Minding the Body

The guide to health and happiness

10 Solutions for Work-at-Home Stress

Tips for a stress-free home office.

laptop and coffee cup
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Working from home sounds so laid-back and stress-free. Then you try it.

Most people who work from home soon discover that real life is far from the fantasy. Many lead a lifestyle dominated by deadline pressures, erratic hours, and competing demands from multiple projects—and that's when things are going well.

Yet working from home does work for some people. Take me, for example. I've been happily working from home for nearly 30 years, so it's clearly a lifestyle that suits me. The built-in stress is very real, but it's also manageable. Below are my best stress-busting tips for those who call home the office.

Establish boundaries.
The good news is that you don't have to work 9 to 5. The bad news is that some friends and family may assume you don't have to work at all. Set firm boundaries about not being disturbed while you're at the office, even if the office is only feet away. In the long run, you'll cut down on a lot of frustration and conflict.

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Claim your territory.
Use your office space and equipment exclusively for work. A whole room is ideal, but a designated corner will do. If you have housemates, you'll save yourself much stress and aggravation over misplaced papers and accidentally erased computer files. Even if you live alone, you'll feel more capable and confident in a professional work environment.

Find a babysitter.
A home office is a great option for moms and dads who want to combine stay-at-home parenting and a career. But don't kid yourself: If you have young children and work at your paid job for more than a few hours per week, you'll need some help with child care. Home-based doesn't equal superhuman.

Manage deadlines.
In many work-at-home jobs, ridiculously short turnaround times are the norm. But deadlines don't automatically have to cause deadline stress. Break down large projects into smaller, less intimidating steps, and set milestones for when each step needs to be completed. Then dive in right away to ward off worry and procrastination.

Do make to-do lists.
Begin each day by making a daily to-do list. Rank list items as A, B, C, or D, from most to least urgent. Then estimate how long it would take to complete the entire list. If it's too long, look for items to eliminate or delegate, going from D to A. Once you've whittled down your list to a realistic length, start working on the items, going from A to D. If something comes up and you don't get around to all the C's and D's, don't sweat it. You can revisit them on tomorrow's to-dos.

Dress to de-stress.
One of the biggest perks of working at home is that you can do it in your sweats. But there's a fine line between comfy and comatose on the couch. If it's noon and you still haven't combed your hair, it may be time to stage an intervention for yourself. Put on your good clothes and go do something business-y, such as lunching with a work friend. The self-esteem boost is an excellent motivator.

Meet with colleagues.
Speaking of work friends, make sure you have some, because social isolation is a major source of stress for home-based workers. Online contacts are great, but you also need face-to-face interaction. Join a networking group. Or consider a coworking arrangement, in which you spend some of your work hours in a shared office space.

Take housework breaks.
If you hit a mental block, don't just sit there growing more and more anxious. Take five, and use those few minutes to tackle a tedious household chore. Fold the laundry, unload the dishwasher, or mop the floor. The chore should require only a modicum of attention—enough to distract you from the anxiety, but not enough to derail you from the primary mental task at hand. This helps you relax and restore your mental focus. Note: If a brilliant idea comes to you mid-fluff and fold, drop what you're doing immediately and return to your desk. The laundry will wait.

Count your blessings.
When your neighbors are trudging off to work in bad weather, congratulate yourself on your commute. When you're having a slow day so you slip out for a matinee at the movies, remind yourself how terrific it is to set your own hours. When your friend is complaining about her horrible boss, think how lucky you are to have such an intelligent and sympathetic supervisor (you).

Go home at night.
When you work from home, it's tempting to never really leave the office. There's always one more thing to be done, and it's calling your name from the next room. Ignore it. Learn to close the door and walk away at a reasonable hour. The next morning, you'll be more relaxed, refreshed, and ready for a new day at the home office.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer who has worked from home since 1982. She's author or coauthor of 14 books, including Stress Control for Peace of Mind. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in health psychology.

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