Self-Care Tips for Working From Home

Self-Care Tips for Working From Home

More than half of people globally (43%) work from home part- to full-time, according to WFH Research. Working from home (WFH) has its benefits for sure, but working where you live also has its downsides.

If your daily work-from-home routine doesn’t include self-care habits to manage those downsides, they can negatively affect your productivity and quality of work, as well as your mental and physical health.

We listed some of the top WFH self-care tips below with additional suggestions from independent professionals—the original work-from-home warriors.

Defining the challenges of remote work

Some remote work challenges are outside of your control, such as when an employer doesn’t provide the right tools to work efficiently outside of the office. What we’re addressing here are remote work challenges that are within your control, like how you structure your day, manage stress levels, and what you eat.

Anyone can be affected by remote work challenges, even if you’re enviably organized and disciplined or only work from home a couple of days each week. But you can prevent the pitfalls of working from home by practicing these fundamental self-care tips.

1. Set clear boundaries

The boundaries between work life and home life easily blur for people who work where they live. Many people have trouble shutting off work mode because when their home office is only a few steps away, it’s easy to answer emails after dinner and put in a few hours over the weekend.

These extra work hours can add up quickly. Then before you know it, you’re at your desk feeling unappreciated, overworked, and stressed out. Avoid going down that road toward burnout by setting—and sticking to—boundaries. Boundaries tell your brain, “Hey, my time and energy are valuable!” And they ask others to value them too.

Boundaries tell your brain, “Hey, my time and energy are valuable!” And they ask others to value them too.

How you determine your boundaries depends on the flexibility your work allows and what work-life balance means to you. If you work for a company with traditional 9-to-5 work hours, a boundary may look like shutting off messaging apps and email notifications at 5 pm each night and all day on weekends. You can politely reiterate your work hours when you answer their emails the next workday.

Fractional CMO Mike Volkin sets his calendar to stop taking appointments at 3 pm. “This way, I have a couple of hours to finish emails, tie up loose ends, and be ready for my family by 5 pm.”

2. Incorporate regular exercise

Movement is linked to many health benefits, from reduced pain to improved mental clarity and mood. Exercising during the day can also make you tired enough to help you sleep better at night.

Do what it takes to incorporate movement throughout your day. If you’re short on time, you could do things like stand up during phone calls, use an under-desk treadmill, or do a 7-minute yoga routine between meetings. Exercising in the evening may help you release stress after a long workday. Going to the gym first thing in the morning may help you feel more clear-headed the rest of the day. It may also be the best way to ensure you get your exercise in before the day gets too busy.

If you don’t like to exercise, look for ways to make it more enjoyable. Join a dance class, go walking with friends, or make it part of your daily routine as NLP engineer Ivan Židov does. He goes to the gym at 7 am before the start of his workday, which “aligns with the principle of tackling the most daunting task (‘eating the frog’) at the outset of my day. And establishing a fixed time for exercise has been crucial in transforming my workout from a mere task to a foundational element of my daily routine.”

3. Prioritize nutritious meals

Many people are tempted to trade convenience for nutrition when working from home. No one’s going to see you eat ice cream for lunch—again. Nor judge you for skipping dinner because you were snacking all day.

Your well-being is one of your biggest assets, but you can easily abuse it when working from home, where food is always within reach. “My go-to hack for maintaining a balanced diet is practicing mindful eating,” said graphic designer Suzanne Ctvrtlik. “I step away from my screens and computers during meals. Instead of rushing through meals while working or multitasking, I take the time to actually sit down and eat without other distractions.”

Ways to eat more healthily when working from home:

  • Avoid reaching for food when you’re bored or stressed
  • Eat breakfast to jumpstart your brain and body for the day
  • Fill your house with healthy food and don’t buy junk food
  • Prep meals over the weekend or in the evenings
  • Eat regular meals instead of snacks to get the nutrition you need
  • Cut back on caffeine, which could reduce headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and digestive issues
  • Set a regular eating schedule so you don’t skip meals

4. Manage stress effectively

Even if you have the ideal home environment, remote work can still be stressful. In addition to your regular workday stress, you also have to manage home-life distractions like the TV, household chores, and loved ones asking for attention. You have less structure, so your workdays may drag on too long each night and spill over into the weekends. And you may not have enough social interaction, which could affect your emotional and mental well-being.

Data scientist Yao Shepherd manages stress by staying close to a 40-hour work week on average. “This might vary from week to week. Some weeks are higher and I may work late at night. But I control the total number of working hours on average across weeks.”

Aneesh Kumar, a media data analyst, releases stress by prioritizing his health. He usually starts his day off with a hot yoga class to energize him for the day ahead, and he makes sure to eat three meals a day. “All of these combined have immensely helped me with managing work stress and meeting timelines.”

For visual designer Ceyda Pektas, “Time management is the key to stress management.” Although clients often want work turned around quickly, she learned that reliability is more important than urgency. So she sets realistic timelines and makes sure she delivers on time. For short-term, stressful moments, she goes offline to reset.

