Here's what you need to do when the challenges of working from home threaten your sanity
10 solutions to counteract the pain of isolation and solitude
Adjusting to remote working isn’t necessarily straightforward. In fact, you may have noticed several unexpected challenges arising from working from home that have cropped up over the last few months. These new challenges facing remote workers are in addition to the ways mundane administrative work can wear you down. Some of the greatest challenges of working from home are caused by assaults on our mental health.
Being overwhelmed is so prevalent in our lives, it affects almost everyone I know, old or young. And it makes for a nightmare working environment.
Today all of us, regardless of our roles, are under increasing amounts of stress and distress in our everyday lives. Some of this is “in your face.” But much more comes from subtle or hidden pressures to perform or conform. And the current situation adds additional pressure. This “new normal” may not be something to embrace and its effects on your mental, physical and emotional health can be insidious and cause long-term damage.
The modern, career-driven professional has many roles: mother, father, breadwinner, homemaker, friend, daughter, son, sister, brother and whatever other hat they are wearing for the day!
Are we demanding too much of ourselves? Is this sustainable? To make room for all of these roles, have we cast aside many of our activities for self-care?
What's the cost of stretching yourself too thin?
You might feel like you:
- Have no energy and just drag yourself through the day. Even drinking your usual coffee doesn’t perk you up.
- Are mentally exhausted, lacking the focus and energy to get daily tasks done,
- Feel stressed and annoyed about being stuck in your house and glued to the computer,
- Can’t enjoy your time off after work. Instead, you fear the next day and count the hours,
- Experience stress in every aspect of your life,
- Become irritable very quickly,
- Start to lose interest in the things you actually enjoy doing,
- Have more mental blanks and lose even more concentration,
- Find you become frustrated more easily even over things that normally wouldn’t affect you,
- Lack purpose and excitement,
- Are struggling to get enough sleep.
Does any of that sound familiar? Because if it does, I’ve written another article on how to overcome anxiety. And because your mind and your body are interconnected, you might have also noticed you’re suffering from headaches, aches and pains and digestive distress. To find out more about how stress causes these and other physical ailments, check out this article on the mind-body connection.
It's not you; it's our society and our behaviours that make you so tired.
Our society has led us to believe that being super busy, not sleeping, or taking time for ourselves is acceptable. I’m sure half the professionals in the country feel the same. The system is in a nosedive. How you feel is a rational response to an irrational situation.
I have a confession to make. Recently, I became obsessed with Brave New World, the TV series starring Jessica Brown Findlay. It’s based on the novel by Aldous Huxley.
Brave New World is a weird, futuristic, dystopian drama. In it, there’s a distinct hierarchical social class system. Those at the apex exist in an emotionally blunted, drug-fuelled orgy. While the poor buggers at the bottom are menial workers. Your position on the ladder is determined by your genetics. And since everyone is genetically engineered to fulfil a set role, there’s no room at all for social climbing. Anyone who steps out of line undergoes a painful reconditioning process. A manipulative, sentient artificial intelligence pulls all the strings. As you might have guessed, it’s NSFW.
In 1950, Aldous Huxley predicted that:
What a utopia, right? Shame it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, workaholism is very much alive and well.
Are you among the hoards of exhausted professionals who declare they were brought up in a family where work was the only purpose of life?
Only now, you’ve realised that work IS your life to the extent that you have no time or energy for anything else. Have you discovered you don’t have an identity outside of work – you don’t know anything else?
As a result, you’ve neglected all aspects of your life. So much so that you have no work-life balance worth talking about. And you’re starting to see how unsustainable your initiatives are. Yet you feel trapped in an endless cycle of production.
If you find the feeling of failure and the fear of poverty overwhelming, you aren’t alone.
And you’re certainly not alone if you’ve realised you’re doing too many things and struggling to focus. As a result, you can find that your work-life balance has become unsustainable in the long-term.
You’ve realised that your life needs to change for your benefit and that of your family’s. But feeling you need to do something about it piles on additional pressure.
And as a busy mom or dad, a full-time working professional, a partner, child, sister or brother, and friend, you’re always pulled in so many different directions. Your to-do list never ends. Talk about exhausting.
Speaking of exhausting, have you ever considered how your dietary choices may be contributing to fatigue? Few people realise that this can be because of the malnutrition that results from trying to follow government dietary guidelines. But you can discover why this is and how it affects you personally here. Let’s face it; there is a health crisis right now. Educating yourself about some of the underlying causes will help you make better decisions to protect your own health and that of your loved ones.
Let me ask you this question...
How long is your physical and mental health going to hold up under this relentless stress, pressure and workload?
Adjusting to remote working and the challenges of working from home
In 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have suddenly and without warning been forced to pivot away from more traditional work settings. And working from home has become the norm in a lot of industries. But adjusting to working from home has presented challenges in the workplace.
The idea of working from home is positioned as frosting on a cake by many. Telecommuting has its charms, like not having to get up before the crack of dawn for the daily commute. And the idea of a flexible work schedule is alluring.
But remote working at home also has drawbacks, whether or not you’re a new recruit. And teams working for many companies have had to scramble to adapt. In fact, many companies have been going through working-from-home growing pains. And these stressors aren’t solely to do with whether or not your wifi is good enough or if Zoom goes down.
How remote working from home can increase isolation and loneliness
Have you felt it’s hard to be “in the loop” after losing your personal connection to co-workers when you left the office?
Working from home has made you realise how important human camaraderie is.
