Can Working from Home Cause Anxiety?
It’s safe to say the covid 19 pandemic has affected nearly everyone, causing dramatic changes to everyday life. Prior to the covid 19 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 unique challenges that heighten anxiety and depression as well.
So, many remote workers are asking: "Why am I more anxious working from home?"
Why working from home is bad for mental health
Remote Workers More Often Have 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 lack of social interaction 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 sort of social interaction.
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. And that of course has a bearing on your mental health.
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 incredibly difficult and some even are feeling overwhelmed even 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. Working remotely 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 family members under the same roof, their interruptions are not-so-easily avoided.
Team cohesion is another factor missing from homeworking. When you work alongside a co worker 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 when working remotely 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
Research shows, that 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 in your home office, 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 increased 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.
What are the Psychological Effects of Working from Home?
Mental health professional report the following issues that remote workers and digital nomads face:
LONELINESS AND ISOLATION
Remote working could mean days without talking to others – either at work or in passing on your commute. Although you bypass distracting coworkers, you do miss the social aspect of chatting and venting about work and life when you’re remote. This colleague interaction doesn’t always translate the same way over digital mediums. This disconnectivity from your coworkers and the rest of the world may make you feel isolated and lonely.
ANXIETY, STRESS, AND PRESSURE
When working from home, anxiety takes on many forms, including: pressure to be busy 24/7. Some may feel the need to find work, squeezing in activity whenever you can. But, without time to disconnect and unplug, you risk burning out. The boundary between work and home life blurs for people who work in the same place they sleep. You may feel pressure to be on when you should be off. You may experience stress. Working from home requires time management, IT troubleshooting, higher levels of organisation in less convenient settings, and much more. Switching between these hats multiple times a day will wear out anyone.
Depression can happen when you feel stuck and unable to see progress. Without the usual markers of successful experiences in the office, such as recognition, instant verbal recognition, and the ability to see how your work fits into a bigger picture, you may not feel as if you’re achieving as much as your peers.
The anxiety, stress, and loneliness of working from home can lead to depression or exacerbate a pre-existing condition. Depression isn’t just feeling down. symptoms of depression include:
- Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration (even over small matters).
- Loss of interest or happiness in activities such as sex or hobbies.
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and sleeping too much.
- Tiredness and lack of energy, making even small tasks take extra effort.
- Increased cravings for food.
- Anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches.
The good news is there are ways to mitigate a negative impact on your mental health issues related to working from home
How do you deal with anxiety when working from home?
So, we can clearly see how working from home can be detrimental to mental and physical health, but how do we alleviate the negative side-effects?
1. Set a work schedule and stick to it.
Work during your set daily 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 lunch time 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 a to-do list.
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 work 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, need to be able to focus, and (hopefully) they’ll understand.
4. Stay connected during your work hours.
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 co workers 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. Have a designated space for your work.
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.
In other words: Don't work from your kitchen table. Have a dedicated workspace, and shut the door of your home office if possible, to minimize interruptions from a family member or others.
6. Protect your sleep schedule.
Quality 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. If you have trouble sleeping, stick to a set bedtime and avoid working late.
7. Exercise to boost your immune system.
Even just a few minutes a day can be extremely beneficial for focusing attention and calming your mind. Research suggests that regular exercise serves as a support system to shift your thoughts away from anxiety and helps to focus on more positive aspects. Therefore exercise can have a positive effect on fighting depression.
On the same page is also meditation. 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. Research suggests that 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 self care 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 and lower your stress levels.
If you make it a routine to practice self care and implement some form of stress management you will see the results after a few weeks.
10. If possible, create a healthy work life balance.
While not attainable for some professions, a hybrid model of working from your home office and at the office is most ideal. A combination of office environment with structure and regular social interaction and flexible remote work with independence and solitude could give employees the best of both worlds.
Also, schedule some family time if possible.
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.
Although homeworking provides many benefits, it also has its own pitfalls that can cause social isolation, anxiety, and depression. It's imperative for a good work-life balance to mitigate any stress and anxiety – after all, you want to take advantage of those working from home benefits and staying mentally healthy.