Can Working from Home Cause Anxiety?
It’s safe to say the Coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly everyone, causing dramatic changes to everyday life. Prior to the pandemic, many people regarded working from home as the optimal goal; it has long been promoted as a method of improving work-life balance. However, with millions of people now forced into homeworking, we find ourselves changing our outlook and asking the question: Can working from home cause anxiety?
To put it simply, the answer is yes. Despite there being obvious benefits to working from home, the list of downsides is arguably just as long, if not longer. There are several factors associated with homeworking that may lead to anxiety, including feelings of isolation, lack of structure and routine, and no boundaries between work and home life.
For years, homeworking has been looked at as a less stressful, more freeing alternative to conventional on-site jobs. Why wouldn’t it be a better lifestyle, when you avoid any lengthy commutes and traffic, can have a more flexible schedule without the usual office distractions and are able to spend more time with your loved ones?
In many ways, working from home can decrease stress, but at the same, it creates additional challenges that heighten anxiety as well.
Why Working from Home Can Cause Anxiety
Feelings of Isolation
One of the biggest complaints from homeworkers is the feeling of being isolated.
With on-site work comes automatic interactions with others, whether you want it or not. The social solitude that arises from homeworking can be blissful with the lack of distractions, but the novelty can quickly wear off and shift to loneliness.
Regardless of your social preferences, once that communication disappears and you have to put in the effort to see or talk to anyone, you'll find yourself eventually craving that experience again.
Even the most introverted people need some social life but granted, it could simply remind them of how much they enjoy being on their own.
Although not as extreme as being in solitary confinement in prison, working from home can spark similar feelings of isolation, especially if you’re not physically able to leave the home.
Lack of Structure/Routine
Some people dream of breaking away from work routines, getting out of bed only when they want to instead of when the alarm forces them to. The lack of structure may appeal to some, but many individuals struggle with being liberated, feeling more out of control despite the flexibility.
It can be difficult to prioritize tasks, especially while working independently. Many rely on their colleagues or managers to identify priorities for them.
Feeling less productive and engaged.
Homeworking just simply isn’t for everyone. A study on working from home in 2020 shows that only 51% of remote workers are able to maintain an efficiency rate of 80% or more when working from home.
Remote working has many methods of lowering your productivity levels: poor internet connections, lack of home offices/private work areas, or a dislike for lone working, to name a few.
Some people are wholly unable to function as well at home as they normally do in an office setting. Sure, offices come with disruptions like other phones ringing around you or people walking to and from the coffee machine, for example. The difference is these distractions can be tuned out. If you have children, pets, or other family members under the same roof, their interruptions are not-so-easily avoided.
Team cohesion is another factor missing from homeworking.
Working together in the same room can get results much quicker than online collaboration, while also boosting inspiration and creativity.
Even those spontaneous interactions or random discussions when you run into people during lunch or while passing by their desk can muster up ambition and drive that you won’t get at home alone.
The lack of informal collaboration with remote work takes a toll on performance. If you've ever been left on read, waiting hours for an answer, you'll relate to the feeling of frustration that comes with waiting for a response from a colleague which impacts your entire day.
The answer to a very quick question could alter your plans completely, and unlike popping over to their cubicle to get it solved ASAP, you have no choice but to sit tight and await their email.
Your relationship with your employer can be more vulnerable when you don’t see them on a regular basis.
It’s easy to casually mention an issue you’re having when you’re there in the flesh and see they have time for an informal one-to-one meeting. When you’re at home, you miss those opportunities and might not want to “bother” them with what you feel is an insignificant concern.
It may seem silly or a waste of time to schedule a video or phone call for something that isn’t urgent, but over time, this can have a snowball effect.
One niggling item turns into many which haven’t been addressed, leading to you harboring resentment and mounting frustrations that could have been quickly squashed in an on-site setting.
Support comes in both professional and personal forms from your colleagues and manager. Similar to feeling isolated, without those regular interactions you tend to bottle up your worries and irritations, leading to an exasperated, discouraged state.
You need to let the vexation out; whether it’s work woes or relationship troubles, it’s much harder to vent when you’re not face-to-face.
Struggling to Set Boundaries
It can be tremendously challenging to set boundaries when working from home. When you head to the office, you might be watching the hands of the clock all afternoon, slowly ticking down to home time, but when you’re always home, how do you switch off?
Of course, it’s easy to say you will work from nine until five.
What’s not-so-easy is following that template. You might decide to take a power nap in the middle of the afternoon and work later into the evening instead.
On the other hand, you could find yourself working shorter hours due to distractions or others interrupting your “work hours”.
Both situations can result in anxiety due to a) feeling as though you must work late, have less free time, and will lose sleep at night, and b) feeling obligated to entertain others, leading to you making up the hours elsewhere.
