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Wellbeing in a new working environment

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2 April 2020

Tips for managing your mental health and wellbeing

As a University community, we are facing new challenges for maintaining our wellbeing at work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Transitioning to working from home and team separation is a difficult adjustment, both in practical terms and for our mental health.

The team from the University’s Occupational Health Service have shared tips and links to useful resources to help you adapt to your new working environment and manage your mental health and wellbeing during this time.

"Don’t beat yourself up about the juggling act we find ourselves in. Do as little or as much as you feel able to."
Jessica Hodges, Occupational Health Adviser

1. Create a positive daily routine

It can be difficult to get into the right headspace for work in your home environment. With social isolation, an unfamiliar working environment and possible feelings of anxiety, there are many new mental health challenges.

The first thing you can do to overcome this is to create a daily schedule, keeping as much routine as possible.

“When you are working from home, get up and dressed at the same time you would normally do for work,” suggests Aimee, the manager of the Occupational Health Service, “and take a look at the NHS Every Mind Matters website, which is a great resource with more tips on mental wellbeing whilst staying at home.”

You can also adapt and create positive new routines with activities that are meaningful, useful or enjoyable.

“Do something creative – meditate, cook, paint, play music, grow seeds – or perhaps study something new,” Karen, our technician, encourages. You can find more suggestions on the Public Health England website.

Connecting with nature and introducing this into your new schedule can have a great impact on your wellbeing too, as noted by the mental health charity, Mind.

“If you're able to get outside, make it part of your routine. If you have a garden, go outside to look at your plants, feel the sun on your face and take in some fresh air. If you are not self-isolating, enjoy going for a walk or cycle once a day. Listen to the birds and enjoy experiencing nature,” says Karen.

2. Sound out new ways to focus

In a new work environment, you might experience new distractions, especially if you share your space with others or have noisy neighbours. This can be frustrating, especially if you find that you are struggling to focus and don’t feel productive.

One way to improve focus is to try working with music, in silence, or with ambient background noise, experimenting to find out what best suits you.

“Noise cancelling headphones can be incredibly helpful in lots of scenarios. Playing classical or instrumental music may also help you concentrate at work,” suggests Jane from our administration team.

What works for one person won’t work for everyone, so it’s a good idea to trial different options. What’s more, not every day will be the same. Some days you may need quiet, other days you’ll prefer noise. Listen to yourself and adapt based on how you feel.

3. Break your workload into manageable chunks

Working from home not only changes the space we work in, but also the manner of our work by limiting the types of tasks we can undertake. Managing an increasingly desk-based workload adds another layer of complication to a new location for work.

“I usually find my working day is punctuated with a variety of appointments and tasks, some practical and some cognitive. Concentrating just on cognitive tasks when working from home can therefore be challenging, at least for me,” explains Mike, one of our health advisers.

“The Pomodoro technique is an excellent way of breaking up work into focused time blocks,” suggests Mike, “I have recommended it to many staff and students.”

For many of us, our caring responsibilities will also affect our ability to work in the way we’re used to. Parents may be home schooling their children for the first time and might be trialling new, flexible working patterns around this.

“Work in short blocks, especially if you are juggling working from home with home schooling,” encourages Jessica, one of our health advisers.

These extraordinary circumstances could be overwhelming, making it more important than ever to be realistic and kind to ourselves.

“Don’t beat yourself up about the juggling act we find ourselves in. Do as little or as much as you feel able to,” Jessica suggests.

4. Switch off after work

Working at home unexpectedly could feel like an intrusion on your personal environment, especially if you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated office space.

“If you don't have a separate room to work in, packing all your equipment away at the end of the day is helpful,” suggests Jane.

Switching off from work, literally and mentally, is vital for maintaining a good work-life balance, and both managers and employees can play a part in encouraging balance within their teams.

“Not only is this a stressful period, but many of us are working from home for the first time. We need to pay extra attention to separating work from our home lives, giving ourselves regular breaks and enough time to focus on our own wellbeing, as detailed in Mind@Work’s Workplace Wellbeing enews,” says Aimee.

Further resources

You can find more helpful resources on the University’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) staff Sharepoint site, the Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing page, the Staff Counselling page, the Wellbeing updates page and remote working page.

Look out for more tips from our team in the coming weeks.