The mental pitfalls of working from home and what to do about them
With the public in England being urged by Michael Gove to once again work from home if they can, and Boris Johnson reiterating that we should work from home for six months as well as unveiling more restrictions and curfews in light of a ‘perilous turning point’ with regards to the pandemic. Of course, there are some major benefits to working from home; less travel, more flexibility, more autonomy, a closer connection to children, fewer expenses, etc….
Of course, swapping suits for slippers and being able to pick up the kids is a liberating transition. There are, however, some worrying and damaging issues coming to light that are being highlighted with regards to both mental and physical health as we work remotely.
The results of a new survey by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity, have revealed that working from home may have significantly impacted our mental health. According to their findings, an overwhelming 80% of British citizens feel that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health.
Anxiety, loneliness, lack of work-life balance, heavier workload, are just a few of the problems and here at Calmer Sea we’ve delved deeper to find out the extent of the problems and what we can do on an individual basis to alleviate some of the mental strain.
The challenges faced when working from home
Managing your Time
Without a structure to a working day, many remote workers find themselves slipping into bad habits that impact massively. They sleep in, they ruminate and procrastinate, and they put important tasks off until later, only to find that they’ve little or no time to do them, adding pressure to work through the night, which invariably results in substandard work. Over a third (36%) of those surveyed by Nuffield Health said that not being in the same space as colleagues has left them feeling unable to take a break or step away from their workstations, with many feeling they must always be ready to respond quickly from their computers. Another factor is that you are the IT manager and should a network be dropped, emails go astray or printers gobble up the data without spitting something out – it’s all down to you! But the normal advice I’ve ever received in the first instance from the IT department is “switch it off and back on” that should fix it!
Lack of boundaries
Home to many is a place to shut the door, kick back and relax. On the other-hand when home and work are the same place, well, that represents an altogether different problem… ’where does the line between work and play lie?’ When working from home, there’s always the compulsion to check emails, tweak a report, or read a file any time of the day or night.
No meaningful interaction
Feeling isolated is one of the biggest issues that face a growing number of home-based workers. Hours and days can go by without social interaction – and human beings are social animals, they need interaction for a positive mental state. Of those surveyed, 25% said they are finding it difficult to cope with the challenges brought about by loneliness and isolation from colleagues. While video calls are still providing a valuable link for many, they could also be creating more stress. 19% of respondents revealed they feel pressured to look good on video meetings.
…or lack of, to be more precise. Not leaving the house quickly squished the determination to succeed and that gives way to a make-do attitude that becomes apparent in all that you do. Your vision for the future, successful you, your goals and drive all get put on the coat hooks with your worn, but cosy winter coat.
Posture and presentation
Attention, stand by your beds! Or should it be - roll out of bed, grab a coffee and begin checking your emails…. realising you’re still in your PJ’s at 12.30? Unfortunately, the latter is more apparent when working from home but the mental shift from professional to a feeling of sluggish can be the result.
Unclear about personal performance and unable to ask advice easily
Appraisals and performance reviews are one thing but when working from home, it becomes a blurred line between performing satisfactorily, under-performing or smashing it because there’s no instant feedback, input, or gauge. The non-verbal cues aren’t there to get an instant understanding of whether you’re hitting the mark with something and neither is the spark of an idea that bounces off a few people and grows into a stunner.
Networking is just not working
There’s nothing like it for getting the latest views, opinions, and news. Networking, whether at trade shows or just meeting up with like-minded individuals is great for keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your industry. And, with no trade shows, no get-togethers (beyond the rule of 6), and no physical networking groups, it’s hard to stay in touch.
For many of us, the appeal of a walk in the sun (strike while the iron’s hot – I’m writing this on the first decidedly dismal autumnal day), dropping the kids off at school, a beer garden, taking the dog out… whatever it is it’s very easy to get distracted and they all pose a threat that we wouldn’t normally have to fight off.
Ok, a little unfair to single them out but the point is, when they finish school at 3ish, that signals the end to the working day for many of us.
