11 ways to beat the stress of working from home

As working from home becomes the norm, it is putting tremendous strain on the mental health of employees. Here are a few practical suggestions to ease the stress of remote working

Stress of working from home

While there’s no denying the fact that there are innumerable benefits to working from home, many studies suggest that being “always available and accessible” gives rise to the blurring of professional and personal boundaries. For those living alone, they may go for days together without talking to or seeing anybody. On the other hand, people sharing their living space with others, may need to create a separate workspace at home, which may be terribly inconvenient for many.

Often, the initial response to working from home is relief, perhaps due to the novelty of the situation and other benefits such as relief from long commute times, minimal contact with toxic co-workers, and not having a boss looking over your shoulder at all times. However, after a few weeks or months, people begin to feel the negative effects of isolation, which only tends to worsen over time. This is what most people around the world are now facing.

Increasing cases of mental health deterioration

As per a study undertaken by the Indian Psychiatry Society, the number of mental illness cases in India increased by 20% within a week of commencement of the first lockdown. A few months later, the number of mental health issues reported began to accelerate. Experts attributed this rise in a parallel mental health pandemic, in large part, to woes of working from home. This fallout of working from home is a global trend.

A report published in April 2020, by Blind, a US-based professional network group, states that 52.9% of survey participants across organisations like Facebook, Apple, Walmart, and LinkedIn among others were suffering from loneliness due to working from home and social distancing.

The challenges of working from home

Stress begins to surge once the uniqueness of working from home wears off and its challenges rear their ugly head, leaving people in disbelief. While working from home has its share of advantages, it can create its own unique set of stressors. Here are a few of the common stress-producing challenges that those working from home face.

1. Muddling up of personal and professional life

Professional interactions, adherence to rules and policies as well as structure and organisation are the norm at workplace. Home, on the other hand, is synonymous with relaxation, unwinding and personal/family time. Home is a cosy environment where you enjoy home-cooked meals, read a book or simply play with your kids. When you enter your home, you are supposed to leave the rigidity of your workplace and the woes of your work outside. But working from home tends to dissolve the clear boundary that exists between workspace and personal space. As a result, you begin to feel like you’re never off the job.

2. Too many distractions

The dynamics of a home are different than those of a workplace. There are often children at home, retired parents and sometimes even a non-working spouse. For no fault of theirs, housemates find it difficult to respect the sanctity of work hours and end up causing distractions, even if unintentionally — after all they are at home, which has suddenly turned into an office for you. Plus, there are doorbells, quick personal phone calls, pets, sounds of TV, snacking or lunch with family — you get the drift. What most people don’t realise is that even minor distractions can disturb the flow of work, from which one takes time to recover. The result is poor efficiency and lower productivity.

3. No sense of timing

When working from home, work tends to stretch beyond the stipulated work hours. Employees are often expected to finish work assignments or get on calls at odd hours, including holidays, late nights, and weekends.

4. Communication woes

Not being in physical presence of your colleagues can make it difficult to communicate regarding work related matters, causing potential mishaps and adding to the stress of working from home.

5. Lack of social connections

Being around people and colleagues you can talk to about work-related issues helps release the pent-up steam of stress — a vent that is unavailable to those working from home. It is worse for those who live alone. Isolation might feel blissful at the start, but it can soon transform into full-blown depression arising out of a feeling of being disconnected from the world.

6. Physical and mental strains

Virtual meetings, long phone calls and sitting continuously put tremendous strain on your physical and mental health. Computer vision syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and other issues are common for those who are constantly working in a virtual environment.

While this is not an exhaustive list of issues that those working from home face, it gives you an idea how and why it can be so stressful. Let’s now see how we can deal with these challenges and keep stress and anxiety to the minimum. Here is a list of 11 ways that will make working form home less stressful and more productive.

11 ways to beat the stress of working from home

1. Plan and schedule

A key trigger of stress at work, or home, is poor productivity, which is usually the result of lack of planning and absence of a proper schedule. So, start your day by writing a to-do list and strike each activity after its completion. The very acts of planning your work and listing your tasks are in themselves empowering. You will feel in control and be able to resist getting distracted and therefore improve your overall focus. You might want to use productivity apps to help your efforts. [Read Sack Your Workload to learn how clearing, focussing, structuring, and action can help you increase productivity at work]

2. Create work protocols at home

Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you are not doing serious work. If your folks at home tend to take you and your work lightly just because you’re at home, sit them down and help them understand the importance of respecting workspace. Set work-related ground rules and protocols that everyone, including you, will respect during work hours. For instance, personal phone calls should be off-limits—unless there is an emergency.

3. Treat your workspace as sacred

Give your workspace the respect it deserves. For instance, keep your desk neat and avoid leaving personal stuff there. If possible, resist the temptation of using your desk for anything other than work. Doing so will create a mental boundary to keep personal and work-related issues from becoming intertwined.

4. Schedule regular breaks

Working at a stretch can, in the long run, cause undue strain on your physical and mental health and the situation worsens in a virtual work environment. In a formal work setup, there are specific times allotted for a long lunch break and short tea time breaks etc. Continue to follow the same schedule and insist that your colleagues follow them too. Breaks are important to avoid problems like eye fatigue and brain fog, which can affect productivity and efficiency, besides adding to stress and anxiety. [Read The hidden and obvious dangers of sitting too long]

5. Ask for help

When working from home, there is a tendency to take on more than you can chew, which often becomes a source of tremendous stress. Whenever you feel overburdened, reach out to a colleague, or even your boss. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is an acknowledgement that you are human and have limits — just like everyone else.

6. Step out of your home

Working from home doesn’t mean you stay glued to your chair or sofa all day. Stepping out of your home is necessary for your mental and physical fitness. Assuming lockdown rules in your region allow it, make it a point to get outdoors at least once a day. If possible, take a quick stroll during one of your break times to get some sunlight and outdoor vibes. Later in the evening, go for a walk or just run some errands.

7. List the tasks you complete

Being home all day might make you feel that you’re not doing enough and may therefore experience a sense of guilt, inadequacy or overwhelm. One way to deal with such feelings is to list down all the small and big tasks you have completed at the end of the day. Making an accomplishment list every night builds your motivation and confidence, besides keeping feelings of overwhelm and guilt at bay.

8. Be mindful of your posture

Your posture makes a huge difference to not just your health but also the quality of your work. Always sit upright with your back arched. Invest in an ergonomic chair; if that is not possible, at least put a firm cushion on the back of the chair to support your lower back. [Read Why good posture matters]

9. Spare time to relax

Spare time for some form of stress busting activity – meditation, family time, workout, dance, or art – the idea is to eliminate the stream of muddled thoughts that fill your mind. Regular practice of meditation and mindfulness can produce a deep state of relaxation as well as a tranquil mind.

10. Take days off for sickness and leisure

There will be times when you feel unwell. On such days, don’t hesitate to avail of sick leave like you would’ve done had you been working from an office. You might think it’s OK to work as long as you are physically rested. But when you are sick, you need to rest and recuperate both mentally and physically. So do take time off for full recovery. Also, don’t forget to go on leisure vacations from time to time, for the sake of preserving your mental and emotional health.

11. Go easy on yourself

Finally, there will be days when you’re not going to be as productive at home as you are at the workplace – at least till you become used to it. So, calibrate your expectations accordingly and don’t be too hard on yourself when you fall behind on occasion. Resolve to learn from the experience so that you become better at juggling the responsibilities. Likewise, don’t forget to pat yourself when you do well.

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