Why does working from home feel so exhausting?
With the current state of affairs worldwide, millions of us are having to adjust to a completely new way of doing our jobs. Had you heard of Zoom this time two months ago? I know I hadn’t, but now it feels like I spend my life on there.
It’s an incredibly odd feeling to suddenly have to start blurring the lines between home and work, especially if it’s a completely new experience to you, and not something you’d ever have expected to have to do, and it comes with a long list of unexpected side-effects. The one I seem to be experiencing the most by far, however, is a sudden level of exhaustion that I’ve never noticed before now – and I don’t appear to be the only one.
It was, at first, difficult for me to understand why I’d be experiencing such overwhelming tiredness from home working, why does working from home feel so exhausting.
I’m someone who has always done busy customer service jobs, usually with long hours where I’m on my feet all day. Surely, by that logic, sitting at a desk for eight hours – and not even needing to leave my house to do it – should be a walk in the park, shouldn’t it?
Well, it actually seems that the sudden tiredness that so many of us seem to be experiencing recently may have a few more complicated reasons behind it.
Experts give at least 3 reasons:
- Change in routine
Let’s take a look at each of these reasons what might be causing this sudden bout of exhaustion – and what you can do to stop it.
It goes without saying that these are anxious times for all of us. Even outside of our nine-to-fives, we’ve all had to take on a huge change in our lifestyle overall – even something as usually inconsequential as a simple trip to the shops now seems to be a military operation. Living in the throes of a global pandemic, we all now have to put so much more thought into things that were once just part of the day-to-day, and our brains are working overtime because of it.
In addition to this, having to put so much more thought into the tasks we complete every day means that our more irrational fears take a backseat – that is, until we’re in bed at night trying to think of literally anything else, and even if this isn’t affecting how quickly or easily you fall asleep, your quality of sleep is likely suffering because of it.
Once you’ve been doing a certain job long enough, things that once required more thought become second nature to you, and tasks can be carried out almost automatically. The issue at the moment is that, suddenly, tasks which were so simple in your usual working environment have seem to have been turned upside down – it’s almost like starting a new job completely. Going to a meeting was once as easy as turning up on time and knocking at a door – now everything is online. Even if you have no trouble with it, others on your team may be struggling to get to grips with this new technology, delaying things even further.
You’re also dealing with having to be responsible for your own productivity. For those who already struggle to focus (something I personally find very difficult) under pressure, there’s an uncomfortable amount of accountability in having full control of your own workload management. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much too quickly? Do my bosses or clients trust my word on how much I’m getting done, or how much effort I’m putting in?
It’s a lot to get used to – and a lot for your brain to handle all at once.
Perhaps you’re used to a lengthy commute to work and have been taking advantage of the extra time in bed, or maybe you’re going to bed much earlier, as you don’t need as much time to wind down without the daily influence of the outside world. Either way, for most of us, our daily routines have had more than a few tweaks over the last two or three months.
Of course, nobody’s routine is the same throughout their entire life, but these changes usually come every-so-often, and maybe even just one at a time. The likelihood is that, very suddenly, your routine has recently been called into question completely, and you’ve had to find or adjust to a new one very fast.
Changes to our routine are always likely to leave us feeling fatigued, as ‘routine’ traditionally requires so little thought. If your mornings are usually the exact same for most of the week, your brain is probably waking up at it’s own pace and letting your body do all the work for you. Recently, it probably feels more like your body is playing catch up, while your brain scrambles frantically to work out what exactly it is that you’re supposed to be doing next.
So, what now?
With all that in mind, it’s clear that we need a little more advice to work with than simply “get more sleep” – but what can we do to keep ourselves from crashing out at our desks mid-afternoon?
Here’s just a few things that the experts seem to recommend.
Watch your alcohol consumption.
Are you drinking more than usual since lockdown began? You wouldn’t be alone – a recent survey found that overall alcohol sales in the United States are up by 16% compared to this time in 2019, with an increase of 27% in the sale of spirits specifically. However, as we all know, alcohol is a sedative, so even just that one glass of wine that you treat yourself to once you log off for the evening is making you feel drowsier than you usually would, as well as messing with your quality of sleep overall.
The best advice is to watch your alcohol intake and limit it as much as possible, especially during the working week – no matter how stressful chasing those invoices might be!
Move around regularly.