The staff canteen
It’s great. It’s always stocked with the foods that you love, always open, and…. It’s now your fridge! The ‘always open’ sign doesn’t only appear on the fridge either…the toaster, biscuit tin, kids snacks…you name it. But the ‘Corona stone’ doesn’t stop there, the stone keeps rolling on and on.
The above list of ten topics, are just a sample of some of the issues that we can all face but all of these and much more can impact immensely on a person’s mental health. We all have times when we feel down, stressed, or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a mental health problem like anxiety or depression, and in these very uncertain times when we do feel isolated and unsure, it’s very important to make small changes that can make a big difference.
So what can we do to change the impact of working from home on our mental health?
Try to keep in regular contact with the people that you normally interact with, and that’s not just from a ‘work’ perspective. Contact the people that you linger around the water-cooler with or have a chat and share jokes within the kitchen normally. Be honest and share how you’re feeling, begin a support group, meet up socially if at all possible.
Outside of the ‘working environment’ build up a support network of people that lift your spirits.
Set up a workspace
Create a space that is predominantly for working and where you are undisturbed.
Try to find a way to mark the end of the working day. For example, shut down your laptop rather than leaving it open, switch off your work phone, or close the door to the room where you’ve been working.
By doing this, you can begin to create a mental headspace that will help you to unwind, relax, and prepare for the next day. And don’t be tempted to pick up on your work over your weekend unless you really need to get something done.
Structure your day and take breaks
Set times where you take a break, move away from your workstation and have a coffee, or get some fresh air. Always eat your lunch away from where you do your work.
Build exercise into your day
Anyone that’s used a fitness device or steps tracking device will testify to the amount of exercise that you do while moving around the office. It’s dangerously easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle when you live and work in the same small area. To improve your mental health, cardiovascular fitness, and emotional health, try to factor in some rigorous exercise.
Try relaxation and self-development techniques
Set and work towards your own personal goals
By focusing on your own personal goals, giving yourself a deadline to achieving them, and making regular progress towards attaining them switches your mind from passive to proactive.
Focus on getting a good night’s sleep
When the office is at the bottom of the stairs, it’s so easy to jump out of bed when you can’t sleep and carry on working. Getting the right amount of quality sleep and a good sleep routine is the key…check out my blog on getting the right quality of sleep here
Posture, posture, posture
It’s so easy to become lazy when it comes to our posture, particularly when we have to work on a laptop for example. Correct posture has proven to be beneficial to confidence and self-esteem. Mental health improves greatly when we adopt good posture - A study published in Health Psychology reveals that people who slump appear gloomy and sad compared to those who sit (or stand up) straight.
What constitutes good posture? Well, when sitting at your desk:
· Keep your upper back straight with shoulders relaxed
· The backrest of the chair should support the curve of the lower back
· Hips as far back in the chair as possible
· Arms relaxed at your sides with the upper and lower arms forming a 90 degree angle
· Wrists straight with fingers relaxed
· Eyes level with the top of the monitor
· Lower legs at a 90 – 110 degree angle to thighs
· Feet flat on the ground or resting on a footrest
Nourish your mind and banish depression
There is evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet lowers the risk of depression, a Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats. It has also been associated with lower blood pressure, better cognitive function, and lower incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular events. Please read my blog on the Mediterranean diet here and foods to avoid if you’re feeling stressed here
So there it is. Working from home has got it’s plus points but alongside these there are challenges, both mentally and physically that must be considered and addressed. Jim Rohn, the entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker was a great believer in the compound effect – small alterations make a huge difference in the end.
The Compound Effect is not immediately noticeable but over time it creates an exponential change curve and you are only one or two key habits away from making a massive transformation in any area of your life.
Calmer Sea and the resilience masterclass has a goal: to create a better life experience for as many people as possible by helping them to break down any barriers that they face and unlocking their true potential. By taking the right steps to reduce the negative effects of home working, implementing some good habits, plus following the resilience masterclass 12-step process, together, we can help you to become more productive, relaxed, and able to find inner peace.