How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind

Not having to go to an office every day isn't as liberating as it seems. Follow these steps to stay healthy and sane at your home work space.

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By Sherry Gray

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Working alone, without the stress of office politics, the need to attend meeting after meeting, or attention-sucking requests from colleagues, seems like it would foster unparalleled productivity. Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. Working from home has undeniable appeal, but it can also have some serious drawbacks.

People who work alone are at high risk for depression and anxiety. The very nature of the work is crazy-making. We work insane hours, our brains never turn off, and we tend to neglect basic necessities. (It's 10 p.m. and I haven't eaten dinner. Or showered. I should probably do that.)

Overcoming the psychological impact of working alone takes organization and planning. When you know what the pitfalls are, you can stop the creeping mental crud before you start to spiral. Here are seven ways to stay more or less sane.

Related: 6 Best Practices for Working From Home

1. Isolation

Working alone can cause depression. We live in an increasingly isolated society. Getting to know your neighbors is rare, and many of us live almost entirely alone, never realizing how little human contact we really have.

The fix: You're online with millions of people. Build a tribe. Connect with colleagues and influencers on Twitter and other social networks. Speed up your discovery with targeted follower apps designed to help you find people who are interested in the same things you are. Find people who wants to talk about your work, your hobbies and your obsessions. Find people who make you laugh. Hide or un-friend people who bring you down. Life is too short for haters.

You can also plan to attend events in your area or arrange an occasional lunch with another freelancer. Look for a blogging group meet-up, a Twestival, or a chamber of commerce event to attend. Remember to bring business cards.

2. Financial insecurity

Unless you are independently wealthy or the magnate of a magnificent empire, you're probably worried about your cash flow almost daily. Fear of losing financial security ruins your sleep, affects your productivity, and generally makes you hard to live with.

The fix: Set your own terms. When I started freelancing, I let the client tell me how it was going to work -- and my budget was a mess. I handed over content to a company and they paid me when they got around to it. After a company went down with a month worth of my writing in the can, I wised up. Today, I specify the terms in advance and refuse clients who don't agree to pay me when I turn in the content. Knowing how much to expect and when it will be paid makes me a lot less crazy.

3. Inactivity

Sitting on your butt, staring at a computer screen all day is bad for your health. The list of detriments to your health is so long I can't even begin. Let's just boil it down to heart, circulatory system, bone health, cancer and other chronic diseases -- and depression.

The fix: It's not rocket science. Get some exercise. Be honest. You know you sit too much. Stop doing that. The benefits of exercise are so extreme and varied they affect every facet of your life, including your mental health. You'll be happier, sleep better and work more productively.

No time for exercise? Try an alternate way to get your blood circulating, like an adjustable standing desk. The simple act of standing up instead of sitting for most of your day has tons of health benefits, and an adjustable desk lets you change position without inconvenience.

4. Uninspired surroundings

Research from the University of Texas suggests that certain very common neutrals, like white, beige, and gray don't just look depressing -- they are depressing.

The fix: Pump up your color and style. Painting your walls is cheap and has a huge impact on mood. Pick a color you love with positive psychological impact. Green and blue improve productivity and inspire creativity for both men and women. Yellow is optimistic and energetic, but upsetting to some, so use carefully. Women like purple, but men don't. And brown makes everybody sad.

Surrounding yourself with color doesn't just lighten your mood. The right colors will inspire you, energize you, and have a profound impact on your well-being and productivity. Don't stop at your walls. Add pops of color and whimsy with fun accessories and cheery art.

Related: 4 Reasons Why You Need to Let Your Employees Work From Home

Stay sane with a virtual view.
Image credit: Andrew Flynn | Flickr

You can also create your own virtual view. Even if your office has a window, your view may be uninspiring, or even depressing. We aren't all living in a mansion overlooking the ocean. To solve a boring view or featureless view, use your TV. Television is too distracting, but one delightful feature of Chromecast is the screen-saver. When you're not watching a show, Chromecast flips silently through an incredible gallery of artistic photographs drawn from select Google+ accounts.

You may not have control over all the stress in your life, but you're in complete control of your environment. Lower your stress and set yourself up for success with an office designed to maximize productivity.

5. Indoor air pollution

Indoor air can be far-more polluted than the air outside, especially if your home has central heat and air. Poor air quality can lead to anxiety, headaches, fatigue, allergy symptoms and impaired mental faculties as well as a host of psychological disorders.

The fix: Open your blinds enough to let some sunshine in. Natural light is good for you. You also need fresh air, so open the windows regularly and flush out pollutants. Indoor plants help bring the outside in, improve your air quality and lighten your mood.

6. Burnout

It's a little stretch of scientific principles, but workplace issues such as incivility and lack of support contribute to burnout, and most of us are subject to plenty of that. No matter how much you make, your family is not-so-secretly thinking, "yeah, get a real job" when you ask them for privacy to get your work done.

The fix: Surround yourself with inspiring sound. Ambient noise and family can be very distracting. In my neighborhood, there always seems to be someone mowing the lawn or fixing the roof. There's always a school bus or recycling truck rumbling by, and my dog barks at everything from squirrels to cyclists. Music is a wonderful equalizer. What kind of sounds boost your mood and productivity? Science has the answer, of course. Carly Stec laid out science-backed playlists for productivity on

7. Computer work

According to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, working on a computer more than five hours per day significantly increases the risk of depression, insomnia and fatigue.

The fix: Better scheduling. Start your day with at least a few minutes of exercise. Work the hours when you're at your best. If the brain fog sets in, understand that you're wasting your time and walk away for a little while. Take regular breaks to stretch, breathe deeply and relax. Regardless of your deadlines, because a few restorative minutes throughout the day will make you more productive overall.

Some things are hard to change or avoid. When you work at home, part of your brain is always cataloging things that need to be done: laundry, dishes, balancing your checkbook, mowing the lawn. Things that would never cross your mind if you were in an office. The line between work and home becomes indistinct, and that makes it harder to achieve a work-life balance.

Don't let the hazards of working at home get you down. Being proactive about your environment and your habits will help you stave off the mental health issues that can eat away at your productivity and potentially ruin your life.

How do you keep the crazy at bay?

Related: Have Young Kids? Here's How You Can Still Be Productive Working From Home.

Sherry Gray

Freelance Content Writer

Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering the suburbs of Orlando. She's a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon.


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