How Does Working From Home Impact Our Mental Health?
We've all read about the thousands of benefits of working from home. You get to work in your own environment, feel more productive and energised, work in comfy clothes, save money on gas, and overall, you get to have a better work-life balance. But what happens when all these benefits seem more fantasy than reality?
While studies prove that remote work benefits our lives in many aspects, could it impact our mental health? With the pandemic, most workers have abnormal levels of stress and anxiety while working from home. In other cases, as many employees had never worked remotely prior to the pandemic, this sudden shift caused them to deal with unexpected challenges.
Let's explore how working from home can impact your mental health and 5 practical tips to improve your mental health and wellbeing as a remote worker.
How Does Working From Home Impact Our Mental Health?
Last year, companies were forced to close their offices and start operating remotely. While in the beginning, it was all smiles and laughter with memes all over the internet about working in PJs, or taking naps at 2pm, when time passed by, working from home became the new - not so fun - reality.
Businesses started experiencing higher levels of productivity, but at the same time, because different types of restrictions, from traveling to social life and staying 24/7 at home, working from home started to impact the mental health of most employees.
The Centre for Mental Health in the UK expects half a million more people to experience poor mental health than a regular year because of the pandemic.
A different report conducted by Qualtrics studied how working from home has a pervasive effect on mental health, and 41.6% of respondents said that their mental health has declined since the COVID-19 outbreak.
It's key to understand that working from home during pandemic times is entirely different than working remotely before the pandemic. As Dr. Dominique Steiler, the chair of Mindfulness, Well-Being at Work, and Economic Peace, explains, one of the problems of working from home currently is that people have been staying at home for a prolonged time. The sudden lack of physical connection leaves workers feeling lonely and overly stressed.
Additionally, working from home makes the line between work and life blurry as it all happens in the same place. As many as 3 in 4 employees have reported feeling more stress while working from home because they tend to overwork and simultaneously take care of other duties and chores.
What are some of the symptoms that stress causes?
- Irritation, anger, or denial
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
- Lacking motivation
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating
5 Practical Tips To Improve Your Mental Health While Working Remotely
If you have been experiencing one of those symptoms (or more than one) it is time to take matters into your own hands. There are different strategies you can start applying daily to fight against stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems and live a healthier and happier life.
1. Acknowledge The Fact That It's Okay Not To Be Okay
Have you ever heard about toxic positivity? It consists of the assumption that despite a person's emotional pain and turmoil, they should only have a positive mindset.
When we start feeling stressed or anxious sometimes, we feel the best strategy is to pretend that our negative feelings don't exist. We try to convince ourselves that our negative emotions aren't that important by constantly overdoing positive affirmations.
While being an optimist is a great quality, sometimes it can have counterproductive effects. As Vasundhara Sawhney wrote in the Harvard Business Review article: 'Toxic positivity not only invalidates your emotional state but also increases secondary emotions.'
If you've been feeling tired, constantly stressed, feel that nothing motivates you, don't be too hard on yourself. We live in extraordinary times, and no book has all the answers on how to live and survive a pandemic without going crazy.
The first step to improve your mental health while working from home is understanding that it's okay not to be okay. Most of us are going through similar stressful situations, and while we might not have the solution right away, being hard on ourselves will only make things worse.
So, take a deep breath, focus on what you can change with the resources you have. The biggest mistake is to stress out on situations that are not under your control.
2. Take Breaks To Stretch And Relax
When we were kids, our favourite things about school was recess. We couldn't wait to go outside, play, eat, and have fun. Now, when working from home, it seems as if the tables have turned. We spend so much time sitting down that taking breaks is no longer part of our plans because of all our priorities and tasks.
One of the downsides of working from home is that employees don't have as many breaks and distractions as they did when working at the office. People have a more sedentary life and spend a lot of hours sitting endless Zoom meetings and finishing tasks.
Research shows that spending too much time sitting down while working greatly impacts your performance at work. It could simultaneously lead to potential health risks such as being overweight, developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease, depression, and anxiety.
