10 Mental Health Tips for Remote Working and Learning

Sean Waters

Mar 14 · 5 min read

Necessity, the Mother of Invention

Disclaimer: I am no authority on mental health, just seriously trying to keep my own ship together. These tips are really for me, but I’d still thought I’d share them.

Each semester, on the final day of face-to-face class, I wish my students well in their lives, and encourage them to keep in touch if they choose, since I will likely never see them again.

Last week, for the first time, I delivered this message midway through the semester.

This time, though, I told them I would be seeing them in the online learning environment I’ve been considering ever since. For the coming weeks, and maybe longer, I’ll be teaching online classes from home.

As fortune would have it, Austin Kleon, one of my favorite writers online, published such a stellar post — A Working From Home Manual in Disguise — at the top of his stellar newsletter last week.

In it, he referenced Kevin Roose’s amazing NY Times March 10 article, “Sorry, But Working From Home is Overrated.” Roose quotes Steve Jobs, who was against remote work because it limited the empathy and spontaneous collaboration of high-level creativity.

I’ve borrowed from both articles here. So, with credit given where credit is due, here’s my own list of 10 Mental Health Tips for Adjusting to Online Learning and Working Environments.

My Top 10 Mental Health Tips (in Brief):

(1) Maintain Your Purpose

Ask yourself: what are you here to do? How can you help other people? What can you do to serve? We get so much of our sense of value and purpose by what we do for others. What is it that we’re doing? How can we help other people?

When we’re left to our own devices, it can get harder to feel a sense of purpose and belonging in a collective human enterprise. This sense of belonging is so healthy and healing. All of these tips, in a sense, can help us find a greater sense of purpose, and in so doing, keep anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and undue aging at bay.

This is especially important during midlife, as I wrote here.

(2) Get more Exercise

You can get a lot of mileage out of push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, shadow boxing and dancing. Sitting too much (over time) can kill you, so break up Netflix binges or computer work marathons with calisthenics or cleaning.

In general, posture and breathing work is also great here… as I wrote about in “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, BREATHE.”

(3) Go on Walks

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a place where you can walk, then walk. A long walk to start the day, or in the middle of the day, as Kleon suggests, or whenever you get into a funk, can really help.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” This is the #truth.

And as as Kleon writes, quoting film-maker Ingmar Berman: “Demons hate fresh air.”

(4) Talk to People

Who haven’t you talked to in a while that might like hearing from you? Who might you check in with? This goes really well with taking walks and maintaining a sense of purpose — as well as offering the kind of empathy and spontaneous creative connections that Steve Jobs thought remote work prevented.

(5) Do Creative Projects

What have you been wanting to accomplish?

Tim Ferris has written well about a simple writing prompt: If you knew you were to die in two years at a point of optimum health, what would you most want to accomplish now, or what would you most regret not doing? Do that now. Or at least, do a small part of it now.

(6) Slow Down

Enjoy yourself!

We are so conditioned to go, go, go, that it can be a fun challenge to just feel satisfied with breathing, tidying up, getting back to the real basics of human existence.

This mindset goes really well with walking, talking, and creative projects.

(7) Unplug from the Feed

As Kleon writes, “Airplane mode can be a way of life.”

Naturalist and writer Thoreau thought the daily newspaper
was an unnatural interruption to our ability to be truly present to the changing seasons
. I wonder what he would say about the instant news feed.

Kleon again: “switch your phone or tablet to airplane mode,
and you can transform any mundane commute or stretch of
captive time into an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and your work.”

(8) Keep a Routine

It really helps me to have a set list of goals I’d like to accomplish everyday, and a sense when I’m going to accomplish them:

[] Free-write Morning Pages for a half an hour (journal; 6–7 am)
[] Take a photo of the seasons changing; post to Instagram (walk; 7 — 8 am)
[] Typewrite some writing into the computer (blog post 8–10 am)
[] Make Music or Video / other creative Studio Work (10-noon am)
[] Work on C.S.U. / F.R.C.C. classes (12–5pm)
[] Get some exercise (1 hour between 12–5 pm)
[] Spend time in the kitchen making (and eating) food (5–7 pm)
[] Make music or watch critically-acclaimed TV and Movies

It’s also worth noting what happens when you try to keep to a “perfect” schedule, as I wrote about here a year ago last year.

(9) Explore New Music

If you’re on Spotify, It’s easy to just put on a “Discover Weekly” or a “Daily Mix” playlist on Spotify, and let the music wash over you, without thinking.

It’s a little more time-intensive (and rewarding) to search for individual artists, and then spend time with their discography to get to know them a bit.

I am working through NPR’s list of “100 acts to check out from SXSW,” published TODAY, March 14th, 2020, and the NY Times Magazine’s “25 Songs that Matter Right Now,” out in print TOMORROW March 15th, 2020.

Both timed perfectly for this.

(10) Support Other Artists / Creatives

This is a tough time for small artists and venues. Support who you can.

When you find something you love: follow, stream, comment, buy, and share. Go to their websites, order their merchandise online, buy the T-shirt. Quoting Stephen Thompson via NPR: “when you find these new artists, tell your friends about it.”

Your support matters. And it can help you (and them) feel more human. Who in your local scene could use more support?

Which brings us back to the beginning: we feel better when we help others.


What did I miss? Tell me about it!

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash