Seen the Pingu clip doing the rounds lately? We relate to that little penguin, we really do, caught between a boiling kettle and phone that’s never off the hook.
When working from home, it can be hard to stay comfy and warm, let alone focus on the job at hand. Temperatures are dropping, the skies are looming and grey, and we’re still wrapping our heads around the constant chopping and changing of coronavirus rules.
In winter, we have a tendency to slide into isolation and hibernate, but that doesn’t work with a nine to five. So here are some top tips from environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, Lee Chambers, on how to feel more positive and productive.
1. Let the light in
Make the most of what little light we actually have during the daytime in winter. Rearrange your home workspace and position your desk beside a window to maximise on as much natural daylight and vitamin D as physically possible.
“The light is more powerful in winter because it’s limited,” Chambers tells HuffPost UK. “I often suggest people switch up their home office next to a bigger window with more light. When the day is shorter, it’s more important. It really boosts motivation and gets us feeling like we’re not deep, dark winter.”
2. Stock up on houseplants
Plants can help breathe more life into a room so add some greenery to your workspace. According to a study published earlier this year by a team of scientists at the University of Hyogo, Japan, a plant on your desk can reduce stress and anxiety levels, helping your mental health in the longterm.
“The beauty is that as you care for them, you get that gardening fix that gets people feeling grounded and attached to nature,” says Chambers, “even when the trees are bare outside. With plants still growing around you, even in harshness of winter, it’s a reminder of growth, and that spring isn’t far away.”
3. Schedule some ‘me’ time
Don’t just mark in meetings where you’re talking to people about work stuff. Try to book in social time outside of work and some quality self-care time ,too.
“In winter you need to be more disciplined with your schedule,” says Chambers. “If not, you become more stressed, can easily go back into a shell and become a hermit. Book in cosiness time like a meeting with yourself. Get the essential oils out, warming bath, have it to look forward to after a long day’s work.”
4. Get things in the diary
It’s easy to slip back into living in an infinite present mindset, but it’s important to have things to look forward to. It’ll keep the motivation going and set things in stone, even if we don’t know what the rules might look like in the next few months. It’s likely to be an unusual Christmas ahead – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ruined.
“Make your own Christmas market in back garden, do a mini bonfire night, have a fun virtual Christmas work party,” Chambers suggests. ”Start to get things in the diary you’re looking forward to – excitement and anticipation bolsters you.”
5. Eat well, do well
Diet has a more direct impact on work output and productivity levels than most of us realise. The WHO reports that “while no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure Covid-19 infection, healthy diets are important for supporting immune systems.” Good nutrition also reduces the likelihood of developing other health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
It also helps raise productivity, efficiency, energy and boost morale. “You’ll be better able to focus and accomplish tasks when you’ve eaten properly,” says Chambers. “Try meal prepping and cooking more at home, and eat more wholesomely, densely, than summer. Switch a cup of tea out for a hot chocolate.”
6. Move about, even a bit
As tempting as it is to stay in bed for an extra hour or retire to the sofa after a long day’s work, it’s important still to incorporate regular exercise indoors or outdoors, even if it’s cold, dark, and wet. Developing healthy routines feels so much easier throughout summer when the mornings are light and the days are long, but fitness and movement are key for happy endorphins.
“Do simple exercises in the house, run on the spot, practise yoga,” he explains. “It’s an easy way to warm yourself up, boosts blood flow to brain and will make work feels a bit easier.”
Remember to take regular short breaks from sitting. The WHO suggests “doing three to four minutes of light intensity movement, such as walking or stretching, will help ease your muscles and improve blood circulation and muscle activity.”
7. Catch more Zs
Sleep deprivation and insomnia have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Most of us accept we pay the next day if we only get a short night’s sleep and will expect to function feeling a bit dull or fuzzy around the edges.
It’s been scientifically proven by Bupa research that getting enough rest can improve your attention and concentration, allowing you to stay sharper and more focused, even in these weird times. It also strengthens your immune system, giving your body the time it needs to repair – one of the reasons that you sleep more when you’re unwell.
“The darker nights make us more fatigued and getting more sleep helps boost emotional hormonal regulation,” Chambers adds. “So, make sure you get enough sleep once the winter months roll around.”
8. Start journalling
Our thoughts might be all over the place right now, but a journal can help keep your brain in better shape. Not only does it boost memory and comprehension, it also keeps thoughts organised, set and achieve goals, and by getting things out on paper it can also be a big stress-reliever. Here’s a guide to the “bullet journal’ approach, for starters.
“Journalling gives people a chance to reflect and get out and do things,” says Chambers. “Yes, there are limits to what we currently can and can’t do right now, but winter doesn’t change and we can still socialise outdoors.” Just make sure you’re aware of the rules in your area.
9. Limit social media
Be mindful of social media and news consumption. While it’s important to stay up to date with health advice and be connected, it’s just as vital to switch off when you need. “Winter can fuel negativity, which put us in a downwards spiral,” Chambers explains. “It’s often fuelled by a lot of the stuff we get fed online and what media we consume.”
Try setting timer limits on phones, build a routine where you allow yourself time to look at social media and news in the mornings or evenings for a set period of time – and put digital devices away an hour before bed.
10. Appreciate the little things
It’s hard to find joy in unsettling times, but there are ways to practise gratitude, and the more we can appreciate, the better our outlook on life.
“We get conditioned, we get society’s expectations upon us, we love to complain about anything and everything,” says Chambers. “Appreciate leaves falling off trees or watch the snow fall – these little moments are something we don’t get to see in an office environment.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.