The COVID-19 pandemic changed almost every aspect of our lives overnight, from how we shop to how we socialize. In response to safety precautions and local guidelines, the number of Canadians working from home jumped from 4% in 2016 to 32% by early 2021. This dramatic increase in social isolation has led to some experts calling loneliness a parallel pandemic, one that is greatly contributing to the worsening mental health across the country.
Working from home can have a lot of benefits, too. It means no commute, less time getting ready, and more flexibility throughout the day. Getting the most out of remote working requires being self-aware and actively working on the aspects that can negatively affect our mental health, let's dive in:
Stay Truly Connected With Friends & Colleagues
It is all too easy for the isolation to become normalized. Yet, during this time of increased stress and uncertainty, we need socialization more than ever. Joking around with others and chatting about our lives can help us deal with adversity, strengthen camaraderie, and increase our happiness.
It’s easy to take casual interactions for granted until they are gone. Try to find a way to communicate with colleagues in a casual, watercooler-esque way that doesn’t involve discussing the job. That might be scheduled one-on-one video calls or a separate chat room for sharing anecdotes and memes.
Nurture connections with your friends and family, whether that’s online or in person. Check-in with each other and set aside time to meet up if it’s safe to do so in your area.
Make a schedule and stick with it
Routine can make a world of difference for our mental health when working from home. When the structure of a normal workday is replaced by the flexibility of remote working, the number of decisions we make in a day can massively increase. Instead of our usual wake-up alarm, packed lunch, work clothes, etc., we can change each element day-to-day as we please.
This creates an additional mental load throughout our day and provides more opportunities for things to go wrong and cause stress. Make a schedule the same way you would if you were heading to the office. When you’ll wake up, when you’ll sign onto work, what you’ll wear, what you’ll have for lunch, and when you’ll go to bed.
Fresh air and exercise have proven time and time again to benefit physical and mental health. If both your work time and free time are spent staring at a screen, you are at a much higher likelihood to experience anxiety and depression.
Get away from the computer and stretch your legs with daily physical activity. Enjoy the crisp air with a hike in the mountains, head for a dip in the lake, or go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Getting outside your four walls and getting your heart pumping will increase happy hormones while helping you feel connected to the world around you.
Create a separation between work and home
A major struggle for people new to working from home is drawing the line between work and family. The lines that were once crystal clear can easily become blurred when you are accessible to the family during work hours and connected to work after-hours. This can lead to you feeling like you’re always on the clock and doesn’t allow for the recovery time required to maintain your mental health.
Reinforce the balance between your work and home life by designating a physical area for work if possible. Ask for your family’s understanding and support in not disturbing you while you are at your workspace, just as you won’t allow work to interrupt family time when the workday is done.
Don’t neglect self-care
Balancing work and play is vital for maintaining good mental health. It can be easy to neglect yourself when you’re socially isolated and fall into bad habits. And check-in with yourself:
Are you getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night?
Are you making time every week for your hobbies?
Are you eating a nutritious diet and staying hydrated?
Are you maintaining personal hygiene?
Access free online mental health support
Working from home can be detrimental to your mental health in a variety of ways, from added family stressors to social isolation. A mental health professional can help you manage mental health struggles while finding solutions to replace the social support you may have lost when you made the switch from office work to remote. Alberta Residents with a valid Alberta Health Card can access free mental health support through https://www.easecare.ca/. EaseCare provides remote access to physicians, psychologists, and counsellors depending on the level of care required.