Six months ago, I left the daily grind and began working remotely as a travel writer and web developer. At first, I felt like I was living the dream – slowly waking up every morning and deciding when I wanted to start my day, and where I wanted to work, be it in a cozy café or even abroad.
After a while, however, I started to feel like I was in a bit of a slump. I started waking up later and later, then having to work well after dark to make up for it. I could feel my productivity slipping, and I just didn’t feel quite as enthused about work as I normally did.
See, many of the things about remote work that make it so appealing – such as the lack of routine and being your own boss – can also negatively impact on your mental health gradually. Even though remote work is considered ‘living the dream’ by many, that’s not to say there are no drawbacks or that you don’t have to worry about your wellbeing.
As soon as I recognised this, I was able to put in place some simple strategies that left me feeling – and working – better.
Here’s five tips for how to look out for your mental health while working remotely:
#1: Establish a routine
At first, skipping out on the nine to five to be your own boss is an incredibly liberating feeling. Knowing that you can take a long lunch or sleep in past your usual start time is definitely a benefit of remote work over the traditional nine to five. However, a total lack of routine can be disorientating and leave you feeling sluggish and unmotivated.
One thing I struggled with initially as a remote worker was distinguishing between work and down time, since I had no ‘start’ and ‘finish’ time. I found myself procrastinating when I should have been working, and then feeling guilty when I was relaxing.
The solution was to create a routine for myself. Many remote workers create thorough schedules for themselves that lay out what should be done, when. Personally, I prefer to keep things a little more flexible, however I do have typical working hours so that I know when to work, and when to relax.
I also highly recommend having a devoted work space or routine for getting into the work mindset. I’m not going to say I never work in bed or on the couch, but I definitely find that I am usually more productive and settled when working away from these spaces. Even if you don’t have a permanent space, I think it’s helpful to have an ‘on’ signal – it could be going to your desk, or perhaps its listening to a certain song or even going for a quick walk before getting started.
#2: Nurture your relationships
Often, remote working is a solitary pursuit. For me, going from working in a large and bustling office to working on my own was quite an adjustment. While at first, I enjoyed the peace and quiet, I did find myself missing those impromptu chats you have around the coffee machine.
This feeling of isolation can be even more difficult if you are working abroad or away from your family and friends. People are social creatures, and it can take a toll on your mental health and wellbeing if you feel like you don’t have a strong network of people around you.
Luckily, nowadays there are many ways to build up professional networks so that even if you’re not working alongside people, you’ve got peers to speak to. Most places have professional meet-up groups, or there are always digital versions on social media. Not only are these groups good for your mental health, but they are also good for your career!
Just as important as your professional relationships are the personal ones. Sometimes when you are working remotely, it’s easy to overlook keeping in touch with your loved ones as time seems to fly by. However, for me, nurturing my personal relationships and making sure that I’m making regular contact has made me much happier and far less lonely.
#3: Get your finances in check
I know it’s not the most interesting thing to think about, but I realised that my lack of financial planning was adding to my worry. As a freelancer, not having a set income each week is quite a challenge – and it took me a while to adjust my mindset from having a regular paycheck to the unknowns of freelancing.
I had fallen into the ‘feast or famine’ trap, where my spending was very reactionary to how much money came in week on week rather than looking at long term trends.
It really helped me to take as much control as possible of my finances and make some realistic plans. As my father says: ‘hope is not a strategy!’, so I decided to assess my long-term income trends and make a budget, including a realistic savings plan.
By deciding to put away even a small amount of money each week for my emergency fund, week by week I started to feel much more secure and less worried about unexpected costs. There are still financial challenges as a freelancer, especially in the beginning, but knowing that I have contingency plans and a budget has definitely taken a lot of stress off.
#4: A little fresh air goes a long way
Like many writers, I’m not a big fan of the outdoors – and I’m even less of a fan of gyms! I’d much rather remain snuggled up under a blanket, tea in hand, than spend time sweating it out on a treadmill or exercise bike.
Over time, however, I have realised that getting outside and doing even the tiniest bit of exercise really does help make you feel more connected to the outside world, healthier, and just way happier. No matter how much I might not feel like it initially, every time I head outside for a walk or run, I feel so much better when I get back.
For me, the key to adding in exercise to your routine as a remote worker is to choose something that you actually enjoy. For example, perhaps there is a jogging group in your area where you can meet some people while getting some fresh air.
For me personally, I love photography so I always find that taking my camera and heading off in search of some good shots is a good way to do some walking (and get some pictures for my blog!) Making exercise as fun as possible, rather than a chore, is a way to ensure I actually exercise and get the benefits from it.
#5: Reach out for help if you need it
I love working remotely – the freedom to up and travel when and where I want, and shape my own future, is amazing. Many people I know personally and professionally have also told me how lucky I am to be able to support myself doing something I enjoy, and have so much autonomy. I agree.
The truth is, however, that mental illness – just like getting the flu or spraining your ankle – doesn’t discriminate just because you have a good life. We wouldn’t refuse to go to the doctor to treat pneumonia just because ‘we have it pretty good’, so there’s certainly no shame in asking for help if you need it for your mental health.
Sometimes, no matter how balanced your budget is or how many walks you’re going on, you need a little extra help from a professional. The best thing is that nowadays there are so many options that are perfect for remote workers, such as online therapists and doctors who consult online.
So, if you do find yourself in a funk that doesn’t seem to be shifting, don’t be afraid to reach out to a doctor, online therapist, or even a crisis line if it’s an emergency situation. None of us are bullet proof, and it takes a lot of courage to call in some help. In the long run, your mental health (and work!) will thank you.
There we have it – my five top tips for maintaining your mental health while working remotely, so you can feel and do your best. With these tips, you can keep doing your best work as a remote worker – and feel great while doing it.
Do you have any other tips to share?
Georgie Mack Blog post written by: Georgie Mack