Most of us are likely spending far more time sat in one place than we’re used to, and our brains and bodies are getting complacent because of it. If you start to feel your energy dipping, work against it by taking a break to do a little exercise, or even just having a moment to leave your chair and really stretch out.
If you can, it’s also really helpful to get outside, either in the garden or for a quick walk – the fresh air will have you feeling a little more awake in no time.
Establish your work-from-home routine, and stick to it.
As I said earlier, the routines we were all used to have been called into question, so we’re all a little unsure what exactly we’re supposed to be doing at any given time of the morning, evening, or even all day. The best way to work through this would be to establish a new routine and allow yourself to get used to it, just as you did previously.
Choose a time to get up, a time to have breakfast, a time to take your breaks, a time to do something to unwind… don’t worry yourself making these decisions different every day, when you could just make them second nature. Only difference now is that you have more control over them!
Take a screen break.
If you’ve been staring at your computer screen non-stop for hours at a time, your eyes are bound to start feeling heavier than you’d like them to. When you can, switch off for a moment and take in the environment around you, whether that be from outside of your home or while you’re sitting in it.
Try, if you can, to also limit your screen-time outside of your working hours. It’s not the worst thing if you spend your night binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, but it’s quite another if you’re constantly scrolling through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram while you do it.
With so much of our communication taking place online in our professional lives, it’s important to try and log off a little more during our free time than we usually might.
Review your working environment.
What are you using as a desk at the moment? A coffee table? A dining table? Maybe you just rest your laptop on your knees as you work from the couch? Is your working environment clean and tidy? Do you have any natural light coming into whicher room you’re based in?
All of these are really important things to consider if you’re starting to notice yourself feeling a little more lethargic than usual. For instance, possibly the worst place you could choose to work is on your own bed, as your brain automatically registers time spend just working on your bed in the same category as time spent actually sleeping in it. On the other hand, whilst your kitchen table may make a better temporary desk at first glance, it’s no use if it’s covered in other bits and pieces that are just getting in the way – make sure whatever environment you’re working in isn’t so cluttered, it starts to become distracting.
As mentioned, natural light is also important. Your eyes are taking in a massive amount of artificial light while you’re staring at your computer screen all day, so try to sit in a room lit by windows rather than lamps if you can. Again, our brains are easily influenced by this part of our environment, as artificial light registers in our minds as being synonymous with night-time, and night-time is synonymous with – you guessed it, folks – sleep!
Be sensible with your food and drink choices.
When we’re at the office, we can’t just quell our boredom whenever we like by taking a few minutes to enjoy a donuts, or a bag of chips, so we shouldn’t be doing it while working from home – even if you can, and you really, really want to!
Instead, we should try to stick to three meals a day, and go for healthy snacks over reaching for the junk food – an apple’s going to do far more for your brain than that chocolate cupcake you’re craving.
It’s also important to consider how we eat while working from home. When it’s time for lunch, enjoy your lunch! Try to eat it away from your desk and definitely don’t work while you’re eating – give yourself a proper break, just like you’d get in the office.
Drinks are also worth keeping an eye on – alcohol isn’t the only thing you’re drinking that’s tiring you out. Cracking open an energy drink or reaching for your third coffee of the morning may seem like a good way to give yourself a much-needed boost of energy in the short-term, but highly caffeinated drinks like this are eventually going to have you crashing hard in the afternoon.
The best drink to keep you going at your desk all day really is water – it’s free, it’s good for you, you can have (almost) as much as you like. Stay hydrated! You’ll thank yourself later.
Give yourself a break!
One final thing to remember is that these are – by definition – exhausting times. There’s such a lot going on and so much change to adapt to that it’s worth reminding yourself that we are only human, and all humans need to rest occasionally. If you find yourself feeling often overwhelmed, then try to give yourself a break. It’s not helping your productivity, and it’s not helping your mental state either!
Avoid watching the news any more than you usually would, switch off your computer outside of working hours, and don’t put pressure on yourself to work everything out right away – adapting to big changes will always be trial and error.
Whilst you may be feeling a lot more exhausted by work than you may have done in the past, remember it’s not just you – so many people are feeling the exact same. Hopefully implementing some or all of these tips into your daily routine where you can will start to boost your energy, or at the very least, stop you wishing for nap-time after you’ve barely even finished breakfast!