It has been almost a year since our lives, habits and routines dramatically changed overnight. Covid-19 arrived, and in the process most of the country had to say goodbye to normal office routines.
As a result, working from home became the norm. Before the pandemic, remote working was more of a career perk, and it was optional. Now, it is mandatory for many – and a stark change for those who preferred the social aspect of coming into the office.
What started as a temporary solution for a few weeks became months, and now here we are in 2021 with no immediate return to normal working life in sight.
Of course, being in a job that is possible to be done remotely is a big privilege. But nonetheless, the months of working solo take its toll – especially with it comes to our mental health.
How does working from home affect our mental health?
It is easy to overlook the importance of your mental health. However, if its not taken care of, the consequences can end up influencing your entire lifestyle.
According to a study by charity Nuffield Health, there are psychological consequences to working from home. These include feelings of isolation, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and exhaustion. In extreme situations, and if any symptoms are not treated in time, more serious conditions such as depression can occur.
Here’s some of the main knock-on effects of remote working:
Sense of isolation - Many of us have stopped going outside every day because routines have changed. This includes using crowded public transport, sharing an office space, going for a coffee break with your colleagues and attending meetings and events in person.
The feeling of isolation is related to the lack of physical contact. As everything is now virtual, you don’t get the same effects of being in someone else's company. We feel isolated from not only the teams we work in, but the rest of the population.
Anxiety and stress - The pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty about our personal lives and of the world around us, which in turn causes anxiety.
Stress can also occur due to the abrupt change in our habits. The transition between being in the office and working from home happened very abruptly, and for those who had never done this before, it was a lot to get used to.
The increased pressure on dealing with technology issues and bringing work into the home environment will also add to this stress and anxiety.
Work addiction - Taking on extra responsibilities and going the extra mile in our work can be seen as positive thing. However, as we have no office to leave, this can quickly turn into an addiction, in which we never leave work behind at the end of the day.
According to Healthline, work addiction is known as the need to work without resting, it becomes an uncontrollable need that leads the person to take on more and more tasks.
The consequences of work addiction can be dire, having a huge impact on your mental health and even affecting the relationships of those around you.
Some symptoms of work addiction include not enjoying free time, a constant anxiety about work, frequent tension and stress about tasks, going to bed thinking about pending work activities and refusing to take time off – both for holidays and if you’re sick.
How to take care of your mental health when working from home
If you suffer from any of the problems listed in the previous section, you should first research into professional aid for help. There can be a stigma attached to therapy, but there are lots of options and resources out there to suit what you prefer.
Some good starting places to start are:
That aside, there are also some other smaller things you can do to help alleviate the negative side-effects of working from home.
Flexible working can sometimes end up being detrimental to your work life balance. Whilst it allows you to fit in other tasks during the day such as chores or exercise, it can also lead to clocking up overtime very quickly.
Mark your hours, and if you can try to keep your start times and end times the same every single day so you can establish a routine. To help you, you can look at apps such as ToDoist and Evernote. Even just marking in reminders in your calendar on Google or Microsoft can be useful.
You can also use a planner or organiser to help schedule your tasks. Whilst this can all be done digitally, having a physical one can be therapeutic, and you can customise it to suit your tastes.
Personally, I use a diary from Papier. This is personalised on the front, and the pages are undated – so I can pick it up and use it from any time of the year. It includes sections for the months and weeks, as well as blank pages at the back for work notes.
For something a little more classic, you can check out the Moleskine diaries, which start from £10 on Amazon.
Prepare your workplace
If you're able to, you should set up your home office somewhere away from your bedroom. It is important to separate your working space from your relaxing space. Not only it will help you to concentrate and be more productive, but it will also help you disconnect at the end of the day.
If you do have to work from your bedroom, establishing a small part of the room away from your bed is the best thing to do to get you in the right mindset.
Once you have chosen the place of work, you should consider the following factors:
- Technology and accessories
If possible, choose a place with natural light. Ideally you want a window facing from the side. If you have a window directly in front of you, you may put a strain on your eyes. Equally if a window is behind you, you won’t get the benefit of natural light hitting your face during the day.
To brighten up your surroundings in the darker months, you can get a desk lamp. There are basic clip-on ones from Amazon UK that you can get for as little as £16.99. If you take lots of video calls or are in a job that requires you to take part in filming or podcasts, then you can also invest in a ring light or key light.
There's also various smart lights which can replicate daylight cycles by adjusting the brightness and tone - something very useful during the Winter.
The most important piece of furniture when working from home is the desk chair. You will be spending hours sitting in it, so you will need something that can support your back and keep you comfortable throughout the day.
To match your chair, you will also want a sturdy desk with enough space to house your PC/laptop and any other equipment you have. I am currently using the Home Trestle Table from Argos, which was easy to assemble has ample storage space, all for £70. Of course, if you are short on space you can always get something a little smaller.
Or you might consider a standing desk to get you on your feet for longer. Sitting still for hours on end has been linked to a higher risk of depression.
The technology you have will depend on your budget. Having a large monitor alongside your laptop can help with multitasking, and larger text means that you will not have to strain your eyes as much. In addition, a comfortable mouse and keyboard will be useful if you spent a lot of the day writing.
Besides the basics, you may want to add extra peripherals. If you take a lot of video calls, an external webcam can help improve the video quality. You can add to this either with a USB desktop microphone, or a headset with a boom mic, such as the Logitech G733 Lightspeed.
To keep your desk tidy, think about adding pots for your pens, using a desk bin, and using clips to help with cable management. You can even get a desk organiser with a built-in wireless charger for your phone or photo frame with wireless charger.
All these things can be a big financial investment, so check with your employer to see if they can either provide you with any equipment or reimburse you for your purchases.
Establish a routine
Having a routine is one of the healthiest ways to cope with being forced to work from home. Try to get up at the same time, eat a hearty breakfast and change your clothes. Whilst working in your PJs can be comfortable, it won’t help you get in the right mindset.
Take the full allotted time for your lunch. You can use this to cook something that you wouldn’t normally be able to in the office, to chill out, or even exercise. Try not to eat at your desk over work - remember the importance of established work and rest spaces.
You can also take short breaks to rest your eyes. Make a cup of tea or go for a quick five-minute walk around to stretch your legs and get re-energised when you are feeling burnt out.
When you are done for the day, close your computer and disconnect. If you need to, set your emails and notifications to ‘do not disturb’, and do not check on them until the next day begins. Providing you are not in an emergency job or working an important event, most things can wait until the morning.
Taking the time to relax will recharge your batteries. By doing so, you are likely to be much more productive the next day.
Communication is key
Working from home means that naturally you won’t be chatting with colleagues the same way you used to when you were in the office. However, you can still try to recreate this experience virtually via video calls – whether it is a team meeting or a lunch catch-up.
It’s also important to keep chatting with your line manager about any concerns as and when they occur, just as you would if you were face-to-face. If you do not feel like you are receiving a lot of feedback and help when working from home, bring it up with your boss – they should be happy to help you adjust and give you the support you need.
This article was originally published in Spanish on our sister site, PC World Spain. Translation by Hannah Cowton.