Is Working From Home Bad for Your Mental Health?
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Working from home is becoming an increasingly popular option for full- and part-time employees.
When you think of a work-from-home employee, you might conjure an image of someone in their pajamas, working odd hours from their couch, phone and laptop in hand. Unlike someone who works in an office, remote workers often have the freedom to work anywhere they wish in whatever type of clothing they’d like.
An increasing number of workers are choosing to work from home to enjoy perks like flexible hours and avoid long commutes. Data released by the U.S. Census showed that in 2017, 5.2% of workers in the U.S. worked from home. And odds are, that number is going to grow in the coming years.
Although working remotely has its perks, and the remote workforce continues to expand, it does come with a downside.
Why More People Are Working Remotely
Working from home often offers a better work-life balance.
For instance, when you work remotely, it’s easier to care for your children and save on daycare expenses. Remote work also allows people to complete their work during the hours that are best for them, affording them the ability to work when they’re most productive.
It can also save money on transportation costs, wardrobe expenses, and other work-related costs. A study by FlexJobs found that a person can save at least $4,000 by working from home. That’s a significant savings, and money that can be used for other expenses.
The Downside to Working from Home
While working from home does come with its perks, mental health experts have found that it can take a serious toll on your mental health.
“Working from home can often be isolating. It means working alone all day without having anyone to chat with or bounce ideas off of,” says Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health consultant at Maple Holistics.
Mahalli explains that a lack of personal connection with others throughout the day can lead to feelings of lethargy, decreased motivation, and even depression. “Depression occurs because the worker is isolated throughout the day and is exacerbated if the person lives alone or lacks meaningful relationships outside of work,” explains psychotherapist Carrie Mead.
“The most common signs of depression include poor concentration, frequent crying spells, anger outbursts, headaches, apathy, and hopelessness,” says Mead. Other signs can include missing deadlines or meetings, disorganization, and decreased productivity.
Humans need social connections to thrive. When you go to work in a physical building like a school or office, you are around other people to receive these connections.
“When you work from home on a computer all day, however, you inhibit social connection and may face mood issues, exhaustion, and depression as a result,” says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling.
Lack of (or too much) productivity
Working from home can also cause pressure regarding productivity. Since work-from-home employees or freelancers can’t see what their co-workers are doing, they have no way to gauge if their actions and choices are appropriate.
“They might feel guilty for taking a coffee break and consequently never stop for a minute to breathe. Conversely, they might not realize that they should be accomplishing more than they are, and therefore fall behind on their work,” explains Mahalli.
Another potential problem to be aware of is that working from home can make you feel like you’re not contributing enough. This is particularly true if you work for a company that has on-site employees.
According to research by Polycom, Inc., 62% of remote workers say they’re worried their on-site co-workers don’t think they’re working as hard as them. This can set up a potentially uncooperative or contentious relationship among co-workers.
In addition, working from home can interfere with your personal life and relationships. Many remote workers aren’t confined to strict hours or an 8-hour work day. As a result, you may find that you’re working too much and missing out on quality family time or socializing with friends.
While this may not be an issue if you work a fixed or set schedule, many work-from-home employees pick their own hours and work when they should be focused on other things.
Working From Home and Enjoying Optimal Mental Health is Possible
The good news is that if you work from home, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your mental health in good shape.
When you get up on a work day, take a shower and get dressed. Staying in your pajamas all day can lead to a lack of motivation and energy. “You shouldn’t be wearing the same clothes you woke up with when it’s time for dinner,” says Kim Korte, certified brain health coach.
Set a schedule
Create a set schedule and follow it every day instead of doing whatever you want, whenever you want.
“Not only is a set schedule a great way to prevent depression, it’s important for our overall health and well-being. Remote workers should adhere to a set schedule that includes tasks like showering, eating lunch, and exercising,” explains Mead.
Although this may be difficult if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, try to refrain from working and answering work-related emails and phone calls outside of your scheduled hours.
“People who work at home need to know that work ends every day and have a clear line of when we’re working and when we’re not,” explains Karen R. Koenig, licensed clinical social worker.
Create a dedicated workspace
It’s also important to create a specific workspace. If you’re constantly trying to find a spot to work in between piles of laundry, you’re bound to be less motivated. Dedicate a specific area of your house as your office or workspace so you have a separation between work and home.
“If you’re lucky enough to have an extra bedroom to convert into an office, I always recommend this first! Decorate it in a way that feels good to you and add some motivational pieces you can see from your computer. If you don’t have one, designate a spot on your kitchen table or living room where you’re going to work and settle in,” says Deborah Duley, licensed psychotherapist and owner of Empowered Connections.
Leave the house
Additionally, it’s a good idea to commit to engagements outside of your home at least a few times a week. “You may participate in volunteer opportunities, attend networking events, or visit with friends and family,” adds Mead.
Make sure you’re keeping these engagements, as they provide social connection you’re not getting as a remote worker. Write them down on your calendar like you would a doctor’s appointment to stress their importance.
This also applies to exercise. While daily exercise is important for everyone, it’s particularly crucial if you work remotely. Be sure to dedicate time to exercise daily and get outdoors (weather permitting). Physical activity and natural light are helpful ways to combat depression.
Working From Home is Not Right for Everyone
Whether you’re new to the work-from-home life or have been at it for years, you should make every effort to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact your mental and physical health and well-being. If you’ve found that your efforts do not improve your situation, it may be time to consider an on-site position with flexibility.
Working from home isn’t right for everyone, and it’s important to recognize when it’s not right for you. Remote work should not interfere with the quality of your life; it should enhance it.