As a mental health professional, and as someone who has worked remotely for over 7 years before becoming a counselor, I wanted to share with you my experience with working remotely.
How can working from home negatively affect your mental health?
Working from home has the potential of creating a very isolated environment. Dependent on your job role, sometimes, you can go days without speaking to anyone which can make even the easiest conversations sometimes difficult. Depressive symptoms can set in as you have fewer distractions, interactions, and connections with people, and your work-home environment remains the same. This can make it hard to disconnect from your work. You start to feel like you’re always working and like you can never relax. It’s hard to just stop. Or it can be the complete opposite where you find it hard to even start. Anxiety kicks in and you start to rely on procrastination as a form of motivation which can be very unhealthy for the mind and body. You will struggle with focus and the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. The cycle will repeat until you find a routine and the discipline to maintain it on your own. This will require personal responsibility and determination.
How can you recognize signs that you may be struggling with working from home?
There are several signs. One of them could be feelings of depression where you begin to feel things more intensely such as loneliness, sadness, purposeless, worthless, or experience mood swings. These become so powerful that you may even start to disconnect yourself from these feelings to achieve some sense of relief. Working remotely can be an anxious experience as well. It requires some change and the ability to adapt to get things done but that can be exceedingly difficult to do all while having a timeline to follow. Feeling overwhelmed and at times hopeless that you’ll never catch up on work, leads to burn-out. Finding a work-home balance becomes extremely blurred and work always wins your attention.
All of this could lead to an overall feeling of numbness and such other unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drug use, emotional eating, hoarding, and over-exercising. If you’re starting to work longer hours and focusing on your self-care less, it might be time to establish some new boundaries that will help you create some personal time, away from work. If you’re starting to work fewer hours and finding it hard to concentrate from home, it might be time to establish set hours for yourself, plan meetings with others to help keep you more accountable, and try working from outside the home such as a coffee shop or bookstore. It will take some time to make the proper modifications, but it can be done. Everyone is different. And some days will be easier than others but remember to be honest with yourself.
What are some ways to look after your mental health while working remotely?
Staying connected to reality will be extremely important whether that be going out with friends, spending some time outside, playing with your dog, or cooking a meal for your family. If you start to feel alone, overwhelmed, angry, disconnected, or all the above, take some time to reflect on what’s missing in your life. Whether you live alone or not, sometimes it’s hard to find the right person to talk. A counselor, community events, volunteering, or even getting more sleep could help you feel more grounded. Create some structure for yourself. Even though you may be working remotely, it’s important to set up boundaries as if you were working from an office such as your accessibility. If you’re available all the time, people will learn to expect that from you which will make it hard for you to stop working. Don’t be afraid to talk days off and disconnect from your emails after a certain time.