Remote workers often forget to stretch out throughout the day or take small breaks, so if this is your case, try adding alarms at different times. They are the perfect excuse to stretch, grab a cup of coffee, drink water, or go outside to receive a bit of sunlight.
Here are some great apps that can help you:
3. Create A WFH Schedule And Set Boundaries
When working at an office, most of the time, you have a fixed schedule. You start your day at home, eat breakfast, get ready and go to the office, usually from 9am to 5pm. After that, you do all the other activities you enjoy, whether going to a Yoga class, the gym, spending time with your family or friends. At home, this doesn't work that way.
One of the benefits of being a remote worker is flexibility. But this can also turn into a double-edged sword. If you are too flexible with your schedule, chances are you'll end up overworking and taking on every task assigned to you without hesitating.
To avoid overworking, it's crucial to set boundaries. Be clear to your teammates and manager about your availability times. And make sure they know that after certain hours you'll stop responding. Setting these boundaries will help you organize your life better and understand that while work is important, it's not the most important aspect of your life.
Additionally, creating a WFH schedule will help you stick to a routine that, although it might vary, it will make you have a clear separation of your work life. So, take time to think and create your WFH schedule. Here are some tips:
Define your working hours; this will help you to avoid overworking.
Each day write down a to-do list of all the things you want to accomplish.
Recognize at what times you work best. If you're a morning person, try doing the most important things in the morning, for example.
Don't forget about scheduling breaks.
Learn more about setting boundaries when working from home: Click Here
4. Make Time for the Things You Enjoy
Take a moment and think about all the things you truly enjoy doing. Those things make you lose track of time, whether going out with friends to try new drinks, discovering new gastronomic hubs, painting, cooking, kickboxing, or any other activity that you could do happily forever.
How many hours of the week do you dedicate to those activities?
Nurturing our hobbies helps us put things into perspective. While you might have had a stressful day at work, what better way to get rid of that stress than doing something you enjoy? The impact of developing an engaging hobby can have great effects on our mental health.
The Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association mentioned that although there is no clear explanation why hobbies improve your mental health, it may be because of the serotonin or endorphin-raising activity that helps you forget about your obligations and have the space to distract yourself with different activities.
5. Eat Healthy And Move!
A final and effective tip too improve your mental health while working from home is eating healthy and moving your body. In other words, avoid fast food and sitting at your desk for more than 8 hours.
Studies show that keeping a healthy diet has a significant impact on our mental health, helping us reduce depression and anxiety.
Eating healthy doesn't mean only eating salads. There is a wide variety of delicious recipes that are easy to make. And if you feel you don't have enough time to eat healthy and prepare meals every day, you could try meal prepping. Basically, you prepare healthy meals in advance. That way, you save a lot of time and avoid ordering and spending money.
Besides eating healthy, exercising is a crucial element to have better mental health. Moving your body helps you significantly to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood as it improves self-esteem and cognitive function. Experts recommend doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking three days a week.
If you hate doing exercise, try doing different activities that encourage you to move. Whether it's dancing, pilates, karate, yoga, etc., there are all types of activities for a different taste! Among the benefits you'll start experiencing are improved sleep, stress relief, reduced tiredness, reduced cholesterol, improvement in moods, etc.
Remember, You're A Priority
Remote work is the present and the future. More companies continue changing their onsite structures to hybrid or even fully remote ones. And while most employees enjoy this flexibility, it also brings new challenges ahead, like having continuous stress or overworking. Because of this, now more than ever, taking care of our mental health becomes a priority.
There are different strategies you can use to reduce stress and anxiety while working from home. Whether it is building a WFH schedule, exercising and eating healthy, or making more time for your hobbies, the key is finding what works for you and helps you lead a healthy lifestyle.
Author's Bio: Gabriela Molina is a journalist and the copy editor of ThinkRemote, a remote work news source. She has been writing for online magazines and blogs for more than four years and has discovered her passion for remote work and the digital nomad lifestyle. Check out our blog here.