By: Scott Dawson
So many aspects of your life factor into the equation of your overall health. If you commute to an office every day, that could definitely subtract from the equation. Getting takeout food every day also might tip the scales, depending on what you order. Remote workers, though they lack a commute and have access to food from their own kitchens, can have health challenges, too. I’ll break them down into three categories: your mind, body, and fuel.
Mind Your Mind
When you’re in the zone at work, you can stave off mental fatigue by playing music or ambient noise in the background. Your brain loves to switch it up periodically, though. Take a few minutes every so often to give your brain something else to do other than work. If you’re at a desk, get up and stretch, go for a walk, or do something that’s a total departure from what you were doing before. Music, reading, or other hobbies are all fair game! Most importantly, though, recognize that it’s not all about the work. Set (and keep) hours that you’ll start and finish for the day.
Social isolation is one of the oft-cited drawbacks of working remotely. Everyone has unique social needs, and it might be harder to fulfill yours if you’re not with other people during the day. Use chat apps to get to know your work colleagues better when opportunities arise. Invite people in your community out for lunch or coffee. Get involved outside of work hours with a group or activity you love. You’ll get to do something you enjoy doing, and reap the social benefits of being with a group of people. I sing in a community chorus that meets once a week. It’s nice to do something totally different from my job, and I get to see other creative people while I’m at it!
Therapy can be a great way to clear your mind. If you’ve not done it, or fear the stigma that can be attached to it, give it a try. Sometimes it’s helpful to just talk through issues that are important to you in a private setting. There are a lot of options for mindfulness and relaxation, too: meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and massage. Set a monthly reminder to schedule these appointments so they don’t fall by the wayside. Check your health insurance, since some services like therapy and acupuncture may be covered.
Take Care of Your Body
It’s a lot easier to incorporate fitness into your routine when you’re not commuting. Depending on where you live, you might be able to run, hike, walk, or bike without having to travel too far. I can do most of these things right out my front door! Group-based fitness classes not only give you a good sweat, they can also serve as a social outlet. Whether you work out in the morning, evening, or midday, make a plan and stick to it: activities all are the more feasible since you can start and finish at your home or gym and get cleaned up quickly. After you’ve done all that working out, recognize that your body needs adequate rest. Everyone has different sleep needs, but if you get sick a lot, try to get more sleep.
I’ve had years that I haven’t officially taken a day off due to illness, but worked through the occasional cold despite feeling subpar. One of the benefits of working remotely is that an illness doesn’t necessarily take you out of commission for an entire day. You might decide to put in a partial day, dial in for that important call, or work while pushing fluids on yourself. If you’re a commuter, though, it’s far more palatable to take the entire day off instead of enduring a commute while you’re feeling crummy. Sometimes it’s better to take a complete break to get better, though. If you get really sick, take a guilt-free day off to get well! Take advantage of routine doctor/dentist/vision appointments, too. You don’t need to take a full day to get those things taken care of when you work remotely, and your insurance likely covers well visits. Use your benefits and stay healthy!
Fuel for the Remote Worker
When you work remotely, you have a lot more control over what food is available to you. You’ll eat what you buy, so stock up on good, whole foods. You can go all in and include probiotics and antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. Or, you can simply opt to “eat a rainbow”, focusing mainly on whole foods. If it comes in a bag or a box, or if the ingredients list has more unpronounceable things than you can shake a stick at, it’s probably not as good for you as something from the produce section. Depending on where you live, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm may be an option to get fresh produce most weeks of the year. No matter your culinary tastes, remember that variety is good, and moderation is even better.
Now that you have some healthy options, take an adequate break to eat. I put a daily appointment in my calendar to prevent meetings from encroaching on my lunch break. If it’s nice outside, my wife and I go for a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood after eating on our deck. If the weather's bad, we read books or watch the rain fall outside as we catch up under the shelter of our back porch. When I’m home alone, I watch an episode of a show, play my guitar or go for a short walk by myself. Lunch is an oasis in the middle of the day: take the time to revel in it!
Scott Dawson lives in Trumansburg, New York. He has worked remotely for 21 years and moderates a weekly Twitter chat (#remotechat) for remote workers. His recently-published book, The Art of Working Remotely, is available here. You can also follow him on Twitter @scottpdawson or connect on LinkedIn.