Joachim Bauer, neuroscientist and psychotherapist, has written a book about why work makes you happy but also makes you ill. With FOCUS Online he talks about the challenge of working from home – and why we should do without sweatpants.

The alarm clock is ringing. Get out of bed and into your sweatpants. You don’t have to comb your hair, after all, the camera stays off during video calls with colleagues. Breakfast is taken at the desk, which saves time. This is what a typical morning looks like for some since many companies have opened up to the concept of working from home due to the pandemic.

But habits that initially seem practical can deteriorate performance in the long run and, in the worst case, make you depressed, warns Joachim Bauer. He is a neuroscientist and psychotherapist. “It’s important that we don’t give up our tact after the external clocks are gone,” says Bauer in an interview with FOCUS Online.

Fixed daily structures are also needed in the home office. This includes, among other things, dressing as if you would leave the house and planning time for a proper breakfast. “When treating people with depression, great importance is attached to getting them going in the morning. In most psychosomatic clinics, we start with half an hour of fitness, then breakfast is served at a fixed time. If the patient doesn’t get up until midday , the mere fact that he frittered away half the day brings him down. That goes for sane people too.”

Joachim Bauer is a doctor, neuroscientist and psychotherapist. He worked for many years at the University of Freiburg. He was awarded a prize by the German Society for Biological Psychiatry for his research. Bauer now lives, researches and teaches in Berlin.

“Work: Why it makes us happy or sick” by Joachim Bauer

A lot of time can be saved in the home office. There is no need to go to work, the bag does not have to be packed and a quick breakfast can be accommodated even when the computer is already running. However, Bauer recommends: set your alarm clock ringing 20 minutes earlier again and take this time to have breakfast before your working day begins. This is an important “ceremonial factor” to consciously start the day and get better cognitive performance.

According to neuroscientist Joachim Bauer, there is a connection between external appearance and cognitive performance. Getting ready in the morning as if going to the office has a positive effect on performance: “Then I feel present.”

Another pacesetter can be daily video meetings with teammates. They should take place at a fixed time in the morning, Bauer recommends. Every employee arrives at the workplace at a certain time.

“With video telephony, it’s important to be present with a picture,” emphasizes Bauer. “Non-verbal signals such as facial expressions create cohesion between colleagues. One patient told me that she lacked the ‘office feeling’. In the home office, this can be encouraged above all by seeing each other.”

Like breakfast, lunch is a “ceremonial factor” that structures the day. Joachim Bauer recommends taking an hour to do this. Ideally, the break also includes a half-hour walk. Anyone who spends half an hour out in nature three times a week can reduce stress hormones and improve what is known as heart rate variability. This prevents a heart attack.

The more nature the better. Bauer recommends city dwellers to visit as large a park as possible. If you don’t have the time, you should look for a place in the residential area with lots of trees and birdsong and also plan a trip to the forest or to a lake at the weekend.

When the boundaries between work and private life blur in the home office, a clear line is needed. You should therefore define a fixed time for the end of the day. This also applies to parents who look after their children in the afternoon and have to sit down again in the evening to get through their workload. They too should stick to a fixed closing time, even if it is very late.

In order to start motivated again the next day, you should clear your workplace of dirty cups and plates the night before and tidy it up.

Work can have a high priority, but it shouldn’t be the only thing a person concentrates on, says psychotherapist Joachim Bauer. “Through work we resonate with the world, we experience meaning. But we are also subjected to a purpose, we become workers.” That’s why there is a need for areas of life that let us experience that we as human beings are valuable beyond our work, says Bauer. It could be dancing, painting or singing, doing sports or playing an instrument. “Everyone should discover or rediscover such an area. Many did it in childhood and let it slide in the phase of work and starting a family.”

Maintaining social contacts is also important in order to prevent “totalitarianism” at work. “When people retire, mortality increases in the first two years after that and then levels off again. Especially when it comes to early retirement. The loss of work, of meaning, of being needed, hits men especially hard ‘ notes Bauer. “Women have a higher tendency to dedicate themselves to areas outside of work, to maintain private relationships, to network. Men are more at risk of only concentrating on work and then have a greater fall height.”

In working life there needs to be a balance between “effort” and “reward”. Bauer understands effort to mean the exertion at work, while reward means wages as well as recognition and appreciation by superiors and colleagues as well as team spirit. “Expenditure in itself does not make you ill. People can achieve a lot without getting sick, as long as the reward – especially the appreciation – is right. The balance decides whether someone stays healthy or not.”

“Feel what the world feels” by Joachim Bauer

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