Making it Work from Home: How to get through Remote Working, Emotionally & Psychologically
The global pandemic and ensuing lockdown led to drastic changes in our lives, one of which for many has been making the transition to solely working from home (WFH). Some employees have been informed that WFH will continue for several months even once lockdown is lifted, for example Facebook, Google and others, to mention some major companies.
What are some benefits of working from home?
Solely WFH has had several benefits for some, including:
- Being able to achieve a better work-life balance where more time can be devoted to relationships, completing tasks like DIY, hobbies, eating more healthily, exercising and sleeping!
- It has led many people to re-evaluate what is important to them in life and to reconsider where they spend their time and energy
However, not all about working from home has been positive. There are several potential challenges to WFH for prolonged periods that people may have experienced from the start of lockdown or perhaps they have surfaced more as the weeks and months have gone on. Such challenges can have a detrimental impact on individuals’ emotional and psychological wellbeing during a time where we may already be more vulnerable due to heightened anxiety and stress associated with Covid-19. We have written about How to Manage Covid-19 Anxiety and How to Improve Sleep During the Covid-19 Crisis a few weeks back, these articles could still be very useful so don’t miss them!
How to cope with the Challenges of Working from Home
We’ll now break down some of the challenges connected with having to use our home as a workspace. We hope these ideas will help you to minimise the negative emotional impact of such challenges as well as allow you to continue to work effectively and efficiently.
Video Call Fatigue (or ‘Zoom Fatigue’)
The ability to have video calls has certainly helped keep businesses functioning and can help us feel socially connected. However, having numerous video calls throughout the day can be draining. It can be more draining than face to face meetings as it takes up energy to appear attentive and having to focus more on verbal cues due to the lack of visual cues.
To deal with Video Call, or ‘Zoom’ Fatigue, where you can, try to spread out the number of video calls you have in one day. Consider alternating your method of communication by having a telephone call instead allowing you to take a break from your screen, to stand and move around.
Flexible Working Change of Routines
Previous to Covid-19 and lockdown, it is likely that you had an established routine on your working days. Perhaps you usually woke and went to bed at certain times, worked between certain hours (give or take an hour or two or more), took breaks at around the same time and, for those inclined, exercised on certain days and times. The routines that are established exist largely because they work and suit us. However, our days are different now and, as such, our previous routine may no longer be the ‘best fit’ for us. Thus our routines require adjustment and for us to be more flexible.
To cope with the change of routines, some have found it beneficial to be more flexible regarding work start and finish times (particularly if they have childcare), when they take their breaks and how long they take their breaks for. Having a nice walk halfway through the working day can be refreshing, breaks up the day and lifts us emotionally. This can allow us to concentrate better during the second part of our working day. It can also be helpful to take frequent smaller breaks (and to do something that is not cognitively demanding).
If you are concerned that by doing this you will not be able to provide as prompt responses to any incoming communication and fear this will be frowned upon, consider speaking to your manager about your desire to be more flexible to preserve your emotional wellbeing whilst it not having a detrimental impact upon your work output. Keep in mind that you would be taking frequent small breaks anyway if you were working at your place of work where you have regular interruptions throughout the day.
The Challenge of Over-working
Are you finding yourself working even more hours than before? If so, what is driving this? Is it due to:
- High standards and perfectionistic thinking?
- Having a tendency to worry excessively about what others think of you (e.g. worrying that others are thinking you are not working hard enough)?
- Striving for external validation?
- You are unsure what else to do with your extra free time?
Watch out! This can unnecessarily increase your stress levels and lead you down the path to burn-out.
Keep in mind that the current circumstances are already challenging and it can be difficult to even just maintain working a similar number of hours to before. With the little variety in our lives at present along with social isolation, it is understandable why many are finding their motivation at work waning, so let yourself off the hook!
Does the amount of time and energy that you put into work come to the detriment of putting time and energy into other meaningful areas of your life such as relationships, hobbies and your emotional wellbeing? Is it time to reconsider what is important to you and where you devote your time and energy in order to gain more satisfaction from life?
Over-relying on external validation to provide you with the reassurance that you are doing a good job can be problematic. If we do not receive a sufficient amount of reassurance, our confidence may be threatened and we can become frustrated that our efforts are not being recognised as they ‘should’. To cope with feelings of inadequacy, due to not receiving enough reassurance, it’s helpful to acknowledge that this is not something we have full control over and that the struggle of trying to strive for it becomes the bigger problem here. Instead, work on building on your ability to self-validate. It can be easy to focus on all the things we have not achieved yet at work and what we could be doing better. Try attending more to what you have achieved, what good qualities you bring to work and how well you are doing.
