Being indoors excessively can cause depression? What can you do to improve your Mental Health

Staying home for extended periods of time? Less socialising, less natural exercise, less breaks & less fresh air. In the UK office workers are again being advised to pack up the office kit & go home.

All aspects of working from home every day of the working week can begin to take its toll on both our physical & mental wellbeing.

Today, with the help of my research & personal experience I will be sharing with you some of the challenges we face & offer advice as to how we can combat them to reduce to risks to our health.

Firstly I’ll start by getting into some of the major issues we can face from spending extended periods behind closed doors:

  1. Increased chances of developing depression
  2. Lack of sunlight / vitamin D
  3. Risk of putting on weight

By staying indoors excessively, staring at the same four walls each & everyday can begin to make us become stir crazy, it can increase the amount of negative thoughts which we have. Multiply this by a lack of social interaction with family, friends & colleagues, along with worry about the pandemic & our loved ones & finally the day to day stress of the working week then you can easily see how quickly the ‘homeworking’ environment, especially in this current time can quickly cause our mental health which is being placed under increasing stress to develop into something much more serious like depression.

So, what can you do about it? What changes can you make that will make the difference to help prevent negative thoughts & depression from potentially taking hold of your life. I have covered it previously but I cannot stress the importance of taking regular breaks when working remotely, there are many types of breaks to be had outside of the normal ‘lunch’ break, such as microbreaks in between a meeting, having a few minutes spare getting up & walking into a different room or grabbing some fresh air outside your front/back door can literally do your mental wellbeing the world of good. When you can afford a slightly longer break trying to take a quick walk over the nearest park, shop or round the block, just getting out & clearing your head with fresh air plus a change of the scenery from the four walls around you is a great way to give yourself some freedom, you’ll also be getting that natural vitamin D from the sunlight

Exercise! It doesn’t have to be at the gym, you do not need a personal trainer or to spend hundreds on that ‘ideal training regime’ to get in shape in 30 days. With today’s technology there are so many different mediums in which to gather a ‘workout’ until you find something that you are happy with.

One of the great positives to come out of lockdown in fact was the number of different online / remote workouts which have been shared. In the UK there was huge praise for Joe Wicks & his series of free live, daily morning workouts. Also, heavyweight Champion the Gypsy king himself on Instagram shared free, live at home workouts for all to follow (he did have some other home equipment he used so a small investment may be required) & finally there are a few great apps on your phone that you can download a personal favourite of mine is the ‘7 minute workout’ app for which I have no excuse not to do, seeing as it is only 7 minutes. Exercise is proven to allow our bodies to release endorphins which in turn improve our mental wellbeing, self-esteem, energy levels & sharper memory.

Two birds with one stone nailed with this step because we can help to reduce the likelihood of us putting on excess weight (& if needed lose any unwanted weight), I actually piled on a stone in weight (6.3kg) during our first stint in lockdown, something I proud to announce I have almost shed completely kept off. You could argue 3 birds with one stone if you are exercising outside since you will also be getting that natural dose of vitamin D into your body.

So there you have it, I hope you found this article helpful, please feel free to leave your comments, feedback or any suggestions from your own experience which may help myself & others.

Regular Breaks – When & Why

Today we are going to dive into the topic of taking ‘regular breaks’ while working from home or remotely. I would like you to start by thinking about what this actually means to you, now that you are working from home either full time or for long chunks of the working week, how should you break up your day?

“… research has found that taking a break can be very beneficial for you and your work.  Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks, have all been shown to have a positive relationship with wellbeing and productivity. By taking regular breaks you can boost your performance.” source

Let’s think about some of the natural breaks we take in the office, probably, without even noticing or realising, excluding the traditional lunch break.

  • Walking to the water, hot drink or vending machine
  • The daily commute
  • Walking to a meeting room
  • Going to meet with a customer or friendly colleague at their desk or breakout location
  • Popping to the canteen for food/drink etc
  • Going to the printer
  • Going to the loo
  • Go outside to vape or smoke

When you are in the office environment you’ll likely be a doing a number of the items above without having to consciously tell yourself, I need to take a micro break to increase my productivity & mental wellbeing. Now let’s think about a homeworking scenario, you’re sat at your desk, table, sofa, garden or bed & then the meeting start, you’ve rushed to make yourself a coffee, your sitting comfortably ready for that 9:30am Daily Team Stand up meeting.

You have logged on to your first call or conference, added your input & you’ve got your meeting notes plus any actions, job done. Now, it is 9:55am, 5 minutes till that workshop sessions commences the 1.5 hour session which has been booked in for the last two weeks which you really have to join.

You finish up your coffee & commence to dial into the call or conference, you’ve been taking notes throughout the session & now at the Q&A part. The call had a lot of joiners so now the session is overrunning by 15 minutes, no one will think anything of it once the call has come to a close, the time is around 11:45am.

Let’s review what is happening above, of the morning routine from 9:30am till 11:45am you have just been sat in a fairly stationary position, staring at a screen ‘working’, be it providing updates to your team or trying to absorb valuable information from the workshop meeting, it is highly likely that you haven’t even gone to the toilet at this point or moved away from the laptop. The total duration has been over 2 hours of physical inactivity, not including any time before the daily stand up meeting where you may have been catching up on emails or prepping beforehand.

