=1/#-leave-work-at-the-end-of-the-day-10.

Wolf, Jennifer. “Me Time For Single Parents,” About Parenting. http://singleparents.about.com/od/singleparentlife/tp/me_time.htm.

Many of us have heard the story about how the leopard got its spots, but the tale about how the peacock got its beautiful plumage is lesser known. In this origin myth, the peacock starts off as a drab, ordinary bird, going about it’s business hunting for food and shelter. One day, it encounters a lair of many deadly snakes. But, just before the snakes rise up to strike and kill the peacock, they are quickly gobbled down by the bird. In this way, the peacock avoids venomous bites and instead ingests the snakes, poison and all. Low and behold, as the peacock digests the poison, it begins to shake and tremble in it’s efforts to cope with the dangerous substances and when this process has finished, it’s dull feathers have been transformed into glorious iridescent plumage and the bird is healthier and more robust and beautiful than ever before. This is the peacock we know today.

This deceptively simple story conveys a kernel of ancient psychological wisdom… transformation is the outcome of facing, taking in, and working with the threatening emotional “poisons” we experience in our daily lives. Take anxiety as an example. This is an unpleasant feeling of worry, nervousness, fear, disquiet, agitation, angst, nervousness, misgiving, tension and is often accompanied by obsessive behavior and sometimes panic attacks. Because anxiety is so unpleasant, many of us spend a lot of time and effort attempting to avoid it. The ways are many… alcohol, drugs, excessive work, extreme busyness, attempted control of others, etc. Yet, it remains distressingly in our psyche, often just beyond conscious awareness, but there nonetheless, disturbing our peace. And we compound the unease with the health and social problems that are caused by addiction, compulsive action, and other effects of our attempted escape. We are like the peacock caught in a swarm of poisonous snakes on the attack, with no escape in sight.

So how do we go about digesting anxiety, thus transforming ourselves into the uniquely beautiful human being we suspect we have the potential to become? Well, we can start by recognizing when we are anxious. We pay attention to where we feel anxiety in our body… Maybe we feel it as a gnawing in the pit of our stomach, or perhaps as a nervous flutter in our heart, or we might even notice that it comes in disguise as an urge to turn the TV on, get out our phone for a quick game, or whatever else we do to escape unpleasant feelings. That’s all, we just notice where in our bodies anxiety shows up and let ourselves feel it. So simple. We do this over and over, day after day.

Simple doesn’t not necessarily mean easy, though. Anxiety is uncomfortable. Think of a belly full of snakes still slithering and coiling and roiling and maybe even biting us from the inside. Tuning into these unsettling feelings is certainly not anyone’s idea of fun. (Reaching for a drink or a distraction, though, now that sounds like more fun, for sure!) Over time, though, as we build our capacity to notice and tolerate the feelings, an almost imperceptible shift begins to occur. The hold anxiety has over us begins to diminish slightly. Just a little at first. Maybe this is because it has become more familiar, and has lost some of it’s capacity to surprise us. Or maybe with practice noticing it, we’ve begin to build some confidence that we can endure the inner turmoil, and it won’t destroy us. Whatever the case, our relationship to anxiety changes; we ‘have’ anxiety, but are no longer quite so ‘had by’ it.

And, somewhere along the line, we begin so learn how to self-soothe. Maybe when we notice anxiety messing with our insides, we imagine our adult self rocking and cuddling our anxious baby self. Or, perhaps we imagine cool water washing away the hurt and pain we feel. Or, we let the beauty of nature into our mind and heart, which can be so healing. Or, we read a book that comforts us. Or any of countless other activities that allow more goodness and love into our lives. And then eventually, the miracle happens. We discover that the root of anxiety is some combination of lies that we have accepted as true. That we are not smart enough, good enough, worthy enough, lovable enough. And we discover the truth about ourselves, that at our core, we are the universe unfolding in love.  Safe at last. Beautiful at last. Transformed at last, like the peacock.

In every way that matters, our freedom from emotional suffering comes about through mindfulness, from being present with what is occurring within, no matter how great the urge to escape those feelings. So, let’s not wish our suffering away. Let’s instead use it as a guide to find our way home. At last.

Learn More About Mindfulness

Being Mindful Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Meditation for a Healthier Brain and Better Learning

Coping with Chronic Stress: MBSR and MCBT

Practicing Mindful Eating

Photo by: Michael Bentley

If you are interested in meeting with a behavioral health care provider to support mental health and wellness, try online videoconferencing through Inpathy

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.