How to create good mental balance when you work from home and/or are self employed
As I am writing this I think about my own work being self-employed in Psychotherapy. How it is tempting to work long days, to check and action emails on my day off, to not switch off in the evening. However, I have to keep myself in check by thinking about my stress levels on a daily basis, ensuring I have completed adequate self-care and most importantly stopping work at a certain time with enough time to relax and rest before bed.
So let's consider these three things. Firstly stress levels. Think about how stressed you are on a daily basis on a scale of 1-10. If you feel above 5 most of the time you are either over stressed or suffer from anxiety. Being over stressed for a long period of time can lead to anxiety (I say can as it is not a given but does increase the likelihood).
If you are not sure how stressed you are consider doing the perceived stress test as per this link: https://www.das.nh.gov/wellness/docs/percieved%20stress%20scale.pdf
I understand that this scale is 1-40 and we are working on 1-10 but I am trying to keep things simple, this test is a basic guide. You can do the test and divide it by 4 to get your out of 10 score if that helps. Okay so now we have a reasonable idea of stress. If it is constantly high there are a number of things that might need to change.
Firstly, how is your sleep. It might be that you are getting good quantity sleep but still waking up feeling tired. If so it's important to check if you are doing the right things before bed. A good guide to this is: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/sleep/ . This guide can also help if you have trouble getting to sleep or wake up in the early hours with stress.
Another cause of stress for people who work from home or or are self-employed is not sticking to a daily time table. It is so easy to work on your day off by even something small as reading and sometimes actioning emails. Another issue is not setting a daily timetable for your work. And I know what you are probably about to say, you have too much work to do. If you don't check your emails there will be too many of them to come back to.
Studies have shown that taking adequate breaks and time off does create productivity, reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. Because when we burn out, we can't continue to work and our body forces us to take time off anyway but this can be for a much longer period of time than you would have taken from completing adequate self-care. A study by students at The University of Derby has created the following paper on this subject: https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk/foundations-for-success/importance-of-taking-breaks-and-having-other-interests/#:~:text=Taking%20breaks%20has%20been%20shown,and%20cardiovascular%20disease%20%5B2%5D.
So let's talk about creating a time table for you on a daily basis. Consider the following: what are your most productive times? Do you work better working with a split and taking a lunchtime walk for instance? Are you a morning or an evening person? From this you can decide what your working day should look like, increase your productivity and ensure that you are relaxed for sleep.
I would suggest working no more than 10 hours a day, trying to only do that occasionally. But somewhere between 6 and 10 hours daily work with either regular breaks of up to 30 minutes outside of this time or a longer break if needed for you. If you work best working for 4 hours, taking a 30-60 minute lunch break before working another then that's absolutely fine. I would consider a prolonged period of self care after work in this instance. You can start at whatever time works for you as long as you stick to the 6-10 hour rule as long as this works to your body clock. Most importantly you must stop at the end of this time, down tools and not work again till your next timetabled working day.
When you are taking a break or after work consider the self-care that you need. If you wish to create a highly nutritious meal and this makes you happy then that can be counted as self-care. Perhaps you like to go for a walk or go to the gym. Maybe you like to meditate. See my blog on self-care or have a look around online for more support with this. What I am aiming for here is that you do something that is not work, takes your mind off work as much as possible and helps you to wind down for bed.
So to summarise, working to a time-table when self-employed or working from home is essential. It allows adequate rest of your mind and body, creates balance and allows you to feel that you have some life outside of work.