Working from home and mental health: the negative impact of remote work + what to do about it

Guest Author 31.03.2021
Struggling with working from home mental health issues.

The prolonged impact of pandemic-related restrictions has made working from home a usual setting for many of us and additionally has brought mental health concerns of different grades. We’re aware of the obvious ways remote work stresses us out, however, some aspects of the psychological impact of working from home remain blurry.

Qualtrics report found that the prolonged impact of COVID-required working from home (WFH) has an increasingly pervasive effect on our mental health – 41.6% of respondents report mental health decline since the COVID-19 outbreak. 

So, is working from home bad for mental health? Not as such. But unmanaged minor stressors can compound into more significant, long-term effects detrimental to it. Whether you’re leading a distributed team or you WFH yourself, use the following tactics to prevent the negative impacts of remote work, achieve a better work-life balance, and bolster your overall mental health.

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1. Counteract day-to-day drudgery with life hacks 

A person seeking ideas on how to use life hacks to improve working from home mental health.

When you live and work from the same space, your life can blend together in a rinse-and-repeat fashion. Get up, go to the home office, make lunch, do dishes, finish work, make dinner, do dishes, enjoy your hobbies (likely in a similar space or close to where you work). The mundane monotony is enough to get anyone down, not to mention, wreak havoc on your productivity. 

By building up a repertoire of healthy habits, you will create a more fulfilling flow to your day, boost your mood, as well as free up time. Here are a few simple life hacks to get you started:

  • Meal Prepping: Heading into a busy week, pre-prepared meals make it much easier to eat better and save time during the workday, so you don’t have to break to put together breakfasts or lunches. You also won’t opt for an easy and unhealthy choice if you’re busy. Plus, according to scientific studies, diet significantly impacts your mental health.
  • Physical Exercise: Don’t neglect the role physical health plays in mental wellness. It’s imperative to move your body throughout the day. The experts confirm that even 10-minute sessions of aerobic exercise scattered throughout the week are enough to make a difference. Certain practices can provide movement without you even realizing it. Try brisk walks, yard work (like lawn mowing), bike riding, or fun sports like tennis and basketball. 
  • Zoning Your Home: Clearly differentiate between your work and home spaces. When you’re in the work zone, it tells your brain to be in productive mode, versus being in your living space will signal your brain to release stress and relax.
  • Time Blocking and Tracking: When WFH, it’s easy to feel like you’re not getting enough done, which can lead to self-worth issues. Time blocking and time tracking help break up your workday into manageable chunks and give you a visual representation of how much you’ve accomplished. Moreover, it helps you with work-life balance, so you don’t put in too many or few hours.

Bonus: Here’s a short video that explains what is time blocking (or timeboxing), why people are so hooked on this productivity method, and how to implement it into your daily schedule:

2. Remote working and mental health: avoid burnout by taking breaks

A mug suggesting to take a coffee break – reducing psychological impact of working from home

In our always-on workplace, with our home office just feet away, it can be challenging to separate work and life. A recent report found that the biggest issue remote workers face is the “struggle to unplug”. Additionally, remote workers are experiencing higher levels of burnout than before the pandemic, leading to other health issues. Gallup data confirms: 

  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a major shift where fully remote workers experience burnout more often than on-site workers.
  • Employees who experience high levels of burnout are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day, 13 percent less confident in their performance, and 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room.

The answer to the remote work burnout issue lies within b r e a k s. While it may seem counterintuitive to slow down to speed up, taking breaks will significantly boost mental wellness, decrease the chance of burnout, and increase productivity. 

A recent scientific study confirmed this, comparing two groups of students – one who took breaks and another who didn’t. When asked to complete an attention-based task, the break group far outperformed the non-break group. 

To be your most productive self, take consistent breaks throughout the workday. Regularly detaching from your workload—and the stress that goes along with it—helps you stay motivated and improves productivity.

3. Quit the guilt game to level up satisfaction

Stop sign

For many people working from home has caused their mental health to take a dive throughout the past year. Moreover, according to Qualtrics, one-fourth of remote workers have faced increasing feelings of guilt since the start of the pandemic. To combat this alarming trend, we need to give ourselves grace. 

When your internal voice holds you to an impossible standard, it causes far more stress than you realize. So stop beating yourself up about the length of your to-do list, perceived pressures to always be on, and other workplace stressors. When WFH becomes a constant game of “Why can’t I be better or do more?” it’s time for a mindset shift. 

Want to keep your team happy?

Time tracking is a great tool to avoid employee burnout. 

Find out how

Remember that just because you have access to work constantly doesn’t mean that you have to work constantly. Moreover, you can’t compare your effectiveness to pre-pandemic levels. It’s a different ball game now; the remote environment allows for certain flexibility but also causes other types of issues. You likely also have less positive feedback than you would in-office. There are no chances for water-cooler compliments or supervisors popping by your desk for quick congrats.

This all means you need to be your own advocate. At the end of the week, focus on what you did accomplish, not what you didn’t. Celebrate your wins—even the small ones! Try to stop guilt in its tracks so you can boost your satisfaction. 

4. Stop the comparison to defeat imposter syndrome

Board game pieces

Imposter syndrome in the workplace equates to not feeling deserving of your role or responsibilities. For example, you may feel like a fraud and that you’ll be “found out.” 

This harmful type of thinking is a serious problem for individuals’ mental health and is specifically common among women. In our isolated WFH settings, imposter syndrome can run rampant due to a lack of in-person communication and reassurance from colleagues and managers.

To prevent imposter syndrome, you need to identify fact versus fiction. For example, just because you feel like you’re not good enough doesn’t mean that’s the case. Additionally, getting caught up on social media highlight reels (even on professional platforms like LinkedIn) can make you feel like everyone’s thriving while you’re failing. 

Here are a few simple but powerful tactics to combat imposter syndrome:

  1. Stop any type of comparison, either between your co-workers or others in similar roles.
  2. Remind yourself of your qualifications and past experiences.
  3. Seek out positive reinforcement on your projects and contributions. When you finish a task, instead of simply submitting it, ask a manager for candid feedback. 
  4. Request more performance evaluations. Explain that you want to ensure you’re successful, even while working out of the office.
  5. Don’t correlate mistakes with failure. If necessary, accept responsibility, but see them as learning opportunities.

Applying these adjustments to your attitude towards work will go a long way to defeat imposter syndrome, feel more fulfilled in your job, and take better care of your mental health while working from home.

A final remark on working from home and mental health

A lightbox suggesting that remote work mental health is manageable

Lastly, understand that any type of change takes time. Just as the causes of mental health decline can be insidious and happen slowly, improving your wellness doesn’t happen overnight.

There isn’t a single solution, but rather, many small actions you can take to build better habits for improved remote working and mental health experience. Adjust your daily workflow and practices to match your lifestyle and stay the course. Remember to prioritize your mental health and to keep chipping away at negative thought processes. When you’re aware of the causes, it’s much easier to address and fix the issues impacting your happiness in your remote role.

This is a guest post by Tracy Ring. Tracy Ring is a long-time remote worker, freelance writer, and content marketer. She brings a real-life perspective to her writing from 10+ years of diverse experience including, HR, project management, customer and client relations, and admin roles. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter. 

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