Working remotely is good for mental health per se. However, unmanaged minor stressors that arise when you’re working remotely can fester and create long-term mental health issues. There are some measures that you can practice to curb and alleviate the negative impacts of working remotely – boost your mental health holistically and attain the best possible work-life balance. You can, for example, disconnect from work after duty hours. Or you can declutter your workspace. The most important thing is self-awareness. You should be able to detect trigger factors and identify what stresses you when working remotely. Then, you will be more empowered to avoid these provocations and implement practical strategies that work to maintain good mental health.
Yes, remote work is a bed of roses in some aspects:
- It allows us to continue to be productive while keeping us safe from the dreaded pandemic.
- It provides an unprecedented wealth of opportunities for the disabled and fosters diversity and inclusion.
- It allows for a better work-life balance.
- It provides more freedom at work – you can work when you want and wear what you want.
But the obvious downside of remote work is the toll it’s taking on mental health. This is especially true for those who are unfamiliar with remote work – who have been suddenly shoved into remote work due to nationwide lockdowns. Things outside our comfort zones can stress us. According to Qualtrics, 44.4% of those who are now working from home say their mental health has declined. The statics are alarming. In tandem, many companies, including giants like Facebook and Shopify have vowed to offer long-term and permanent remote work options for their employees. However, it is heartening that there are simple, viable, effective, and inexpensive ways that you can incorporate into your remote work routine to offset negative mental health outcomes.
Break the remote work monotony
Living and working in the same space can blur the line between living and working. The famous Aunty Acid remote work meme, “I got out of bed and got to work,” is the reality of many teleworkers. You get up, get to your home office, make breakfast and lunch, clean up, work again, get work done, make dinner, clean up, Netflix, sleep, repeat. Such monotony can cause frustration and can seriously wreak havoc on productivity.
To prevent such a lack-lustre routine, apply more meaningful activities throughout your day that can improve your mood and increase the quality of your time by trying these life hacks:
1. Plan meals ahead
You can prepare big batches of cooked food during the weekend and freeze them. You can also prepare fruits and vegetables – separate the leaves, cut them up, and store them in the refrigerator. During workdays, when it’s time to eat, reheat and prepare a quick fresh salad and a healthy smoothie or juice. This way, you’ll be less tempted to order food online or go for unhealthy foods. What’s more, scientific studies found that a healthy diet supports your mental health. You also save money!
2. Get your body to move it.
Mental health hinges upon physical wellness, so move your body around throughout the day. Stretch out while working. You don’t need to hit the gym; there are a lot of YouTube workout videos that you can watch and do. Any physical activity will do, as long as your body is in the “move it, move it” mode. You can do gardening (and get fresh and organic fruits and vegetables), mow the lawn, shovel the snow, take your pets for a walk, or do bursts of brisk walks at home, whichever you prefer.
3. Compartmentalise your home.
Draw boundaries between your workstation and other home spaces. Designate your activities to the correct home spaces accordingly. Eat at the dining table, not at your workstation. When you are at your workstation, you should be working. When you are in your living space, you destress and spend time leisurely.
4. Limit your work availability.
If you answer work-related calls in the bathroom or during mealtimes, you are “struggling to unplug.” In time, if you don’t limit your work availability, it can cause “remote work burnout.” You need to take b r e a k s and separate work from your personal life. Overcommunication isn’t being available 24/7. Overcommunication is about informing your remote colleagues that you’ll be right back and exercising your right to disconnect. When you consistently detach from your work, you are detaching from the stress baggage that comes with it.
It’s all about slowing down to speed up with renewed energy. When you take breaks, your productivity increases and your burnout decreases. Best of all, taking short breaks can boost mental health!
5. Loosen up and up your remote work game.
You must remember that you don’t need to work constantly just because your access to work is constant. Stop pushing yourself to do the impossible and beat yourself to the seemingly endless to-do list. It causes more harm than good, especially to your mental health.
You must practice:
- Doing one thing at a time.
- Keeping personal workload Excel sheets – in which you schedule and organise tasks.
- Updating your remote colleagues with your progress.
Remote work is a different ballgame altogether. You won’t get water-cooler compliments and your supervisors won’t drop by to give you a quick pat on the back. So, you need to be your own advocate by focusing on your accomplishments. Remember, your accomplishments should not come at the expense of your mental health!
6. Overpower the imposter syndrome and stop comparing.
Remote work involves high degrees of isolation. This is where the unhealthy imposter syndrome and comparisons infiltrate, leading to high levels of self-doubt. This type of thinking is debilitating for mental health and is more common among women due to unconscious gender bias.
There are three types of imposter syndrome in a remote work setting:
- Superhero: it’s when you overwork to numb the feeling of inadequacy.
- Perfectionist: it’s when you are never happy with your work and you focus on your weaknesses rather than your strengths.
- Soloist: it’s when you prefer to work in solitude and wouldn’t ask for help from others because you fear appearing incompetent or weak.
To combat imposter syndrome and comparisons, you need to know that your self-doubt might not be necessarily true. You must develop a heightened sense of self-worth and understand the unique value that you bring to the table. Other simple and powerful tactics to overcome imposter syndrome are:
- Know that you are your only comparison
- Trust in your capabilities, qualifications, and experiences
- Actively seek feedback about your tasks from your manager
- Ask for intermittent performance evaluations – tell your manager that you want to know if you are being a successful remote worker
- Accept responsibility for mistakes and perceive them as lessons rather than failures
These practices will help you counteract imposter syndrome, give you a sense of fulfilment in your remote role and preserve your mental health.
7. Take advantage of your company’s in-house counsellor.
Sometimes, to lighten the load on your chest, all you need is someone to talk to. Many companies have an in-house counsellor to help their employees manage their stress. You can seek professional help from your company’s counsellor to water down your mental health issues.
Genashtim, a company that has been operating remotely for nearly 15 years, also has an in-house counsellor. The counsellor was particularly helpful in reducing anxiety in Genashtim’s Afghan female employees.
Final words about teleworking and mental health
Mental health decline doesn’t happen overnight. In the same way, mental health improvement is a lengthy process.
There is no instant remedy or a cure-all for telework-related mental health afflictions. Rather, integrating small adjustments in your lifestyle and building healthy habits can ensure an improved remote working and mental health experience. Keep hacking away the negative vibes and prioritise your mental health.
You should also be more aware of yourself so that you can identify the things that are affecting your mental health. With a strong sense of self-awareness, you can easily address your mental health issues.
That said, happy remote working!