How to Work From Home (And Stay Physically and Mentally Healthy)
Freelancing from home sounds like a dream come true to many of those stuck in a nine-to-five job, but it comes with its own set of physical and mental hurdles that are not apparent at first glance.
Learning how to deal with these downsides is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll tackle as a freelancer, but it can be done – if you’re willing to make some changes to your lifestyle.
In my case – and maybe yours – the three greatest hurdles are isolation, a lack of exercise, and mental fatigue. Let’s talk a bit about each, how I’ve dealt with them, and how you can too!
The Downsides of Working From Home
The first day after quitting my last desk job and starting my full-time freelance career, I remember thinking how lucky I was – waking up at 9am, cooking a hearty breakfast, and leisurely drinking that first cup of coffee before sitting down to work. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that the downsides of my new lifestyle reared their heads.
Up until I began freelancing, I took for granted how easy it is to socialize when you’re working in a regular job. When I worked at a kitchen, my coworkers ribbed each other mercilessly all day long – and another job had me sitting in a cubicle surrounded by dozens of people I knew. I couldn’t avoid socializing if my life depended on it.
When my freelancing career took off, there were entire days where I could go without having a conversation with someone else aside from text messages, emails, and phone calls. I’m sure plenty of you can relate, and the change can be jarring.
Freelancers who live alone will be especially aware of how disconcerting this can be. This career can sometimes throw up weird schedules, disrupting our already fragile social lives. Before you know it, you’re the guy with the unkempt beard shopping for Oreos in the middle of the night in your slippers.
A Lack of Exercise
Weird schedules can also result in another bad habit – lack of exercise. I’ve been in mostly great shape all my life, but the long hours sitting in front of a computer finally hit me hard after a year or two of freelancing.
In my case, it was the lack of cardio that got me. After a brisk five minute walk one day, I sat down to cool off and found myself sweating far more than an average person would. Despite being in good shape weight-wise, I had let my body become used to irregular exercise.
This is stunningly common among freelancers, who might even put themselves at greater risk of cardiovascular disease if they share my penchant for staying glued to the computer. Most of us aren’t used to exercising at home – we view it as an outside activity – and thus long hours at ‘the office’ translates into an unhealthy lifestyle.
This issue is a little rarer among freelancers considering our strange work setups – it’s quite simple to distract yourself when you have access to a computer. All you need to do is jump on Facebook, Reddit, or whatever your time-sink of choice might be and voilà – there goes your schedule.
However, avoiding mental fatigue or burnout is not just a matter of regular distractions. In my case, I can often go multiple days working on the same project with only a few short breaks. Throw in a few all-nighters, and you have a recipe for disaster.
It can manifest differently in each case. In mine it’s lack of attention to details – yours might be forgetting deadlines, or something similar. The terrible thing about mental fatigue is that we can often go a while without noticing it – by which time it’s already affected our performance.
That brings up a point I want to reiterate throughout the following sections of this article – a proactive approach is the best policy to deal with these types of issues. Let’s now talk about how to apply it.
How to Deal With These Downsides
Despite all of this scary talk, working from home doesn’t have to be the death knell. In fact, it’s entirely possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle while doing so – this is how I do it.
Dealing With Isolation
As freelancers, the simplest way to deal with isolation is to find a coworking space. Chances are if you’ve been freelancing for a while, you’ve already considered this option – so let’s discuss some different approaches.
Scheduling rewards works for me – I make a point to take a break and spend some time with my friends whenever I reach a significant project milestone. Did I meet a major deadline? Dinner with friends it is. Landed a new client? I’ll ask out that girl I’ve been chatting with.
It may seem like a mechanical approach, but for me the reward aspect works particularly well. Of course, you may want to reward yourself differently, such as joining a yoga class or taking dancing lessons – which brings us onto the next section.
Dealing With a Lack of Exercise
I’m a big fan of efficiency. Solutions that tackle multiple problems simultaneously are ‘my jam’ – so engaging in some form of group exercise would seem like a natural solution to two of the issues we’ve talked about.
In my case, I began taking dancing lessons. I’ve always had two left feet, so on top of getting back in shape and meeting new people, I was also improving my skill set. Jackpot!
A gym is always an option as well, although I’ve never been much of a fan. If you’re not either, there are plenty of exercise routines you can do right at home with little initial investment, such as P90X, Insanity, or DDP Yoga.
Dealing With Mental Fatigue
We’ve arrived at our last hurdle – mental fatigue – and I’m going to keep this one brief to avoid tiring you even further.
The best way to deal with this problem is to minimize its occurrences as much as possible. As a freelancer, you’ll always have to deal with the occasional unforeseen deadline that can tax your grey matter, but as long as you organize your workload, most stresses can be contained. Here are my recommendations for combatting fatigue:
- Try to maintain a schedule – even an informal one. This will enable you to estimate how long each task will take you.
- Say no to unreasonable deadlines – you’re not doing anyone a favor by overworking yourself.
- Indulge in your favorite distractions, cook, go out to eat, have a drink with friends, or play that new video game – there’s no wrong way to decompress, as long as you’re not hurting anyone!
Isolation, lack of exercise, and mental fatigue are not the kinds of issues that should be taken lightly. If left unchecked, each has the potential to derail your life and affect your long-term health.
Proactivity is the key for confronting these issues and banishing them for good. Let’s recap how to deal with each one:
- Make time for your friends, and meet new people.
- Engage in a more active lifestyle and do whatever form of exercise you prefer, as long as it gets you out of that chair.
- Keep your work life tidy, and indulge in your favorite hobbies.
What do you consider to be the biggest downside of working from home? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!
Image credit: Alex_Koch.