Let’s put that time of physical stillness while being mentally switched on in perspective, you could have flown from London to Venice or you could have watched ‘Goodfellas’ in that duration. It’s a considerable amount of time to remain static while having your brain switched on. Even in an office environment it is likely that there would have been a natural break between the daily stand up & workshop session, more than likely it would have been in different parts of the office so you would be moving around, possibly grabbing a drink enroute or a loo break in between the sessions.

The biggest point I am trying to make is that it is very easy to end up spending almost all of your day static in one position, staring at a screen while trying to perform at your mental peak & over these long periods of physical inactivity repeated all throughout the week it is highly probable you’ll start to feel physically tired, mentally exhausted & worn out too. This can result in a dip in your productivity & mood which can have a knock on affect not only to your work but the people around assuming you do not live alone but if you are alone your general mood can dip further. Throw into the mix a pandemic, lockdown measures, school closures, home schooling, the odds can really begin to stack against you & I.

 I for one found that after around 3 weeks in lockdown I was arranging talks with my manager to discuss how low & unproductive I was feeling, that even the smallest of tasks I was forgetting or putting off doing, if you have been left feeling this way or feel like it right now as you are reading this blog then you are not alone.

So, he says, what can you or I do to try and change, what natural breaks can we put in place to improve our mental state of mind to keep us performing at a consistent level without burning out & to keep our positivity up in the hope it reflects on the people around us. Now I am going to offer some examples from my personal experience & further reading that I have done which have improved my mental state & physical state massively over the last few months.

Coming back to our original scenario here is an example of what I would typically do differently. The Daily Team Stand up meeting has finished & I have a 5 minute interval before the workshop commences, rather than continue to sit at my laptop while checking my phone notifications, instead I opt to move out of one room, into another carrying my laptop on a portable desk placing it on the kitchen worktop. I have a few minutes before the workshop meeting starts so this is my opportunity to take a quick loo break or perform a quick activity away from a screen.

Examples of typical tasks:

  • Throw a few darts at my dartboard & gather my thoughts
  • Put the dry dishes away or dirty ones in a sink of hot water
  • Take out the kitchen bin or food compost bin
  • Pour myself a squash or water from the fridge to hydrate
  • Open up the windows &/or backdoor to grab some fresh air
  • Sit in the garden (UK weather permitting) for a few minutes to gather my thoughts

These are just a few of the things I try to do, in order to allow myself to take a few micro breaks during the home working day to help keep me feeling refreshed, the benefits of taking steps like the above is that:

  • I am taking my eyes away from screens all be it for a few minutes
  • I am changing positions, walking, all be it a very short distance
  • Encouraging myself to grab fresh air which can make a world of difference
  • Performing small household tasks so at the end of the home working day it doesn’t feel like there are a mountain of cleaning & tidying chores to perform around the house (especially when all the children are home). This gives you more flexibility to focus on doing the things you enjoy after work.
  • When throwing a few darts, it may sound silly, but I am actually able to focus my thoughts & get myself into the right mindset before the next meeting, hitting a high score also raises morale

When you have slightly longer gaps in the day or during lunch breaks I cannot stress the importance, if you are able to, put the laptop down, take small/short walks around the block, over the fields or to the shops. The benefits of getting fresh air & walking on our bodies physically & mentally is very well documented. It can have many benefits such as:

  • Improving circulation, support your joints, reduces risk of heart disease, increases the heart rate, lowers blood pressure & strengthens the heart
  • Lightening your mood
  • Improve sleep
  • Maintain healthier weight – spending so much time static while still eating / drinking can be bad for our health I put on nearly a stone during lockdown which I have lost again in the last few months by managing a healthier diet as well trying to introduce light exercise into my working day (diet is something I’ll cover in a later blog so stay tuned for that)

I hope that you have found the above of some benefit & I hope I have triggered the thought process if not anything else to encourage you to take control of the homeworking day, don’t let your working schedule rule everything we are people not robots. Make time to have breaks, even if it’s only for a few minutes, try to find small tasks where you can get some head space away from a screen or just a change of scenery like switching rooms. If you have a hobby maybe it is crafting things or photography, then feel encouraged to use your time to engage in these activities.

If you can achieve a mental positive state of mind, introduce some activities into your ‘new’ working day then not only will you find yourself being more focused, productive & on point from a business perspective but you’ll feel happier in yourself & in my case if I am happy then it tends to rub off on my family so by taking some simple steps I am creating a positive environment for those around me too.

Given time & puserverance we can all begin to introduce a new fresh & healthy norm into our lives to allow us to take full advantage of this new found flexibility in our working week, something which we can embrace rather than fear. Getting good habits established will ensure you are on the right track to maintaining a healthy life with personal & professional fulfilment.

I would love to hear if this has helped you in anyway in your own personal working from home day, please share your comments or ask me any questions, it would be great to share any examples of micro breaks or productive lunchtime routines you have implemented to help get your thought process in order.