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is being present in what you’re doing at the moment, without overreacting to a situation or becoming overwhelmed by what’s happening around you. You’re not rushing through a conversation. You’re not checking email while talking on the phone. You’re not sitting in one meeting and thinking of the next. You’re here. Focused fully on what you’re doing now.

Everyone can be mindful. But we’ve gotten so good at training our minds to be busy, we have to practice pausing, so we can access mindfulness. By pausing, we can listen better, reduce stress, raise our energy levels, better connect with people, and see situations with greater clarity.

According to researchers in a Harvard Business Review article, here are three mindfulness principles anyone can apply while working remotely:

  • Pausing to notice what you’re thinking. Are you talking on the phone while checking email? Are you in one meeting thinking about your next one? Are you stressing over your to-do list for the day?
  • Being aware of where your mind and body are during online meetings. Anchor yourself by taking a few seconds to relax your shoulders and jaw, look out the window, and feel grateful for the people who showed up to a meeting.
  • Suspending your ego. When people are talking, are you paying attention to them or thinking about what you’re going to say next? Are you trying to understand their perspective or trying to fix something? On video calls, make eye contact and use body language that shows you’re paying attention.

6. Stay socially connected

Compared to their in-person colleagues, many remote workers stay home too often because there’s no reason to leave. But the lack of socialization can get lonely, which may be dangerous. In addition to harming your mental health, persistent loneliness can be as damaging to your body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Research shows persistent loneliness can be as damaging to your body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

As a self-employed professional, graphic designer Suzanne Ctvrtlik meets other business owners by joining activities during unconventional hours. “For instance, if you join a pottery class that meets at 2 pm on Tuesdays, chances are high that the other people attending at that time will also be self-employed.”

Chatbot developer Lena Shakurova builds in a little socialization throughout her workday without having it affect her productivity. Using a web app called Focusmate she says “helps me stay focused while I work and allows me to meet new people from all over the world. I love it.”

7. Leverage family and pet interactions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five households adopted a pet to uplift their physical and mental well-being. These furry friends were great at combatting loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

The good thing is pets like dogs and cats crave attention. They need regular walks and playtime, which ensures you take regular breaks too. These breaks can clear your mind, uplift your mood, increase your energy, and reduce your stress.

The bad thing is dogs can become a nuisance if they’re barking during Zoom calls and demanding too much attention. If you have a pooch at home, check out this article full of hacks from professionals who learned how to take the stress out of working from home with a dog.

Ivy photo

Family members can also be great sources of stress relief. If they’re in the house with you, consider walking away from your desk at lunchtime to eat with them.

Brief chats with family during the day can give your brain a break from work and may help release stress. If you don’t have anyone at home, you could text someone a funny video or pick up the phone to say hi. “It’s easy to just focus on client work, but your stress levels are on a fine balance and just a quick chat can help so much,” said SEO specialist Louis Jordan Smith.

8. Set a consistent daily routine

A perk of working from home is that you’re not tied to your desk from 9-to-5. You can take a short walk between meetings, put in a load of laundry in the afternoon, leave for a doctor’s appointment at 2 pm then return to work at 6 pm.

But it’s easy to take too many breaks and get so distracted that you end up working less than you should. Although you want to enjoy your flexibility, keep it balanced by having a regular daily routine and sticking to it.

As important, setting a consistent routine helps you avoid burnout. Working too much can be tempting, as the time for work and personal lives can easily blur.

Nikita B., a customer marketing specialist, works in India and most of her clients are in Europe and North America. She works from 2 pm to 4 am IST so that her hours overlap with her clients as much as possible. “I am a night owl, so this works perfectly for me. And I have fewer distractions.”

Adhering to a daily routine doesn’t mean you have to be rigid. One of the advantages of remote work is flexibility in your schedule. You may need to take more breaks during extra long workdays. And you could give yourself the right to unplug. On days with lighter workloads, you may decide to end your day a little earlier or start a little later. Or when you’re not feeling 100% one day, you may end your day earlier so you can show up the next day fully recharged and highly productive.

9. Create a dedicated workspace

The home environment is full of distractions. Creating a home office helps you block out those distractions, so you can focus on work.

Having a dedicated workspace also signals to your brain when it’s time to get into work mode and when it’s time to unplug. “I like to make sure that I have a separate space for my work life. It allows me to disconnect by moving from one place to another,” explained proposal writer Andrea Dickens. “I also redesigned my home office to make it a comfortable space to be in during the day, so I don't decide to go into the main area of the house and start cleaning.”

You may not be able to dedicate an entire room to your home office, and that’s OK. You just need a space that enables you to focus on work. That said, a dedicated workspace doesn’t have to be at home. Your “home office” could be a co-working space, a quiet corner in your favorite coffee house, or a table at a public library.

