Working from home during a pandemic is not easy.
While some face the challenge of juggling family life and work, others have to manage being solitary.
From a mental health perspective, the long-term work-related changes we’re all experiencing are additional demands on top of an already busy and disrupted life.
Some common feelings you may be experiencing include:
• Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected
• Being unable to switch off from work
• Having difficulty staying motivated
• Having difficulty prioritising your workload
• Feeling uncertain about your progress and performance
• Insomnia and sleep problems.
The upshot - don’t be surprised if you feel overwhelmed and exhausted at times.
Here are some tips to help you focus and protect your mental health when working from home.
Designate your own workspace:
For many of us, it’s not working from home that’s difficult - it’s that everybody’s working from home.
It can be tempting for your family or housemates to think that you’re always available because you’re physically at home.
Set boundaries around your work time and communicate this with the people who live with you.
It can help to have an agreed visual cue for when you’re ‘plugged in’ to work for your family or housemates to see. This could take the form of wearing headphones - noise-cancelling, if possible - or a sign on your office door (if you’re lucky enough to have one!).
Though it’s tempting to work from your bed or couch, try for something more official.
If you don’t have an office, try turning your desk or computer toward a wall or a window to block out distractions.
Establish a routine:
Increase your sense of control by developing a consistent daily routine where possible – ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.
For parents working from home, it’s important to establish a clear schedule for the entire family.
Keep yourself accountable with a to-do list. At the end of each work day, write a task list for the next day. Pull up that list as soon as you log on the next morning to get off to a good start.
Similar to delineating your workspace, it’s also helpful to delineate your work time. This can include things like ‘getting ready’ for work - get out of those pyjamas and dress as you usually would to leave the house.
Set routines that act as bookends to your day, like getting a cup of coffee in the morning when you open your computer or taking a walk or showering as soon as you close it.
Without the physical separation of an office, the lines between work and personal life can blur.
Know when to log off. Set work hours and ask colleagues to respect them - and make sure you do the same.
Delineating your workspace and work time from personal time will prevent work from creeping into other areas.
Communication can be much more challenging in a remote working environment.
Schedule regular check-ins with your manager, team and colleagues, be clear with your messaging and regularly clarify to avoid confusion.
Talk openly with your colleagues and management about how the pandemic is affecting work.
Look for safe ways to offer support to others, especially if they show signs of stress, such as depression and anxiety.
Ask about how to access mental health resources in your workplace.
Seek flexibility in your work hours to help with juggling child care and other household responsibilities.
Miscommunication can slide into misunderstanding, irritation and conflict, so it’s best to over-communicate under the current circumstances.
With your mind busy with work and likely occupied by a degree of pandemic anxiety, it’s important to manage your wellbeing.
In the same way as you would for work, set routines around exercise and sleep each day.
Taking breaks to stretch and exercise during the workday can help improve your concentration, enhance your creativity and boost your work output.
Every hour or so, take at least a few minutes to stand and refill your water bottle.
A few times a day, take longer breaks to interact with others, too. For example, spend 20 minutes playing with the kids, take a walk with your partner or pet, or call someone to see how they’re doing.
Do things you enjoy during non-work hours. Spend time outdoors, being physically active or relaxing. Practice mindfulness techniques.
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news, and from social media.
Remind yourself that we’re all in an unusual situation, doing the best we can, with limited resources.
If making time for these things feels self-indulgent, reframe it as what you need to do to be an effective provider, caregiver and friend.
Embrace the perks:
Working from home is hard, but there are many upsides to breaking out of an office environment.
Do a burst of exercise between bursts of email, blast your favourite song before a Zoom meeting, or use the time you would’ve spent commuting to finally learn the guitar or finish the book that has been on your bedside table for weeks.
Working from home gives us plenty of opportunities to multitask - whether that’s walking the dog, doing the dishes, running the laundry or prepping dinner. Working in those smaller tasks can free up your nights and weekends to do what you love.
These are small wins in a difficult time, but take what you can get!
The pandemic has heightened our awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, which is a positive development.
Over the past 18 months, we have all shown incredible resilience and creativity to navigate dramatic changes at work and in life.
Looking back and reflecting on your accomplishments over this time can give you confidence and belief in your ability to manage challenges.
If you’re struggling, there are plenty of resources out there to help you.
If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you can contact Lifeline on 13 1114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
The Victorian Government’s Coronavirus website has information about mental health resources: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/mental-health-resources-coronavirus-covid-19
The Victorian Government offers support for Victorian businesses affected by COVID-19: https://business.vic.gov.au/
The Australian Government offers payments and support if you’re affected by COVID-19: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/
Sources for this article:
The Conversation: theconversation.com
Black Dog Institute: blackdoginstitute.org.au
Reach Out: au.reachout.com
Beyond Blue: beyondblue.com.au