Mental health in the workplace should always be a priority—even more so during stressful times like these. And, if you’re like millions of others that have been suddenly forced to start living and working in the same space , now you also need to know how to protect your mental health while working from home.
While some people, especially in tech roles, were already enjoying virtual work before the coronavirus pandemic made it a must, plenty of people are getting an on-the-job crash course in how to work from home.
Even if you’re a work-from-home pro, balancing your work life and home life might be more challenging now because your family is also home 24/7. Or because you’re missing the stimulus of working at the local coffee shop. Maybe you miss the freedom you had working remotely while traveling the world. Or maybe you are struggling to work amid all of the new stressors we are experiencing in different ways.
WHAT ARE SOME RISKS AND PITFALLS OF WORKING FROM HOME?
There’s a good chance that working from home was something you used to dream of. In an international survey in 2019, 99% of people said they’d “like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career.” And, in another survey, people listed what they saw as the top benefits of remote working—things like saving money, spending more time with family, and being more productive.
But, now that you’re required to work from home or that you’re doing so under new circumstances, you might be seeing for the first time some of the challenges it can bring.
Two of the issues that remote workers most often face are balancing work and home life and feeling isolated…both of which are exponentially exacerbated during mandated social distancing or quarantine!
So, what can you do to manage it?
Trying to switch back and forth between working remotely and caring for your family can be especially tricky, especially during a crisis. Psychotherapist, coach, and consultant Karen Carlucci (LCSW, CPC) says, “Coexisting with working and living can be a lot to ask. Anyone with young children is now not just figuring out their own work environment, they’re also figuring out their children’s work [school] environment.” She continues, “Family systems normally rely on other systems, but all systems have come to a screeching halt now.”
Carlucci also reminds us that, “It’s important to acknowledge that anyone who doesn’t feel safe at home is at risk.” And she says, “Anyone that was already struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse is especially vulnerable.”
Jackie Ghedine, certified life coach specializing in neuroscience and positive psychology, says, “Extroverts really struggle with this [working from home] because they get energy from other people. For people who don’t normally work from home, it can be very isolating.” She goes on, “Even if you don’t live with other people, just knowing that the choice [to be in the same place as other people] is taken from you is difficult. ”
And she also explains that anybody with general anxiety can suffer working from home because being alone more often can give worries and fears more of a chance to take over your thoughts.
RECOGNIZE SIGNS YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH WORKING FROM HOME
Whether you’re surrounded by family or all on your own, it’s crucial to realize when you’re having a problem with working from home. Carlucci emphasizes, “For everyone, there is individual impact and unique responses to that. Some people might be paralyzed. Others might need to be told what to do. Others might become very proactive.”
She says that, often, how you react to difficulties with working remotely fits with your core personality. So, if you’re an introvert, you isolate yourself even more, while, if you’re an extrovert, you fight to find even more social activities.
Ghedine notes that you might show signs of stress by acting very differently than usual, too. So, if you’re normally calm and collected, you might let your emotions take over. Or, if you’re usually on top of your work, you might start to feel unmotivated.
No matter how you find yourself reacting, Emily Johnson, founder and CEO of the anxiety coach app buddy, says “When working from home, and especially during this crisis, it’s more important than ever to check in on your mental health.”
HOW TO PROMOTE GOOD MENTAL HEALTH WHEN WORKING FROM HOME
Once you’ve taken these ideas on board, Johnson has further advice: “Especially in a time like this, a consistent mental health routine can help bring a sense of control to an otherwise chaotic situation.”
Some practical ways to build that routine can be to:
- Dedicate space to yourself.
You don’t have to have a separate home office or even a desk. Just carve out a relatively quiet and tidy workspace where you can focus on your job. And consider some remote work equipment or apps too. For just a little money (or, sometimes, for free!), you can make a real difference to your comfort and productivity.
- Set expectations.
Instead of worrying if you’re doing enough at work or at home, take the time now to talk to your boss, your team, and your family about your day-to-day schedule and how to handle any exceptions or emergencies, especially if you’re a parent working from home for the first time with your kids.
- Stick to your schedule.
Even though it’s so easy to do when your office is in your home, resist the urge to work overtime or check in after hours. Instead, keep up or set up good personal habits like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, going outside often (if you can safely do so), eating a healthy diet, and making time for hobbies, relaxation, and connecting with family and friends.
- Keep in touch.
Since working from home means you can’t have a casual chat with your coworkers in the office kitchen or pop into your boss’s office to ask a quick question, you need to make an effort to communicate more instead of less, both to have the information you need to feel you’re working well and to keep connected when you’re working remotely. So, don’t be afraid to send over a DM or jump on a quick video call to check in on a project or ask for your teammate’s favorite no-yeast bread recipe.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WORKING FROM HOME
If you find yourself having issues, despite recognizing the symptoms of WFH stress and following the tips above, it’s time to take action.
- Accept that it’s OK not to be OK.
Carlucci says, “We’re wired for predictability. But that’s been disrupted, and this is a new level of disruption, for our collective global community.” And Johnson emphasizes, “It’s important to keep in mind that during a crisis like COVID-19, it’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, sad, depressed or all of the above. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or necessarily a reflection of the status of your mental health, but rather a very normal reaction to an exceptional situation.
- Talk about it.
As Carlucci says, “We’re all in this together. Some folks are already accustomed to working remotely so they’re at an advantage. But all of us are forced to a large degree to be balancing our work life and our personal life and finding that balance in our environment.” Ghedine encourages you to do that by speaking openly with your supervisor, teammates, or family. In a recent episode of her and her business partner Mimi Bishop’s Make Your Life Magnificent podcast, she advised, “Make sure that you think about what is making you feel uncomfortable and then try to figure out how to stabilize that.”
- Get professional help.
Ghedine says, “You have to lower the expectations to be human rather than super human.” So, if discussing things with the people in your working life or home life doesn’t clear things up, know that there are people, services, and organizations—like the ones listed in the next section—that are available to help you, often 24/7, and in many cases for free.
FIND OUT WHERE TO GET MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT WHEN YOU’RE WORKING FROM HOME
While struggling with any kind of problem at work is tough, you don’t have to stay there long. Johnson says, “ it’s absolutely normal to feel more extreme negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and sadness while we face this exceptional and unique situation. However, if you are feeling overwhelmingly anxious or lingering sadness for multiple days in a row, to the point that it’s significantly affecting your job or your relationships in a negative way, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.”