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Setting boundaries: “How making this change to my WFH routine helped me to establish a better work/life balance”

Posted by for Mental Health

Looking to set boundaries and establish a better work/life balance while working from home? Here, Stylist’s Lauren Geall unpicks how making exercise part of her weekly routine helped her to do just that.

One of the biggest challenges of working from home has to be setting and maintaining boundaries between your work and personal lives.

If you’ve worked from home at all over the last 12 months, you’ll know what I’m talking about: without the physical transition from office to home to take you out of ‘work mode’, things can become pretty blurred.

This is a problem I struggled with when I first started working from home last March. Despite my best intentions and the encouragement of my manager to take proper lunch breaks and log off on time in the evenings, the close proximity of my workspace to my personal life and the mundanity of lockdown made it all too easy to slip into an unhealthy pattern.  

Before long, I was working past my set hours on a regular basis, checking emails at weekends and “popping online” to do extra tasks late at night – all of which made it harder to switch off and caused my stress levels to increase as a result.

In short, I was on the path to burnout. But despite knowing this was most likely the case, and feeling the effects of my behaviour on my energy and motivation levels, I still didn’t grasp how transformative setting healthy boundaries could be. That was, until I made a commitment to start working out three times a week in early January.

It’s worth noting that I didn’t start working out as a way to try and establish better boundaries. In fact, it was a way to ensure I kept moving my body when the cold weather and darker evenings made the idea of heading out for a daily walk much harder to swallow. But now, after working out regularly for over four months, I can safely say that introducing exercise into my WFH routine is one of the best things I’ve done throughout the pandemic in terms of setting boundaries and looking after my mental health. Here’s why.

A woman watching a workout video at home
Working out in the evening after a day WFH helped Stylist's Lauren Geall to destress and switch off.

1. It helped to alleviate stress

One of the main reasons why introducing exercise into my WFH routine was so helpful was because I found my evening workouts to be a brilliant way to alleviate stress

Although stress management may seem unrelated to setting boundaries, the stress-relieving benefits of my workouts actually made a massive difference to my ability to separate ‘work time’ and ‘me time’, by allowing me to process and shake off any overarching tension I’d built up during the day. In this way, my evening wasn’t dominated by the stress of the day – making me less likely to ruminate about work and feel the need to log back on.

In fact, even on the days when I wasn’t working out, the lowered stress levels I experienced as a result of my workouts made things feel more manageable and easier to deal with. 

2. It helped me to switch off

Secondly, the hour I set aside to complete my workouts between finishing work and eating dinner became like a sort of ‘transition’ period. Instead of sitting down and thinking about everything I needed to do the next day, working out gave me something to focus on and take my mind off of everything, which in turn helped me to switch off.  

3. It helped me to stick to a schedule

Last, but by no means least, the need to fit in a workout between finishing work and eating dinner forced me to log off on time at least three days a week. It may sound small, but having a task to complete after work gave me the motivation I needed to be stricter with myself and enforce that boundary.

Finding the time to fit two or three workouts into your week may sound like a lot of effort and commitment, but if you can do so, I’d highly recommend it.

I’m not saying you need to run 5k every evening or commit to hour-long workouts, but if my experience is anything to go by, making time for even 10 minutes of gentle exercise could be a great way to look after both your mental and physical health and stop yourself from slipping into unhealthy habits in the long run. Why not give it a go?

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can you do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.