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5 self-care tips for working from home

Working from home and feeling overwhelmed? We feel you. Here are 5 ways to practice self-care when working from home.

Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, more people are working from home than ever before.

And whether you worked remotely before the pandemic or are new to the WFH lifestyle, these are undoubtedly tough times for mental health and vital times for self-care. 

We see the phrase "self-care" thrown around a lot, often in reference to bubble baths, Netflix binges, and scented candles.

And while all of those things can certainly be pieces of a self-care routine, they're part of a bigger picture.

Self-care is about taking care of your health -- mental and physical -- so that you feel your best. In the context of remote work, that means setting yourself up for success and creating a lifestyle that lets you do your best work without sacrificing your happiness (or your sleep).

So, how do you make that happen? Here are five ways you can practice self-care while working from home. 

5 self-care practices for working from home

#1: Set up a designated workspace

If you work in the same space where you relax or sleep, what keeps you from writing one more paragraph after dinner or checking your email right before bed?

Andrea Fomera, one of Podia’s developers, found that having a designated workspace helps her separate work from her home life:

“Before I moved, I worked from my living room, and found it distracting to have my TV right there next to my space. When I moved, I landed a space with an office den I could use, and that lets me segment my work time from my personal time.”

That said, a home office isn't always an option. One report found that just 36% of remote workers have a dedicated home office.

If you don't have the space for a home office, you can still set up a designated workspace -- even if that means sticking a desk in the corner of your living room (my current setup) or commandeering part of the kitchen table from 9-5 each day. 

One of the biggest benefits of remote work is you get to create the space that works best for you. A study from Exeter University found that employees who have control over the design and layout of their workspace are happier, healthier, and up to 32% more productive.

Though everyone's ideal workspace will look a little bit different, here are some overall best practices to create a productive, comfy work environment:

  • If you can, invest in an ergonomic chair and/or standing desk to help avoid an achy back and neck. (Here's a list of office chair recommendations vetted by chiropractors.)

  • Choose a spot with minimal background noise, or get yourself a good pair of over-ear headphones. (I like these ones by JBL.)

  • Set up your workspace near a natural light source. A Cornell University study found that natural light “significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity".

  • Add some personal touches, like artwork and plants, to bring joy to your space. (Plus, desk plants can actually reduce stress,)

  • Remove distractions and temptations to multitask, like your cell phone or e-reader (unless you need them for work). This can help you procrastinate less.

Using work productivity tools, like time tracking software, can also help you create a more productive (virtual) workspace. And if you're selling digital products, our (admittedly biased) favorite time-saving tool is Podia.

Podia is an all-in-one tool that lets you sell membership programs, digital downloads, and online courses -- and have access to an email marketing tool, sales page builder, customer messaging tool, and more -- all from one platform. Sign up for a free 14-day trial

Like I mentioned earlier, having a designated workspace helps you set boundaries between work and your personal space. Another key ingredient in that work-life balance and self-care is creating a schedule and routine.

#2: Create and stick to a routine

Setting your own hours is one of the biggest benefits of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, it's one of remote workers' favorite perks.

But the flexibility to set work hours for yourself presents its own set of challenges. 

If you're a workaholic, not having set hours makes it hard to close your laptop at the end of the day. If you're a chronic procrastinator like me, the lack of structure has you scrambling to finish tasks before a deadline, even when that deadline is self-imposed. 

To find the right balance of flexibility and productivity, set a routine for your workday. Setting and sticking to a routine can actually give you more flexibility to spend time with your family, take breaks throughout the day, and practice self-care. 

First, set working hours for yourself -- and don't make them 12-hour days, five days a week. Working more hours doesn't always mean work gets done. Productivity declines sharply when we work more than 50 hours a week.

To avoid burnout, your workday needs to have a hard stop unless you're working on a major project with super-tight deadlines. 

Minessa Konecky, who runs a thriving hustle-free business, Direct to Success, explains why:

“In order to have a hustle-free life, you've got to have a sort of a disciplined life. You need to know what you want to do with your time, and you have to be intentional about it.”

To set your workday up for success, follow a morning routine. This might mean sitting on your porch with coffee in your favorite mug, taking your dog for a walk, or meditating.

Practicing mindfulness meditation has been linked to enhanced attention, improved emotional regulation, and reduced stress. That's probably why meditation is a daily self-care practice for many successful people, including Mark Cuban, Jack Dorsey, Oprah, and Tim Ferriss.

If you want to make meditation a part of your daily routine, apps like Headspace and Calm are a great place to start.

Taking breaks is another must-have in your daily routine. It's so important, in fact, that I'm giving it its own section.

#3: Take regular breaks

When you're on a roll, it can be so tempting to work through lunch or eat at your desk -- especially when you don't see your coworkers heading off for a lunch break.

But taking regular breaks throughout the day can actually make you more productive.

A review in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that our brains keep working on a project while we’re taking a break from it. Another study showed that taking short breaks in the afternoon increases engagement at work.

Train your brain to take breaks by building them into your daily schedule. Here are some ideas for scheduling breaks into your daily routine: 

  • Make a cup of tea every morning.

  • Cook something at lunchtime (and don't eat at your desk).

  • Walk your dog at the same time each afternoon.

  • Have dinner with your family.

  • Play with your kids or pets for 20 minutes.

  • Take a 15-minute meditation break in the afternoon.

Stepping away from your desk to take breaks lets you come back to projects with a new perspective. It can also help you feel better throughout the rest of your day.

Participating in recovering activities, like taking a walk, on lunch breaks leads to higher levels of well-being at the end of the day. Lunchtime walks in the park were associated with better concentration and less fatigue in the afternoon, as well. 

And those physical health benefits are just as important as the mental ones. You have to prioritize your mental and physical health -- which is exactly what our next tip is all about.

#4: Care for your physical health

Good self-care includes taking care of your body as well as your mind.

Your mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked -- when we feel better physically, we feel better mentally, and often vice-versa. 

One study found that people in poor physical health report poor mental health at four times the rate of those in good physical health.

Physical health looks different for different people, and you should always check in with a doctor before making changes to your health habits. With that in mind, let's cover some tried-and-true ways to take better care of your body.

It's hard to overemphasize just how important sleep is for your body and mind. 38.7% of side-hustlers report giving up sleep to work on their businesses.

Irregular sleeping patterns can negatively affect the body's metabolism, which regulates how we use energy. It also puts us at a higher risk of chronic disease.

And when you have a bad night's sleep, it affects your productivity for more than just the next day.

People who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night for two consecutive days had significantly decreased performance for six days afterward.

To get a better night's sleep, work on creating a sleep schedule. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends.

Physical activity is another great way to take care of your body and mind. A recent study found that little as one day of exercise per week can result in increased levels of happiness. 

That doesn't mean you have to become a marathon runner or start pumping iron if those aren't your cup of tea. Move in a way that feels good to you. Bonus points if that involves getting some fresh air (weather permitting, of course).

Here's why: Spending time outside can increase happiness and physical health. People who are in nature for just two to three hours each week are about 20% more likely to report high overall satisfaction with their lives than those who spent no time outdoors at all.

In addition to moving your body, be mindful of what you eat. I'm not talking about so-called brain foods or supplements, or cutting out snacking.

Just eat foods that make you feel good -- and don't forget to eat. It can be too easy to look up at the clock and realize you've blown through lunchtime. Self-care means taking the time to take care of your body, even when you're on a productivity tear.

OK, I've got one more WFH self-care tip to keep your mind happy and healthy, and it's probably the one I struggle with the most: reaching out to others.

#5: Reach out to others

Even if you identify as an introvert, working from home can be isolating, especially if you live alone. 

A study on remote work from Buffer shows that the top two struggles of working from home are collaboration and communication, and loneliness.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have only exacerbated these feelings of loneliness, especially for people who are used to working in an office or seeing friends and family regularly.

One survey found that at least 20% of respondents from each age group polled were lonelier than usual as a result of coronavirus, Zoom happy hours notwithstanding.

And even when we aren't facing a global pandemic, it can be hard to find the time to reach out to loved ones. 41.9% of side-hustlers say that they sacrifice time with friends and family to run their business.

But taking the time to reach out to your support system is a critical self-care practice. Studies have shown that feeling socially supported can make a measurable difference for mental health, regardless of how much socializing you’re actually doing.

Social support comes in a variety of types:

  • Emotional support: Empathy, caring, love, trust, concern, and listening.

  • Instrumental support: Help in the form of time, labor, money, and direct help.

  • Appraisal support: Affirmation, evaluation, and feedback.

  • Informational support: Advice, guidance, suggestions, and information that can help you cope.

Whichever type of support you need, taking care of yourself includes asking for help when you need it, whether that means leaning on your friends and family for support or reaching out to a mental health professional. 

Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by your transition to remote work, trying to overcome impostor syndrome, dealing with personal crises, or something else entirely, there’s absolutely no shame in getting help.

Check with your insurance provider to see what services and providers they cover. You can also check with out-of-network local mental health care providers to see if they can work out a sliding scale payment option for you. 

If you don't have insurance or would prefer a remote option, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp and Talkspace can be great options. 

A quick note: We can't endorse or vouch for these services. Finding the right mental health care professional is a personal process, and these are just tips to get you started on the right path.

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: You deserve to take care of yourself. Sometimes, that means asking for support -- and that's one of the best acts of self-care you can do.

Take care of yourself while working remotely

At the end of the day, self-care means doing what makes you feel good -- physically and mentally. Creating a self-care practice that works for you is doubly important when you work from home, and triply so in the high-stress, isolating time that we're facing right now. 

To recap, here are five ways to practice self-care while working from home: 

  • Create a designated workspace at home, whether it's a separate room or a corner of your kitchen table.

  • Come up with (and adhere to) a schedule throughout the workweek. Following a routine puts you in the right mindset for work.

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day to eat, move around, and talk to your friends and family.

  • Make your physical health a priority, too. Work on your sleep schedule, move in ways that make you happy, get outside, and eat food that makes you feel good.

  • Stay in touch with your friends and family, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Things are difficult and strange right now, but we'll get through them. Take care of yourself and each other -- you never know whose day you'll brighten.

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A portrait of Rachel Burns

About the author

Rachel is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. When she’s not writing, you can find her rescuing dogs, baking something, or extolling the virtue of the Oxford comma.