Content writer Cassie Moorhead travels frequently but doesn’t let a new environment derail her productivity. “I always travel with my laptop wrist pad and my blue light-filtering glasses. Even if I'm working from a coffee shop in a new city, I'll put those in my tote bag so I know I'll be comfortable,” Moorhead said.

10. Take regular breaks

Taking short breaks throughout the day allows your brain to get a little rest, and your body to release some of the stress that builds up throughout the workday. Taken regularly, breaks can improve your mood, increase your creativity, and lift your energy levels.

Understand that a break isn’t checking your social media feed or shopping online. To benefit from a break, step away from your desk to shift your brain from work tasks to personal tasks. Helen Khailova-Horash, a software solutions manager, takes a walk with her child, does quick house chores, or makes lunch. She says she likes to do things that involve movement because they’re “beneficial for overall health, as it gives your eyes a rest from screens and keeps your body moving to prevent neck and back pain.”

Breaks also include taking days off work. If you worked an extra long workweek, maybe spend a day in nature or play hooky with a friend. Avoid burnout by taking a vacation—even if it’s sitting at home for a straight week binge-watching Netflix and ordering takeout. You’ve earned your time off, so use it.

11. Invest in ergonomic furniture

Investing in ergonomic furniture is like investing in your tech stack for work. Just as you need the right tools to deliver quality work, your body also needs the right tools to remain healthy enough to continue working.

You may love working from the couch or in bed, but holding your body in an awkward posture for long periods of time can lead to health issues including carpal tunnel syndrome, frequent headaches, and chronic neck and back pain.

Protect your body with these office ergonomic tips from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Chair. Adjust the height so your feet rest flat on the floor, or use a footrest so that your thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Keyboard and mouse. Move your keyboard so your wrists align with your shoulders, adjust your chair or desk so that your hands are at or slightly below the level of your elbows
  • Monitor. Place the computer monitor straight in front of you, directly behind your keyboard, about an arm's length away from your face
  • Laptop. Use an external keyboard and mouse, along with a laptop stand, box, or stack of books, to move the monitor up to the ideal height
  • Phone. Use a headset or put the phone on speaker
Office ergonomics

No matter how ergonomic your furniture is, be sure to get up and move throughout the day. Sitting in the same position for long periods of time is never good for the body.

Discover the best chairs for work from home.

12. Manage distractions

A home environment can be filled with distractions. Distractions can be anything from kids wanting your attention to a sink full of dirty dishes nagging at you to clean them. But if you keep leaving your desk to take care of home and work tasks at the same time, you’ll soon find yourself working half days or less.  

If you keep leaving your desk to take care of home and work tasks at the same time, you’ll soon find yourself working half days or less.

There are many ways to manage distractions. You could wear noise-canceling headphones. You could create a dedicated workspace that blocks other rooms from view. You could shut off notifications from all of your non-work-related apps like social media and text messaging.

Mike Volkin, a fractional CMO, uses the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break) to ignore distractions. “It works really well and helps me get and stay in my flow state.”

13. Get dressed

You may love the cozy comfort of your favorite sweatpants and baggy t-shirt, but research shows there’s a psychological benefit to getting dressed for work, even if the only thing that sees you is your goldfish.

One study found that people who dressed more formally were better at abstract, big-picture thinking. The kind of thinking associated with people in powerful positions. But don’t worry, you don’t need to put on a suit, wear dress shoes, or put on makeup to enjoy the performance benefits of getting dressed. You just need to put in a little effort. “Dress a little bit more formally than you would at home normally,” suggested the study’s co-author, Michael Slepian, Associate Professor at Columbia Business School.

14. Learn to say no

Unity developer Angel Andres learned early on that “working from home is not the same as being at home. Having flexible working hours does not mean that you are available to anyone at any time.” And the first person who needs to learn that might be you.

Learn to set boundaries and be clear that you aren’t crossing them. Yes, there may be an occasional exception, but make sure people know that during your work hours, you may be at home, but you’re also at work. You’re happy to give rides to the airport, watch your friend’s kids for a couple of hours, and catch up with a neighbor—after work.

“Working from home is not the same as being at home.”
— Angel Andres, independent Unity developer

Find work-from-home opportunities with Upwork

Many people feel less stress and enjoy a greater work-life balance when working from home, but being at home all day, even for only a few days a month, isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. However, if you intentionally design self-care into your daily WFH routine, you can enjoy the many health and lifestyle benefits of remote work.

If you’re interested in creating a work-from-home lifestyle, consider becoming an independent professional on Upwork. As the world’s work marketplace, Upwork attracts companies across the globe, from startups to Fortune 100 enterprises, so you can work on the type of projects that excite you.

And Upwork offers a library of resources and services to help you succeed as an independent professional. Learn more by checking out the free guide, “Getting Started as a Freelancer on Upwork.”


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Author Spotlight

Self-Care Tips for Working From Home
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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