When you’re working remotely, it can be a challenge to develop interpersonal relationships, too. This might be the biggest challenge you face if you’re new to the company. So new recruits might not get to know the faces of their coworkers beyond video conferencing, the occasional MS Teams meeting call and Slack messaging.
Sometimes, you can go the whole workday without speaking to anybody if you don’t ask for help. So you end up expressing your sentiments and views only through text. Without proper human interaction, things can get real impersonal real fast. And this isolation can create an unhealthy work environment with increased loneliness and levels of stress. Which you’ll naturally want to combat. But is your usual way to counteract stress through emotional eating? Or through drinking?
If you’re shy by nature, you might try to look things up on your own instead of bothering others. And you might be afraid to ask stupid questions.
Having said that, what a lot of people struggle with most is actually taking a break! When in the office, you would get interrupted by coworkers and for meetings, not to mention the chitchat around the water cooler, all the time. But working at home alone from your kitchen table is a different matter. You feel as though you’re glued to your computer all day. No office chit chat whatsoever.
Working from home is brutal when your office communication style is heavily collaborative. And it makes on-boarding near impossible.
So how can you counteract the loneliness and isolation that comes with working from home?
In large part, that depends on your personal circumstances. Do you live alone or with family or friends?
- If you live with family, chances are you have even more contact with them than usual. But are you truly present during the time you spend with them? The temptation to have your phone or computer nearby at all times can be strong. If you find it’s distracting you during your social interactions with your family, you’ll want to correct this. Can you set aside special time with family where you’re not disturbed by work? Schedule it in and switch your phone off or leave it on the other side of the room so it’s not within easy reach.
- On the other hand, if you live alone it can be challenging to maintain meaningful contact with others. This is where the temptation to get lost in social media can be overwhelming. But studies show that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy and the more lonely we feel. So limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Set yourself allotted times for it during the day and stick to those times. Give yourself a bare minimum of an hour before bedtime where you don’t use social media.
- Meaningful face-to-face contact with other human beings who care about you is crucial for your mental well-being. Right now, many people are struggling with their mental health. This aspect of telecommuting, particularly during the pandemic, may be one of the greatest challenges of working from home. If it’s possible, visit people. During the pandemic, it has become obvious that having social bubbles allowing you to interact face-to-face with other people is a necessity. So avail of them whenever you can.
- Ask for help; don’t be shy. And be compassionate with both yourself and other people about it. We all need a helping hand with some things. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humanity. Your manager knows that working from home creates additional challenges and will want to know sooner rather than later if you’re snowed under. And your family and friends will prefer it if you ask them for help, instead of trying to juggle it all until you have a breakdown. Overwhelm seldom brings out the best in anyone. Instead, overwork and overwhelm will increase your error rates, reduce productivity, and make you feel tetchy.
- Go for a walk somewhere where other people are out and about. Parks and public walkways are great places for this. Smile broadly and make eye contact with everyone you meet. Say hello. Comment on the weather. Make small talk. If they have a dog (and you don’t hate dogs) comment on how cute they are. Even brief moments of relaxed conversation with strangers make a huge difference.
- Why not make that walk an “awe walk?” If you’ve never heard of an “awe walk,” it’s a stroll where you focus on the wonder, majesty and beauty of the living world around you. Experience nature through childlike eyes. Even in solitude, you’ll feel connected to something incredible that’s greater than you are: something that transcends everyday worries, where you feel a part of a vast and amazing universe.
- While we’re on the subject of walking, have you ever tried walking meetings? Walking meetings can be an innovative way to change up your work environment. You already know that being sedentary for too long is bad for your health and your heart. But did you know that when you move you are more creative and better at problem-solving as well? Plus regular exercise is phenomenal for your mental health. Walking meetings enhance brainstorming, innovation and divergent thinking. And yes, you can do walking meetings virtually as well as side by side with someone. Here are some suggestions for doing walking meetings in the COVID-era.
- Call someone on the phone or over the internet. While you’re not going to enjoy exactly the same quality of interaction as during face-to-face contact, it beats doing nothing. And you can schedule group social meet-ups with friends, family, and work colleagues using Zoom and other web conferencing services.
- Try to be mindful about your contact with other people, even when you’re not interacting directly with them. Notice when people are laughing and having fun. Remember, social contagion spreads positive vibes as well as negative emotions. So when you hear people laughing, listen. Enjoy the sounds of kids playing (but don’t stalk playgrounds. That’s super-creepy). Pay attention to people smiling.
- Your personal life needs to become a higher priority. Focus on self-care activities to support your mental, physical, spiritual, social, and emotional health. The perfect time to make sure you’re prioritising your self-care is as soon as you start to feel even a little bit run down or irritable. When you engage in regular self-care, you’re less likely to feel anxious and depressed, you’ll enjoy life more, and your immune system will function better. All of the suggestions above are forms of self-care but there are plenty more. And self-care doesn’t have to be too time-consuming or expensive. For a wonderful guide to self-care activities that will leave you feeling delighted with life, get these addictively easy activities for self-care. You won’t regret it.
It feels like this situation we’re in might never end. I was worried that the impact of diet on your resilience to infection was being underestimated. So I ran some dietary analysis. Turns out, I was right to be very concerned. You can find out why here.
What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to working from home? And what can you do to improve the quality of your interactions with your network while working from home and looking after your mental health? Drop your comments below. Social isolation may very well be one of the greatest challenges of working from home. So make sure you protect yourself from it’s worst effects.