Does remote work make or break your mental strength?
So, the question is, how does remote work influence our mental state? Can remote work help us get mentally stronger or does it do the exact opposite?
If you look at the past year, where do you feel you stand? Do you feel that working from home had an impact in any way on how you felt mentally? Looking at myself, I can definitely say that the first couple of months last year were pretty tough. I was struggling to keep all the balls in the air and stay positive at the same time. Homeschooling kids, feeling afraid of getting sick, and eventually getting sick.
Things were tough, but as someone who calls herself a self-development addict, I decided to do something I love. I started new coaching studies in neuro-coaching and mental strength. After going through an initial six weeks and later six-month intense mental strength training, I noticed things started to shift for me (inside my head). I realised that no matter what the circumstances are, I have full control over how I respond to them.
The perspective is yours to choose
The answer to the question "can working remotely make or break your mental strength?", depends on which stand you decide to take. If you choose to give in to the negative voices in your head saying “it is all bad” it will become so. If, on the other hand, you choose to go for another perspective, you allow yourself to explore the ways that remote work can help you.
But before we go deeper into the topic, let’s talk about what mental strength actually is. If someone asked you now “how do you know if you are mentally strong or not?”, what would your answer be? According to Positive Intelligence founder Shirzad Chamine, whose work I was studying for the past nine months, “mental strength is the ability of your mind to manage your thoughts, emotions and actions in a positive and constructive way when being faced with difficult situations. In simple words, it is the ability of your mind to act as your friend as opposed to your enemy.”
Now, let’s look deeper into those three: thoughts, emotions and actions and their impact on our mental wellbeing.
Did you know that scientists discovered that an average adult has approximately 60.000 thoughts per day? Out of this, 80 percent of the thoughts are negative ones. More revelations followed: firstly, 85 percent of the things we worry about never come true. Secondly, with the 15 percent of the worries that did come to pass, 79 percent of the people admitted that either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. The good news is that scientists have also discovered that our brain is very malleable and that we ourselves have the power to change the direction of our thoughts. However, this does not happen by chance - it happens with practice.
Thoughts trigger emotions. The more mentally strong we are, the better we are able to direct our thoughts and regulate our emotions. Being able to label our emotions helps a lot to regulate them as well. And again, the more we practice, the better we will be able to shift our own mental state from negative (feeling depressed, angry, frustrated) to positive (feeling joyful, inspired, curious).
Thoughts trigger our emotions, and our emotions trigger our actions. Do you see where this is going? The more you are able to redirect your thoughts and regulate your emotions, the more it will have a positive impact on your deeds.
Ok, this is all great but how does this tie into remote work? Most of us know the negative consequences of remote work on our mental state: feeling overworked and isolated, frustrated, experiencing “Zoom fatigue," as a result of us still trying to embrace the old model, running six to seven 60-minute meetings (per day) one after the other. But there is a better way! Here are five brain-friendly hacks to embrace remote work:
1. Redirect your thoughts
Become aware that you might not be able to control your thoughts, but that you do have the power to redirect them. Whenever you start complaining about yet another day working from home in your PJs, think instead about what you are grateful for in this situation. For example, you gained time due to not having to travel to the office, then plan how you can use this time in a fun way.
2. Online meetings
Whenever possible, try not to book 60-minute meetings after each other, however, if this is not possible, allow at least 10 to 15 minutes in between meetings and use at least five of these minutes to let your brain rest. Do a short five-minute meditation or a mindfulness exercise. Do not touch your phone during these minutes! Letting your brain “rest” will actually help you boost your creativity and productivity.
3. Plan do-nothing time
There are various reasons why online meetings are actually more tiring than face-to-face ones, but working from home gives us more flexibility as well. In order for our brain to recharge, we can take advantage of the situation and plan at least 60 minutes of guilt-free do-nothing time - staring outside of the window, for instance. It lets our brain wander and come up with some surprising, out-of-the-box ideas and it also lets us recharge our batteries.
4. Plan social interactions
We are social creatures and while some of us love working alone and independently, Teams and Zoom will not replace the human face-to-face interaction. The best solution I found in the last months is weekly walks in the park with my clients. It’s corona-proof, lets us connect with another human being, and allows us to be connected with nature.
5. Build your mental muscles on a daily basis
Becoming mentally stronger has not become a luxury but a necessity. Working remotely allows for more flexibility, which we can use to introduce new healthy habits into our working routines - working not only on our physical health but mental health as well. What can we do to build mental muscles? There are plenty of options to choose from. Instead of grabbing your mobile phone first in the morning and last thing at night - schedule meditation time, write things down in a gratitude journal or become aware of your emotional state and shift it to the desired one.
I hope this article will help you see our current times as a practice to become mentally stronger. It does take time to practice, but it is possible, I know because I have done it myself.