In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, more and more people are working remotely. An Upwork study found that by 2025, at least 36 million Americans will work remotely, an increase of 87% from before the pandemic. And the success of the new format is no surprise given all the benefits of working remotely, including gaining back precious hours of your commute and having the flexibility to take your own time off when you want to.
However, as great as all of this sounds, working remotely can significantly impact your mental health. Without an office structure or set work hours, it can be easy to let work consume your entire day. You may find yourself working late into the night or skipping meals because you’re too busy to take a break. This outcome can lead to increased stress and anxiety levels, which can harm your mental and physical health. So while working remotely certainly has its perks, it's essential to be aware of the potential downside and take steps to avoid letting work take over your life.
Mental Health Challenges of Working Remotely
When it comes to rating their experience with working from home, many remote workers are somewhere in between loving the independence and struggling to adapt to the lack of an office. By understanding the effects remote work has on your physical and mental health, you can develop strategies to cope with these challenges and improve your overall wellbeing.
While work-from-home arrangements may offer the flexibility you need, they can sometimes contribute to a lonely experience. Even if you live in a bustling city, being confined to your home office can make you feel isolated from the rest of the world. And while loneliness is often thought of as a fleeting emotion, it can actually have a significant impact on our psychological health. Studies have linked loneliness to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and even premature death. So it's crucial to find ways to combat the inherent isolation of remote work.
Not Enough Space to Talk About It
A significant factor in our ability to cope with depression and other mental disorders is our ability to talk about our issues. Unfortunately, as employees move towards remote work, there aren't as many outlets to get help in our work environment. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), only 56% of employees feel that they can talk openly with their coworkers about their mental illness. The lack of support can amplify feelings of loneliness and make it more difficult to overcome your problems.
Lack of Structure in Your Daily Routine
One of the biggest challenges in working from home is the lack of structure. When you're not in an office, it can be easy to let your work life bleed into your personal life. This configuration can create a lot of unease and anxiety about your schedule. It's important to find ways to develop a structure for yourself, whether that means setting regular working hours or taking breaks at specific times. Otherwise, you can start to feel like you're always working and never really resting, which can lead to burnout and mental disorders.
How to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health While Working Remote
Working from home can be a fantastic way to create more balance between your personal life and work, but it can also be challenging if you're not used to it. Whether you're struggling to stay focused or get enough exercise, there are a couple of factors to consider when aiming to stay healthy while working remotely.
Make Space for Yourself
It's been a long day. You've been staring at a computer screen for hours, working on a project due soon. Your eyes feel dry and strained, and your head starts to throb. You know you need a break but can't afford to take one just yet. Sound familiar? If you're working from home, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of never taking a break.
Taking time for yourself every day to unwind and do something you enjoy is essential to feeling better. This habit can help make a world of difference in reducing stress levels. This is because prioritizing yourself gives you something to look forward to every day. When you're stuck in a rut because your brain hasn't stopped working, creating joy in your routine — whether it's playing your favorite instrument or grabbing a cupcake — can go a long way in improving your mental and physical health. On top of that, you won't be any more productive if you stretch yourself to the limit, so it is even more practical to take a break and return to your task with a fresh mind.
Prioritize Social Wellbeing
It's no secret that remote work can be lonely. When you're not in an office surrounded by colleagues, it's easy to feel isolated and disconnected. This circumstance can take a toll on your mental health, leading to problems like anxiety, depression, and even insomnia. If you're struggling with the loneliness of remote work, there are a few things you can do to stay connected and ease your mental health concerns.
For one, make an effort to socialize outside of work hours. Join a club or group that meets in person, or connect with friends and family members online. You can also occasionally try working from a coffee shop or co-working space to get out of the house and interact with other people. On top of that, making time for video calls with friends and coworkers can provide you with the social wellbeing to get through the day. Enhancing your social time can help clear your mind and surround yourself with a different energy than your cramped space at home.
Create a Routine You Can Trust
It can be tough to stay motivated while working remotely. Without the structure of an office environment, it's easy to feel like you can just take it easy and slack off. This lack of motivation can spell trouble for your mental health. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself stay on top of your physical and mental wellbeing.
For one, establishing regular work hours will help you stay focused and prevent you from getting too comfortable. On the flip side, don't be afraid to introduce some spontaneity into your day. Taking a break to chat with a friend or go for a walk can help refresh your mind and give you the energy you need to power through the rest of your work. Your schedule should act as a guidepost for what you'd like to accomplish during the day, but it shouldn't be unyielding and stress you out even more. It's essential to recognize which elements of your work-from-home routine create more anxiety and adjust your schedule as needed.
Talk to a Professional
If you're finding that remote work is starting to take a toll on your mental health, it might be time to consider speaking with a therapist or mental health counselor. Just like physical health, our mental health needs regular care and attention. When you’re under the constant stress of your job’s demands, it can be tough to cope with the challenges of daily life. A therapist can help you identify the sources of your stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms. In addition, they can provide support and guidance as you navigate these challenges. While therapy may not solve all of your problems, just talking about your experiences goes a long way in easing your stress and improving your mental health.
Prioritizing mental health during remote work will become imperative for companies of all shapes and sizes. According to a TELUS International survey, 80% of employees would consider quitting their job for an organization with a better focus on mental health. That means an emphasis on mental and physical health will become a key differentiator for organizations looking to recruit and retain top talent. While the world navigates through the challenges of remote work, getting ahead of your own physical and mental health can help you thrive.
Written by Pedro Suarez