The new normal: How to manage stress and anxiety when working from home

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Written by Gemma Leigh Roberts on 20 April 2020 in Features
Features

Productivity when working from home is one thing, but stress is another. Gemma Leigh Roberts tells us why we need to set boundaries. 

If you weren’t already working from home in recent weeks, you likely are now. As a result of the lockdown announced by the prime minister earlier this week, many of us are on the same boat. While there’s a lot of talk about productivity of remote employees, there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.

In particular, how this pandemic outbreak is causing stress, anxiety and fear, which can be accelerated when working from home and isolated from colleagues, friends and family.

There are no doubt countless benefits to working from home, but research shows that being 'always on' and accessible by technology leads to the blurring of work and non-work boundaries. A United Nations report from three years ago found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.

The current situation we are in is unprecedented, so it’s likely that a lot of people cooped up at home are feeling anxious on top of stressed out.

Would you rather work ended at 7pm and you had time with your loved ones? If you start the day by bearing this in mind, you are more likely to stick to it.

So how can we best reduce or manage stress and anxiety during this time?

Start with setting boundaries

One of the hardest things about working from home is setting boundaries. People who are new to it have likely noticed that stress levels can rise due to the lack of typical mental breaks you get in an office. Walking to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and stopping for a chit chat with one of your colleagues, or walking to a meeting room and getting the tech set up.

All of these activities are in fact giving our brains a chance to recharge. The office banter may be wiped out when you work from home, but the mental breaks are still paramount to keep your stress levels to a minimum, so try to replicate these mini-breaks at home.

Then there’s the issue of overworking when there is not a clear line that separates work and home life. I have spoken about this before to some of my clients with a home office. Think about what your dream working day would look like.

 

Think about the ways that you normally would spend your weekends and evenings. Would you choose to answer emails at 10pm, or lie in bed? Or would you rather work ended at 7pm and you had time with your loved ones? If you start the day by bearing this in mind, you are more likely to stick to it.

Block out off-screen time in your diary

According to the government guidelines at the time of writing, we can still go out for fresh air and exercise once per day, as long as we stick to the social distancing rule of two metres. If you can, make use of this.

Normally, the positive effect of nature on the mind peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning all devices off and being surrounded by a natural environment. At home, we can mimic this with a spot of gardening or a brisk walk in the park to help boost the memory and help overcome creative blocks.

Even doing some arts and crafts, reading a book or baking a cake can help — whatever takes you away from the screen for a good couple of hours each day.



Keep news to a minimum

Finally, there is a good reason why the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed this as a tip for maintaining your overall mental wellbeing during this pandemic. While keeping up to date is important, a constant stream of news and updates is likely to affect your mental health.

When you’re working from home, consider one-tab working. Stick to one open tab at a time and focus working on that particular task in front of you. This way, you’ll be less tempted to check Twitter or online news for the latest updates.

 

About the author

Gemma Leigh Roberts is founder of Career Compass Club.

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