COVID-19 has caused the rapid widespread implementation of remote work, and it’s expected to last until after the pandemic. While this has benefits such as telecommuting and a chance to spend more time with family, a study on BMC Public Health also shows that remote work has negatively affected employees — issues such as the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life and feelings of isolation can cause poor mental health. If left unmanaged, this can lead to burnout, further affecting productivity and an employee’s overall well-being.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your mental health while working out of office. Below are a few things you can try:
Create a routine
Lockdowns have disrupted routines like getting ready in the morning and commuting, and this lack of structure together with facing the uncertainty of the times can cause increased feelings of anxiety. A way to keep these feelings at bay is to focus on things you can control. You can do this by creating new routines. While your schedule may somewhat change depending on your to-do list, a basic structure like waking up, eating, and sleeping still gives you a sense of predictability to your day.
Include habits that support your health, such as having enough time to sleep well, exercise, and do activities you love. But how structured your day is still depends on you. You might prefer having a highly-structured schedule in the form of a timetable, or you may also choose to have just a general to-do list for the day.
Learn to unplug
A big challenge in remote working is drawing a clear boundary between work and your personal life. Technology can give you a false sense of productivity as it allows you to be connected with your work 24/7. However, this can lead to burnout. As such, it’s important that you learn to unplug to allow your brain some time to rest — and this doesn’t only mean stopping work-related activities like reading documents. Disconnecting completely also means not thinking about work at all.
However, detaching from work is easier said than done. To help, one of the most effective work detachment pointers is expressing your boundaries to your boss and co-workers. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to tell them what hours and days you can and can’t be contacted. You’ll also need to practice what you preach. This means no opening of emails or answering calls outside of your work hours.
Working hard for hours isn’t good for your productivity as it increases your stress levels and reduces performance quality. You need to add breaks to your schedule. A post on the importance of taking breaks found that a break gives you time to recharge and refocus. There isn’t a single best time for taking breaks, but a good rule of thumb is going on one if you find yourself having difficulty concentrating on a task. During these times, it may be a good time to take a step away from your desk to take a breather.
However, it’s also important that you learn to control when to take your breaks and what you do within these periods as these can easily transform into distractions. For instance, if your break involves getting up and having a chat with someone else at home, it may last longer than you intended. To help, you can use reminders and alarms to keep track of how long your breaks last. You can also decide in advance how many breaks you want to take and how long each one will be. Incorporating breaks into your schedule lets you keep to that schedule and still maintain a good amount of concentration.
There’s no shortage of human connections in the office since co-workers are nearby. But with remote working, the lack of social interaction can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness. This, in turn, can result in increased levels of stress and anxiety, and even depression in severe cases. As such, staying connected is one of the key tips listed by LHH when it comes to coping with anxiety and stress. Despite the need for social distancing, you should still check in with others through phone calls or video chats.
Of course, you should also spend time with those who live in your household by eating meals together or playing games. Even among your co-workers, it would be good to strive to maintain social connections to help prevent others from feeling isolated. If your employer is looking for ideas on how they can improve employees’ remote working experience, you can suggest having a non-work item on a meeting agenda or holding game nights.
Manage work pressure
Working remotely in a pandemic is different from working in a physical office. For one, you may experience an increased pressure in various aspects of working — such as workload, deadlines, and paying attention to detail — if you’re struggling to adjust to remote working. Work pressure is unavoidable, though you’ll have to learn to manage it. If not, it may cause increased difficulty in concentration and reduced self-esteem.
Ubong Edet talks about managing work pressure, and suggests staying calm, and acting rather than reacting. You can do this by focusing on getting the task done rather than mulling over the fact that you have something new on your plate. After all, panicking can negatively affect your ability to think clearly. If you’re having difficulty staying calm, take the time to cool off. Do breathing exercises or take a break to clear your head and let you think better.
Take care of your physical health
Physical and mental health are interconnected, so another way of ensuring good mental health is to make sure you’re physically healthy too. For one, a consistent sleep schedule ensures good sleep quality, which means you won’t end up groggy or with big fluctuations in energy throughout the day. This helps you maintain a good level of productivity.
Furthermore, exercise can also help protect your mental health since this releases the happy hormones endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These can help your body relax and lower your stress levels. A good diet can keep both your body and mind healthy as well. But there are certain foods that can potentially help improve your mental health more than others. Berries, for instance, contain a lot of manganese, which seems to be important to maintain mental wellness and improve mood.
If you have recently started a remote position or have been struggling for a while as you work from home, we hope these tips prove useful.