Unfortunately, people who don't work from home often can't grasp the concept of your "work hours" when they're well aware you set your own hours. This can result in fractured relationships when they feel offended or upset at you appearing to put work ahead of them. It goes hand-in-hand with your efficiency, too.
If you choose to oblige the person, you'll end up with clusters of work here and there, rather than a few hours of uninterrupted, productive work. This is such a difficult situation to be in as you’re anxious about either affecting a relationship (or relationships) or about not getting your work done.
This issue also arises when you have kids at home; you feel pulled in multiple directions between work and taking care of children constantly challenging your boundaries. It can be extremely overwhelming to feel the weight of your various roles and attempt to balance those responsibilities.
Tips to Help Manage Homeworking Stress and Anxiety
So, we can clearly see how working from home can be detrimental to mental health, but how do we alleviate the negative side-effects?
1. Set a schedule and stick to it.
Work during your set schedule instead of only when you find the time. Without the steadiness of a routine, the lines between your work and personal life get blurred and can be stressful to rectify.
Try to get up at the same time every day; you’ll find it much easier to get out of bed when you do it consistently at the same hour – think of how hard it is to arise at 6 am when you slept in until noon the previous day.
On the same note, when your workday ends, stop working. Switch off, focus your attention on your personal life and stop checking those emails.
2. Learn to prioritize and make to-do lists.
Having too much on your plate can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to begin. Build your own structure, focusing on one task at a time rather than multi-tasking.
It will not only improve your productivity but provide organization and even motivation to get those tasks all checked off.
3. Get comfortable with saying no and putting yourself first.
Although many of us feel the need to try to please everyone, it rarely works out in our favor. Other members of your household may feel entitled to your time, but you need to discuss what you are warranted – quiet time to work.
Share your schedule with them so they can see that you still have work to do, and (hopefully) they’ll understand.
4. Stay connected.
It may seem conflicting with the previous point but stay in touch with people who matter; it will benefit their mental wellbeing as well as your own. Technology was created to connect us, but we often feel more disconnected thanks to the ease of a text instead of a phone call.
Avoid that comfort and make phone calls instead of emailing, it’ll feel more personal and you’ll notice an immediate boost in your mood.
Both in your personal and professional life, human interaction is necessary. If you're feeling this way, remember your colleagues probably are, too.
Check in on them, ask how they're doing, and just be there for each other. Make time to socialize, even if it’s just a quick call or a virtual Friday get-together.
5. Make a dedicated workspace.
It can be very tempting to set up shop on the sofa, settled in front of the TV with snacks nearby. Although initially comfortable, it’s better to sit at a desk or table – posture-wise and efficiency-wise.
Shut the door if possible, to minimize interruptions.
6.Protect your sleep schedule.
Sleep is vital for not only your mental health but your creativity and productivity as well – you’ll be much more energized and refreshed with a good night’s sleep.
Stick to a set bedtime and avoid working late.
7. Try meditation.
Even just a few minutes a day can be extremely beneficial for focusing attention and calming your mind. Headspace has a vast library of guided meditation, including a 30-day Anxiety course to provide insight and management techniques.
8. Give yourself a break.
It sounds easy, but so many people get caught up in their work they forget to take some time to themselves.
Even just five minutes can make all the difference, but ideally, going for a walk and getting some fresh air can completely revitalize your body and mind. At the very least, stand up for a few minutes to prevent stiffening up from sitting for prolonged periods.
Ease up on the mental beating, too. It’s easy to be hard on yourself for not being as productive as you might be in an office or on-site setting.
Acknowledge that this is normal, happens to almost everyone, and that’s okay.
9. Try various coping tools.
Sometimes you just need a little guidance to calm your anxiousness. Some popular options are:
- This Way Up – online courses with practical tools and strategies to help your mental health.
- Moodnotes – built on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques, this app will help break the cycle of “thinking traps” with various methods.
- Dare – designed to assist you through anxious situations rather than avoiding them.
- AntiStress Anxiety Relief Game – an app full of mindless games similar to “fidget” cubes to take your mind off what’s causing your anxiety.
10. If possible, create a balance of office and remote work.
While not attainable for some professions, a hybrid model of working from home and at the office is most ideal.
A combination of office culture with structure and social interactions and flexible remote work with independence and solitude could give employees the best of both worlds.
There’s a reason people always say, “The grass is always greener on the other side”; from the outside looking in, it can appear as though everything is hunky-dory.
The negatives are so often hidden by the obvious positives, just like those social media feeds only boasting the amazing things in life. It’s important to recognize the fact that everything has its ups and downs, and everyone has different wants and needs; what works for some is not feasible for others.