To combat the rapid spread of COVID-19, many countries are in a complete lockdown. People have no other option than working from home for an indefinite period of time. This might be the largest social experiment in the modern age of work. Working from home may seem to be hunky-dory but it can be a stressful situation if you don't manage your time and resources well.
A research done by the United Nations in 2017, show that people who are working from home, tend to report higher levels of stress. The effects of such a drastic change in the working lifestyle may differ from person to person. Researchers of Baylor University published a report in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology which connects this to “emotional stability”. This study's lead author explains:
“[Emotional stability] captures how even-keeled someone is or, on the opposite end, how malleable their emotions are. A person low on emotional stability might get frustrated and discouraged, expending energy with those emotions instead of on the issue at hand.”
In the current situation, many are understandably fearful about COVID-19, as well as its economic and social impact. The combination of stress, fear, and other strong emotions, and the demands of home and work life can take a toll on mental health. People with existing mental health issues may also find these worsen during these testing times. So it's particularly important to be mindful, to think about what support can be provided and to be empathetic to people's individual situations.
What are the psychological effects?
There can be three main effects of working from home for a long period of time if you are not used to remote working:
Loneliness and Isolation
Social distancing and Self-isolation has been recommended by local authorities and health experts, as the only fool-proof way of staying away from infection. This could lead to loneliness particularly for people who are staying alone.
You could spend days not talking to anyone when you can't go out of your home. This disconnectivity from your co-workers and the rest of the world may make you feel lonely and isolated.
Anxiety and stress
The boundary between work and home life blurs for people who work in the same place they sleep. This could lead to anxiety and stress because you don't know when to stop and when to start. Without time to disconnect and unplug, you risk burning out.
Lack of structure and boundaries at home will lead to distractions and added stress. If you are not able to focus on your tasks, you will feel more anxiety and which will eventually impact your productivity.
This might be an extreme case with people who are mostly working from home irrespective of the current situation. The anxiety, stress, and loneliness of working from home can lead to depression or make it worse.
Depression comes in many forms and it's not just about feeling down. Anger, loss of interest, over-eating, irregular sleep patterns, etc. maybe a few of the symptoms if you are suffering from depression.
How to take care of mental well-being if you are stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Taking care of your mental health is just as important as physical activity and eating nourishing food. Previously, we had published an article about tips for productivity when working from home, so in this discussion, we will focus on other aspects specific to mental wellbeing. Here are a few steps that can be taken to protect mental health in this challenging time:
One of the key things an employer can do is provide useful information for employees. Not knowing is worse than knowing. Give people clear information and let them know what's in place. Keep people regularly updated. Offer all the resources and support you can. Assurance and job safety can be a huge motivator especially if the message is coming from the top management.
Connections and interactions
Working from home can be lonely, especially when you haven't done it before. To have an actual human interaction really helps. If you are with your family, then this is not a problem for you. But, if you are staying alone, then you can have an interaction with your neighbor or nearby friend, wearing a face mask as a precaution. If you are under complete lockdown, then scheduled catch-ups with colleagues or even friends over the phone or online can really help to be connected.
Start your day with a “Me” time
Start with your day with a productive activity that you enjoy doing. It can be an hour of exercise or Yoga or it can be making breakfast and coffee. If you like to read, then get a book for your coffee. You could meditate for 30 minutes to calm your mind, not thinking about the daily chores and work. If you can't find time in the morning, the evening works just as well — the point is to find a time and schedule something in.
Maintain hygiene and take care of your body
It's tempting to stay in your pajamas all day when no-one else is around but is it really a good idea? Once you get up in the morning, take a shower and put on fresh comfortable clothes. Psychologically, it will make you feel energetic and put you in the right mind-set. It can also be helpful to have a morning ritual or regular physical routine to help you transition into your workday. Taking care of the body helps you take care of your mind.
Get a new hobby
Clearly, if you're social distancing and self-isolating, the things you enjoy may not be as readily accessible, but try to find new ways to get in that all-important 'me time'. Read a book. Practice meditation. Go online and learn a new skill. And do it all guilt-free, away from work. This will have a positive impact on your mental wellness.
Companies could consider setting up a buddy system so that people feel like they've got someone else to rely on and talk to. Or other novel ways of creating support groups across teams, from home, should be considered. It's also worth noting that managers may face increased stress because of additional responsibilities. Every organization will be different, but it's important to recognize individuals may need additional guidance and support in the coming months.
Be aware of what information you're consuming and how much you're consuming. If you want to keep updated, follow reliable sources of information (such as government websites) and turn off notifications for everything else. Fake News and rumors can lead to stress and panic. It's totally understandable if you need time away from it all, so take it if you need it.
Understanding your family
Families may be spending a huge chunk of their time with each other in the coming weeks and months than they are used to. This might be overwhelming or distracting at times. Set clear boundaries from the start and allow yourselves to have time on your own. Don't be offended if your partner wants to go and sit in a room by themselves for a few hours, reading a book or watching Netflix alone. Families also need to find a new routine and balance with time.
Employers, employees, family, friends – these are really challenging times for everyone and it looks like we are going to have to change the way that we live and interact, till the end of the Coronavirus crisis. One thing for sure is that in this time of uncertainty, mental health, now at home or the office, must be a priority for everybody.
Let's all do our best to try and get through this together, finding alternatives that work, and supporting our wellbeing along the way.
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