Mental health and remote work: How working remotely helped me climb mental health mountains

How remote-first agency life made all the difference for my mental health

As anyone living with mental illness will know, oftentimes it’s the simplest of daily activities that prove the hardest to surmount.

Everything from establishing healthy routines with food, sleep, hygiene and general life admin – each presents a different mountain to climb. I’ll often be tackling my day with fewer than my gold standard of 8 hours of sleep, but still needing to bring focus and energy to life.

I was diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and depression in my final year of university, just over a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been working hard to better understand the way my mind works, and figuring out how best to nourish it with what it needs.

How depression amplifies anxiety

One of the quirks of anxiety is that it presents itself in a wealth of forms, depending on the individual. For me, it’s the blend with my depression that amplifies it.

A decade ago, due to my social anxiety, it was almost impossible to leave the house alone – even for a brief trip to the corner shop. Being the last person to enter the room at a party, particularly where I only knew one or two people, would lead to me being physically sick in the lead up to it, just imagining how it might pan out. Spoiler alert: in my mind, it always ended badly.

I’d meticulously plan journeys to avoid the London Underground when travelling – and when I did brave it, it would be an impossibility without my headphones on full volume and my eyes shut while the train was moving.

Anxiety and depression sufferers will know all too well how critical and deafening the voice in their head is. My internal monologue is often one of self-deprecation, one that fuels low self esteem and a total lack of self belief.

This might come as a shock to folks I encounter. Cliched as it sounds (they’re cliches for a reason, right?), it’s often those you least expect that are fighting these internal battles.

I’m undoubtedly an extrovert (ENFJ-T for any Myers Briggs fans out there), so you’ll often find me joyfully throwing ideas around in meetings, taking the lead in creative sessions, and brewing up new ideas for adventures with friends.

I gain a lot of energy from social interactions – but on the flip side, they also sap my energy in equal parts.

This internal conflict is precisely why I’m so communicative with friends, family and teammates, because it opens doors to understanding why I might suddenly go quiet, or look exhausted – even if I’m not acting like I am.

This openness has been the key to me building resilience, as it allows those closest to me to better understand why I act in the way I do.

Openness and transparency helps establish ways of working

During my first interview for Empower with Jaz and Ben, I set a precedent of openness from the get go. I let them know how my anxiety and depression presents itself, so we could work together to establish ways of working that would be beneficial for us all.

Empower is remote-first, which is what attracted me to the role (amongst a million other things!).

During lockdown, like many of us, I’d more than proven to myself that I was capable of working from home. The flexibility it provided me was game-changing. If I’ve had a poor night’s sleep, I’m able to start an hour later than I might normally, for example.

The ebb, flow and unpredictability of my energy levels provides daily challenges. In the before times, I can remember struggling to stay awake in late afternoon meetings because of it. I’d have to take myself off to the toilet and rest my head against the cubicle wall just to shut my eyes for 60 seconds, then splash cold water on my face to shock myself awake.

I’m beyond happy to share that those days are long, long gone.

Adapting the working week to flourish at work

Flash forward to 2022, and my world couldn’t be more different.

Working at Empower, I’ve been able to fully adapt my working week to give me the best chance of success in my career.

Practically, this means starting later on a Monday, in response to weekends often using up all my social energy. I work longer days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – freeing up my Wednesday afternoon for my work as both a food writer and DJ, and to cover any niggling life admin tasks that have been whizzing around in my head.

In previous roles, I’d often call in sick if I’d not had enough sleep. I don’t have to do this anymore, and it’s been the biggest weight off of my shoulders – because I hate letting my teammates down.

Mental health and physical health are intrinsically connected. If you’ve not slept, of course you’ll not have the right energy levels to tackle your day. And even if I have slept, my body is constantly buzzing and moving due to my anxiety – foot tapping, chewing the skin on the sides of my nails.

But I can now respond and react to that, knowing the whole team has my back.

#PostYourPill social media campaign

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m reminded of the #PostYourPill campaign you’ll likely have seen across social media. I was waiting for the right moment to join in – and this blog feels like just that. Here’s a snap of my Sertraline which I take every day, to redress the chemical imbalance in my brain (sounds clinical, but that’s literally what it does): 

postyourpill

Thanks to these, and Fluoxetine in previous years, I’ve been able to thrive in my life and my career. In tandem with CBT, establishing healthy routines (meal prep, joyful movement through yoga, cycling and regular walks in nature), and the unending support I receive from friends, family, and the Empower Team – I’m proud to say I’m stronger and more resilient than I’ve ever been.

I wish I could go back a decade, hug myself and tell her what was to come. I’m not sure she’d believe her eyes.

Mental health and remote work: final words of advice

If you’ve read this far, thank you. And if you’re reading this and feeling concerned about your own mental health journey, I have a few words of advice – 

  • Don’t rush yourself. Just because it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, you don’t have to take action right now, or shout about your diagnosis from the rooftops like I do. Go at a pace and work in a way that suits you, because we are all so very different.
  • Be kind to yourself. Whether you’re 10 years into your journey or just taking those first brave steps – please remember to treat yourself with the same care and compassion as you would your loved ones.
  • Make the most of the world of resources and incredible organisations out there who exist to guide and support you on your journey. Mind were an absolute lifeline for me. 

However you choose to mark this week, I wish you all the love and luck in the world. We might not have even met, but I’ll tell you this – you’re stronger than you know.

Mental health and remote work: further reading



Lorna Salmon
Lorna is a Social Media Manager with 6+ years experience, working for a variety of national and global conservation NGOs, including the National Trust, RSPB, and Fauna & Flora International. Her core skills lie in storytelling and helping to craft unique voices that cut through the noise in the digital space. She is also an author, and her first published work – The Calm Kitchen – was published in 2021.

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