As a new semester begins, I am once again overwhelmed with appreciation and gratitude that I teach online. That I work from home.
I’ve been working from home for over one year now, and I can happily say that it has drastically improved my life. (Watch me speak at The Moth to find out why I made this decision and how my awesome boss supported me.) On days I don’t feel well, whether mentally, emotionally, physically or all three, I can still both get my work done and take care of myself — a balance I was never able to achieve while working in an in-person setting.
I find that, when working from home, I’m better equipped to take care of myself than ever before. I can prepare and/or cook my meals, aiding my digestion. I can exercise or do yoga, providing a mental break. I can take a magnesium (Epsom salt) bath or use my weighted blanket when I need to recharge, avoiding burnout. And, most importantly, I can control my sensory environment so I can concentrate, minimize interruptions and stay regulated.
I also find that, because of all of the benefits of working from home, my energy level is higher, and I have a greater capacity for interacting. Something that always suffered before I worked from home. After interacting in person with others each day for multiple days in a row, I’d find by the end of the week, I wasn’t able to interact at all. I didn’t have energy and wasn’t able to speak. I would become overwhelmed and disoriented. Be easily triggered. Confuse students, colleagues and loved ones. Push myself further and fall ill more frequently. Become a shell of myself. Working from home gives me enough time alone that, when I do interact with others, I’m able to fully engage, which has improved not only my connections with others, but my mental and emotional health as well.
But while there are so many benefits to working from home, there can be some setbacks if you aren't prepared. So in this new year, if you find yourself deciding to work from home for your mental, emotional and/or physical health and well-being, here are some tips on how to be successful:
Structure your day and create a routine. I write down the things I need to accomplish in a day and structure tasks based on the amount of time it takes to complete them just as if I were working in an office setting and having frequent deadlines and meetings. I make sure if I have to schedule a personal appointment during the day, that I make up the hours I miss, just like if I were working in an office setting. I also do things at the same times each day. I find that when I stick to a routine, everything gets done that needs to. And I do love the comfort of an established routine.
Start at the same time. I at least set my alarm for the same time each day even if I do get to press snooze a few extra times. I get up, make the bed, brush my teeth and my hair and wash my face as if I was headed out the door. The only difference is I can choose to work in comfy clothes (which does wonders for my tactile defensiveness), and I don’t have to worry about the morning commute, which is especially beneficial on days I have a difficult time with my motor skills and can’t drive.
Take breaks. In an office setting, breaks are often built-in: a coworker comes to chat with you, you have plans with a friend for lunch, etc. When working from home, it is important to take these breaks (and if you are neurodivergent, these breaks are essential to avoid pushing yourself too far) and to design them as they work for you — you work from home now, your breaks can be what you want them to be! When I worked in an office, I used to struggle with social lunch breaks simply because they didn’t feel like a break for me. I would become even more fatigued by the interactions, so when I would return to work, I was never able to be fully productive. Knowing about my need to conserve my energy during a work day, I now rarely (if ever) schedule social lunch breaks. Instead, I make myself lunch at home, put on my weighted blanket and watch 20 minutes of one of my favorite shows. My mind and body have time to relax and to reset, and I am ready to continue with my day.
Make sure you don’t under- or overeat. Without distractions, it can be easy to forget to eat and to plow through your workday. On the other hand, having quick access to your fridge, it can be tempting to overindulge and to snack too often. I find that eating at the same times of the day and keeping a food journal prevent either of these from occurring. Helping me eat what and when I need to in order to stay regulated. On a side note, keeping a food journal can also help you track health issues and food sensitivities. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you can try cutting out foods you’ve been repeating to see if doing so alleviates your symptoms so you can get to the bottom of what’s happening.
Create a space that is designated for you to work in. This is the fun part! I used to loathe the dusty, bland office spaces I was stuck in (and then supposed to be creative in). Now, I get to adorn my space with what inspires me. I have pictures, knickknacks, bookcases, a chaise lounge for taking quick breaks or for a change of scenery, and of course, I have a desk with a vitamin D lamp, a comfy chair, and all the writing utensils and books I need to do my job well.
If you decide to look for a job working from home, be sure to check out next week’s blog on finding jobs and growing your professional network from home. And good luck!
Bonus Tip for the Neurodivergent: Take sensory breaks and follow your sensory diet. You will find your ability to do this while working from home so much greater than when in an office setting. So do your sensory self a favor and take full advantage of it.