Maintaining Your Mental Health as a Remote Worker
In many ways, working remotely is an ideal gig. You get to earn a living from the comfort of your own home. Business attire, on most days, can be anything you want it to be — whether it be your favorite sweats or your coziest pajamas. To some extent, you don’t have to worry about childcare. Specifically, in the age of COVID-19, you don’t have to risk exposing yourself or the people you love to the virus to make your living.
But as great as the perks of the home office may be, there are some significant risks associated with remote work, too. The greatest of these, perhaps, is the mental and physical health challenges that are often associated with telecommuting. Let’s examine those risks and explore strategies for living well while working from home.
The Sitting Disease
Whether you’re new to remote work or you’ve been telecommuting for a while, chances are the outbreak of the coronavirus has given you a whole new appreciation of the benefits of working from home. It’s a luxury not everyone enjoys, but as the virus continues to surge, the opportunity to earn a living from the relative safety of home is a true privilege.
Yet working from home is not always the health benefit you might think. Yes, telecommuting might keep you safe from communicable viruses, but it won’t keep you safe from the unhealthy habits that so often come with remote work.
For example, when you’re telecommuting, it’s much easier to fall into sedentary habits — especially when you’re also trying to shelter in place. You might find yourself sitting more and moving less, for example. After all, the siren song of the couch can have you spending hours curled against the cushions, working from your laptop.
However, studies show the danger behind this routine — even sitting for three or more hours a day can significantly increase your risk for severe illness and life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
That’s why concentrating on your physical health is particularly important when working from home. For example, investing in a standing desk can help you avoid the temptation to do all your work sitting on the couch or in a comfy chair. There are also more inexpensive options to incorporate physical activity throughout your day like smartphone apps that remind you to stretch and walk around a bit. These actions will keep you active, get your heart and lungs pumping, and allow you to clear your head and work off some of that work stress.
Although physical activity can help you release some of your stress, there’s perhaps no way to avoid it completely. Stress is an inevitable aspect of any job. When you’re working from home, it can be particularly risky. After all, when your home is also your office, you can never completely escape. You might feel intense pressure to “always be on.” Sooner or later, this logic can either lead to burn out or even sickness.
To avoid this, set a schedule and keep it religiously. Delineate your work hours from your personal hours each day and honor them. This can be especially vital if you have a particularly mentally demanding job, such as accounting or finance. Your brain, body, and spirit need — and deserve — breaks throughout the day to avoid further mental health issues.
The Lowdown on Loneliness
Studies show that, when you’re working from home, one of the biggest mental health risks you will face, by far, is loneliness. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can make you vulnerable to other mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your physical and mental health while working remotely is to find ways to connect with others. Daily video conferences, for example, can be a great way to connect with your coworkers. Additionally, weekly meetups with coworkers and families for some socially-distanced outdoor activity, like hiking or biking, can help you fight the loneliness you might be feeling while working from home.
If you’re working as a freelancer or lack regular coworkers in general, it can be difficult to find opportunities to connect with others. Still, though, you don’t have to go through it all alone. Depending on the public health regulations in place in your area, you might consider establishing a coworking space — a space where you can network with and enjoy the support of your fellow telecommuters in your shared office space.
Remote work is, in many ways, an ideal career. This fact was true before the pandemic and it will be true after it’s over. Amid the surge, though, telecommuting can be lifesaving. However, like most things, it isn’t free of its health risks either. For that reason, it’s imperative to stay active, manage stress, and avoid loneliness and isolation.