7 ways to cope with personal challenges when working remotely

April 12, 2021

7 ways to cope with personal challenges when working remotely

I’m Jenny, founder of Commute Free Me, a blog designed to help people work from home well. I’ve been working from home since 2017 and am passionate about the benefits of remote working. I’ve been invited by Remote Workers Network to share my personal experience of protecting mental health during challenging times.

I recently received news that no daughter ever wants to hear. 

My mum might be facing cancer. Again.

Illustration by Atila Martins

My heart felt like it had ripped open. My mind was dragging me to places I desperately didn’t want to revisit. What if it is cancer? What if she doesn’t get better this time? How will we cope with this painful journey all over again?

The feeling of free-falling into a pit of despair is sadly a familiar one. In early 2017, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of around 55,000 women in the UK forced to battle the cruel disease each year

Back then, I worked in an office full-time hundreds of miles away from where my mum lives. While it was great to have the support of my colleagues around me, all I wanted was to be with her. 

This time I may be faced with the opposite situation where I have the flexibility to be there for my family, but lack the face-to-face contact of others checking in on me. While this might feel a little overwhelming at first, this is definitely the better option. As we’ve learned over the past year, distance doesn’t stop colleagues and friends being there for you when you need them.

Illustration by Atila Martins

After the initial shock of the news, my attention turned to coping mechanisms. In my new world of ‘what ifs’, one thing is certain. I need to develop strategies for getting through this while holding down my remote job and retaining some semblance of sanity.

To do this, I tried to step outside of myself and pinpoint what I would tell a friend to do in my situation. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve ended up giving myself some decent advice (even if I say so myself!).

1. Open up

Tell your employer what you’re going through. This may not come naturally to you (I’m definitely in that camp), but it’s an important first step.

Making sure they know what’s going on at an early stage will help them to understand if you’re not quite yourself or not performing at your best. You might be surprised by how much support they offer you.

2. Let yourself feel

If you want to bawl your eyes out, do it. I can’t tell you how many packets of tissues I’ve got through recently

The worst thing you can do is to bury your emotions. They will only come back and bite you at a later stage when you least expect it. I’ve learned that from bitter experience and trust me, it’s not pretty.

The good thing about working remotely is that you don’t have to put on a brave face for anyone.  No one will ever know that you’ve got mascara all down your face. Let out your emotions and you’ll feel better for it.

3. Don’t turn to Dr. Google

Working from home can make it much more tempting to seek counsel from Dr. Google if you or a family member is facing a health issue. Do yourself a favor and don’t do  Google it. The worst possible diagnoses are inevitably the ones with the best SEO.

While it’s natural to want answers, seek these from a health professional.

Remote working makes it much easier to get medical advice if you need it, so go speak to a human rather than try to make an internet diagnosis.  

4. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day

If you’re physically sick, chances are you wouldn’t hesitate to take time off work. Same should be true for when you’re struggling mentally. 

Yet there is still sadly a taboo about taking a mental health day. According to MHFA England, 1 in 5 employees take a day off due to stress, yet 90% cite a different reason for their absence.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, so you should feel empowered to take a day off if you feel you need it. Most good remote employers are fully supportive of this. It’s in their interests to have you performing at your best, after all.

Taking just one day can help you to step off the emotional roller coaster, process your feelings and reset your mind ready to get back into work mode.

5. Maintain healthy habits

It’s totally understandable to reach for the wine and/or chocolates when going through difficult times. I certainly hit the pinot noir when I first heard that dreaded news. 

We all know deep down, however, that this is a road to nowhere. Constantly feeling hungover and sluggish is hardly going to make what you’re going through any easier to handle.

Instead, try to swap the bad habits for regular exercise and good nutrition. You won’t want to, but you’ll be surprised by how much better it can make you feel. Remote working makes it so much easier to squeeze workouts into your daily routine and whip up a healthy lunchtime meal. Take advantage and give your body what it needs.

6. Practise mindfulness

Meditation and breathing exercises are really helpful for calming the mind and getting yourself into a more peaceful state.

While I’ve used meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm in the past, for me mindfulness is about immersing myself in the present. I like to go for walks and tune into the sounds around me. It’s surprising how this can help to take your mind off things. 

Stepping away from your desk and taking time to reset your mind is important for achieving work from home balance.

Try different techniques and find what works best for you. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness practice every day can add up to a real positive impact on your overall mental health. 

7. Search for glimmers of positivity

Whatever it is you’re facing, try and find any crumb of positivity you can and cling onto it. For me, it’s that I have a great support network that is ready to help me through whatever is ahead of me. Whenever my mind turns to the negative, I try and think of the good I have in my life. 

This is not easy to do and is probably the area where I struggle the most. I firmly believe, however, that if you look hard enough, you can always find a flicker of light amongst the darkness.

Keeping your mental health on track

As remote workers, we have to take ownership of our mental health. Employers definitely have an important role to play, but they can’t offer support if they don’t know we’re struggling. 

While I wait to find out what lies ahead for my mum, I’m going to practice what I preach and keep these principles in mind. I’ve already noticed the benefits of proactively protecting my mental health and I’m sure this will continue over the months ahead.

Illustration by Atila Martins

No matter what life throws at you, I hope these strategies can help you too.