If you weren’t already working from home in recent weeks, you likely are now. As a result of the lockdown still enforced in many places and an abundance of caution at many workplaces many of us are in the same boat. While there’s a lot of talk about productivity of remote employees, there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.
In particular, how this pandemic outbreak is causing stress, anxiety and fear, which can be accelerated when working from home and isolated from colleagues, friends and family. Stress can depress the immune system, so the fact is it's the last thing any of us need!
There are no doubt lots of benefits to working from home, but research shows that being 'always on' and accessible by technology leads to the blurring of work and non-work boundaries that is very bad for our mental health. A United Nations report from three years ago found that 41% of remote workers globally reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
The current situation we are in is unprecedented, so it’s likely that a lot of people cooped up at home are feeling anxious and even scared on top of being stressed out.
So how can we best reduce or manage stress and anxiety during this time?
Start with setting boundaries
One of the hardest things about working from home is setting boundaries. People who are new to it have likely noticed that stress levels can rise due to the lack of typical mental breaks you get in an office. Walking to the office kitchen to make a cup of coffee and stopping for a chat with one of your colleagues, or walking to a meeting room and getting the tech set up. Those kinds of little breaks we don't get at home.
All of these office activities are in fact giving our brains a chance to recharge. The office chatter is gone when you work from home, but the mental breaks are still paramount to keep your stress levels to a minimum, so try to replicate these mini-breaks at home.
Then there’s the issue of overworking when there is not a clear line that separates work and home life. But there is a way to make things at least a little better.
Think about the ways that you normally would spend your weekends and evenings. Would you really choose to answer emails at 10pm just because they are there and you can? Or would you rather work ended at 6pm and you had time with your loved ones? If you start the day by bearing this in mind, you are more likely to stick to it.
Block out off-screen time in your diary
In almost every area of the country – and certainly here in Georgia – we can still go out for fresh air and exercise, as long as we stick to the social distancing rule of six feet. If you can, make use of this as much as possible.
Normally, the positive effect of nature on the mind peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning all devices off and being surrounded by a natural environment. There are even special camps people often attend especially to do this as it can be so beneficial to our mental health.
At home, we can mimic this with a little gardening or a long walk in the park to help boost the memory and help overcome creative blocks. Even doing some arts and crafts, reading a book or baking a cake can help, whatever takes you away from the screen for a few hours each day.
Keep news to a minimum
Finally, there is a good reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) listed this as a top tip for maintaining your overall mental well-being during this pandemic. While keeping up to date is important, a constant stream of news and updates is likely to affect your mental health.
When you’re working from home, practice one-tab working. Stick to one open tab at a time and focus working on that particular task in front of you.
This way, you’ll be less tempted to check Twitter or online news for the latest updates. And you'll actually be far more productive and get lots more done, so they'll be no reason for you to keep working past usual business hours at all.