(Art Credit: Pedro Gomes)
Working remotely gives you freedom over your office, schedule, and working habits. Naturally, remote work allows many people to have productive and profitable careers while prioritizing family, work-life balance, and keeping life "fun."
However, remote working isn't always easy (even for people who love it!).
Research from Qualtrics found that 44.4% of people working from home reported that their mental health has worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19. Of course, remote work isn't the only thing at play here, though many people cite it as a contributing factor.
If you're one of those people, this article is for you. We will look at why remote work can harm your well-being and what to do about it.
Negative impacts of remote work
Many remote workers sleep, eat, work, and socialize on their own schedule — though this can sometimes have adverse side effects:
- Remote workers sleep at work, so it can be challenging to get away and leave work worries behind
- Remote workers may over or under-eat, as there are no strictly enforced break times across the day
- Remote workers may under exercise, as they don't need to commute to work or travel throughout the day
- Remote workers may experience isolation and loneliness. Alternatively, some remote workers may be unable to get away from stressful family members or roommates.
It's not that remote work is bad or harmful, but it can sometimes be challenging to cope with.
When to seek professional help
It's normal to go through rough periods in your life, and many people pass through these periods with self-care and support from loved ones.
However, you should seek professional help from local mental health services if your mental health impacts your personal and professional lives.
Alternatively (and perhaps more importantly), you should seek help if you feel you could benefit from it. Your mental health doesn't need to get to a certain point to be "bad enough" for professional help. It's always okay to reach out.
Tips to improve mental health while working remotely
Here are some tips to help you improve your mental health and wellbeing while working from home:
1. Prioritize your health where possible
Prioritizing health and wellbeing can be tricky as it's easy to push it away for your schooling, career, and interpersonal relationships.
However, putting yourself last is never wise, as it can put more on your plate than you can handle and leave you stressed and upset.
Reflect on your needs and be honest about the things that would improve your quality of life. Do you need less restrictive deadlines? More time off? To log off earlier? Once you've reflected, take steps to make it happen over time.
Additionally, practice the word "no" (or one of its alternatives). You aren't bad at your vocation if you can't perform a superhuman amount of work.
Source: Acumen Connections
2. Seek support from friends and family
Your friends and family know you more intimately than anyone else. Naturally, they can be wonderful sources of hope and clarity during tough periods.
Don't be afraid to reach out for support or simply a conversation. One in five people will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and everyone goes through struggles. Connecting with someone who can understand can help remove some of the "weight" you may carry and find joy.
3. Set clear boundaries and a daily routine
You often sleep, eat, and rest meters from your workspace when you work from home. This is very convenient in the morning but tricky at night.
Setting clear boundaries can help you recharge and invest in yourself in your off-hours, as well as come to work productive and clear-headed.
To set good personal boundaries, note the things that worsen your mental health. Perhaps that's working after dinner, answering emails in bed, or taking on extra tasks over the weekend.
Write your boundaries down and work out to enforce them. You could try:
- Turning on "Do Not Disturb" outside office hours
- Leaving your work computer in a separate room
- Uninstalling work apps from your phone
- Setting up an automatic answer for out-of-hours emails
- Setting office hours in your productivity apps
Then, give yourself a daily routine and write it down on a calendar, so it's easy to follow. You don't need to invest in a calendar — you can make one on Microsoft Excel.
Finally, practice time budgeting. When you time budget, you prioritize the tasks that will help you the most, so you spend your time wisely.
Here's an example of a time budget:
Source: Right Attitudes
4. Craft a comfy home office
As Jenni Prat from Portent told Brosix in an article about remote work: "don't underestimate the power your environment has on motivation and productivity." I couldn't have said it better.
Crafting a space that supports you can improve your mental wellbeing by reducing strain, improving physical health, and lifting your mood. Here are some suggestions for a great space:
- Leverage natural lighting and brightness-controlling apps like f.lux to reduce headaches and eye strain
- Invest in ergonomic furniture to reduce muscle strain
- Increase airflow by opening doors and windows
- Get a chair with back and arm support
- Invest in soothing background music
Of course, a good home office extends beyond your physical office space. Adopting good workplace habits (like setting goals, providing opportunities for connection, and building a rewarding hybrid culture) can help you create a healthy headspace for work.
5. Stay Active
Finally, find an avenue that allows you to work through your feelings and reduce your stress levels. The right avenue for you is subjective, but many people like exercise, socializing with friends, learning a new skill, or engaging with a fulfilling hobby.
Don't feel pressured to choose a "trendy" avenue. We all respond to different things.
Additionally, schedule transition activities before and after work. Transition activities are exactly what they sound like — 5 - 10 minute activities that help you shift headspaces from "at work" to "at home."
Great transition activities include stretching, guided meditation, knitting, drawing, playing an instrument, a short workout, journaling, or simply sitting and breathing.
Protect your physical and mental health at work
Remote work is fulfilling and life-changing for many people, but it comes with its own struggles.
If you are struggling with mental health issues while working remotely, please seek professional help. Additionally, set boundaries, seek support from loved ones, and own your feelings.
Your happiness and wellbeing are valuable things, and they are worth investing in.