We can have a tendency to worry excessively about what another person thinks of us and we can worry that they are judging us overly negatively. Ask yourself, what is the evidence that they think this? Are you simply projecting your own insecurity into someone else’s head and thinking (erroneously) that this is what they are thinking? You’ll often find that the answer is one which can lift your mood and make you feel more confident.
Social Injection and Isolation
We have a strong desire to feel socially connected and to have a sense of belonging. However, in the attempt of trying to keep businesses afloat, it can be easy to focus on getting the work done leading to a less concerted effort to maintain a good team bond.
Having fewer social interactions on the whole and not seeing your colleagues face to face can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and feeling left out.
To cope with feeling isolated, given the importance of feeling connected with others, ensure you have regular contact with the people of your life, not just your colleagues. This includes seeing them via video link, which can provide a richer social experience. Lunch and coffee Zoom meetings are becoming common which can provide the social injection we need.
Annual Leave: Should you bother?
You may have cancelled your annual leave and think there is little value in taking annual leave whilst we are in lockdown. Working for weeks and months without a holiday, particularly in the current circumstances, can take its toll on us. If you haven’t already, consider taking some annual leave and try to spread it out. It will help unplug from the work dynamics and could be a good time to focus on some hobbies, practice meditation or yoga, or finish a book that was left half-read.
The Importance of Acceptance
Many businesses have suffered during this pandemic and this may have impacted upon you personally at work. Perhaps your job role has changed or your potential promotion has been put on hold. This can lead to feelings of frustration, lack of motivation and generally feeling disheartened. Unfortunately in life, we are likely to face situations again where things do not go to plan due to forces outside of our control whether in relation to our health, relationships or any other important area of our lives. It is understandable to not feel happy with this scenario. However, it can be important to reflect upon the degree to which we struggle with this gap between where we would like to be and where we are. We may have an internal struggle with this gap by having thoughts such as “I wish it was different” and “it’s not fair.” We may also struggle with this gap externally by, for example, working harder to prove we deserve the promotion or regularly voicing our discontent. Struggling with this gap is futile as it is something we do not have full control over. It can also add to our suffering as it can have several negative consequences, for example, frustration, stress can cause damage to our relationships at work and outside of work if we bring our stress ‘home’.
How to manage with when challenges are outside of our control? Acceptance is the key here. It is often a misunderstood concept (it doesn’t mean giving up!), so let’s look at what this entails:
- Even though the situation is not exactly how you would like it to be, take time to consider what do you value about the work you are still doing?
- What personal qualities are important to you that you can bring?
- Try to let go of the struggle with the gap
- Rather than putting energy into struggling with the gap, put your energy into your values and working on applying personal qualities that are important to you. This can make your working days more meaningful and satisfying
- Remind yourself that this situation is temporary
- Instead of focusing on how you would like things to be better, attend to all the things that you are grateful for with regards to work (and outside of work!)
It may also be fruitful to have open communication about your thoughts and feelings about your work situation with your manager. If possible, perhaps ask to be updated on the circumstances at work to have greater clarity over your job role and possible promotions in the future whilst appreciating the wider challenges of the business.
Creating the Right Environment when Working from Home
Where possible, try to set up your table and chair in a way that is the most ergonomic to be comfortable and to offset back and neck pain. Try to also create a calm and pleasant environment, for example, have little clutter around your workspace. Avoid working in your bedroom as your brain will start associating your bedroom with work and it may unsettle your sleep. Once you finish your workday, pack away your work things to help you separate out work from your home life.
Look After Yourself Outside of Work
Looking after our emotional and physical wellbeing outside of work hours can help us to manage the challenges of work. They can act as a buffer.
To protect our emotional and physical wellbeing try the following:
- Spend time engaging in activities that are valuable to you and are enjoyable, interesting and fun
- Connect with others regularly (whilst following government guidelines for social distancing)
- Leave your home for fresh air and natural sunlight
- Engage in regular exercise
- Try to follow a balanced diet
- Try to get sufficient sleep, go to bed and wake at a similar time
As can be seen, there are ways of managing the current WFH challenges that involve potentially adjusting old ways of thinking and making amendments to our behaviours. Keep in mind it is normal to find this period challenging, so be kind to yourself and consider prioritising your emotional wellbeing that bit more. And you are struggling to make it on your own, consider asking help from a counsellor or therapist. You can make contact with someone and even get a free 15 minutes consultation with us.
Ask for Professional Help if you are Struggling
As can be seen, there are ways of managing the current WFH challenges that involve potentially adjusting old ways of thinking and making amendments to our behaviours. Keep in mind it is normal to find this period challenging, so be kind to yourself and consider prioritising your emotional wellbeing that bit more. And if you are struggling to make it on your own, consider asking help from a counsellor or therapist. You can make contact with someone from Therapy Central and even get a free 15 minutes consultation with us.
Author: Dr Amy Smith, Therapy Central Director