For most people, when you take the leap and decide to start working from home, it can sound like an actual dream come true. Suddenly, nearly everything you griped about going to work ceases to exist. From commuting woes to the drama of office politics (not to mention the sheer joy of being able to work in your pajamas), telecommuting from the comfort of your own home sounds like a win-win all the way around, right?
But what many people often don’t realize is that working from home is surprisingly hard on your mental health. Even though studies show that more and more people are working remotely these days than ever before, there are still plenty of ways that telecommuting can hinder your overall mental health and well-being.
Sure, on the surface, it seems like plenty of work problems are solved by staying home. For starters, you suddenly have the potential to work on your own time and make a schedule that is flexible to your needs, while also fitting in time for household chores that may have been neglected during your office grind (oops!). And of course, you no longer need to worry about transit problems and the stress of getting to and from the job which, no doubt, sounds amazing.
But experts say working from home creates a host of new problems for workers, and they often come at the expense of your mental health. Timothy Golden, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies telecommuting, told Entrepreneur in 2014 that shifting to a home workplace “can intensify existing work and family conflict rather than alleviate it,” because the stress we leave behind to work away from home is suddenly staring us in the face at all times. Yeah, not ideal.
Working from home can also cause serious “social isolation,” which makes sense when the only interaction you have all day is with your pet. So how do you offset the damage and find the work-life balance that, well, actually works for your life?
One thing that tends to happen with telecommuters is that their entire abode becomes their office space. If you’ve ever left those important budget papers…somewhere (seriously, did you leave them in the kitchen cabinets when you left to go make lunch?), you know how easily this can happen and what a nightmare it can quickly become.
We recommend setting up an at-home office for yourself and committing to using it during working hours. If that’s not a reality for you right now (shout out all of us in teeny, tiny apartments!), you should, at the very least, set a designated workspace for yourself. If that’s still not feasible, you should make time each day or week to work from a nearby coffee shop or co-working space you like.
Which brings us to our next point: keeping a routine.
It can be seriously easy to neglect basic necessities like getting up early, getting dressed, and even showering on a regular basis. After all, what difference does it really make if you work from the comfort of your bed in your chicest chip-stained sweatpants and hole-iest college tee?
Even if your remote work happens outside of conventional work hours, you should absolutely find a routine that works for you and stick with it. If you know your brain works best in the morning, get up early and get right out of bed. Set a morning ritual that is good for you (some combination of meditation or regular exercise is great), and make sure to eat a balanced, satisfying morning meal.
Yes, it may seem counter-productive to get a full morning going when you could take that time to dive right into work, but you can’t let basic needs slide just because you’re not physically going into an office.
Throughout the day, you should check in with yourself and take regular breaks as needed — preferably you’ll go outside to get a bit of fresh air, but even just taking a walk around your building or stepping away to run a quick errand will do.
Another thing that can negatively impact your mental health is the sheer inactivity involved with working from home. Suddenly, you’re not walking around an office to attend meetings or even chat with your coworkers. It can be so easy to literally sit on your ass all day. Solution: Get out of the chair as often as you can.
Though it’s great to enjoy more flexibility with your work when you’re not confined to work hours or a long commute, many remote workers suddenly feel even more pressure to always be available, which can quickly lead to burnout. Make sure your managers know you will have set hours for completing tasks and responding to emails and stick to it.
It’s very easy to always be “on” when there’s no clear divide between work and home, so you have to be firm on a schedule that works for you and stick to it, no questions asked. Being able to fully disconnect from work is even more crucial when your work life and home life are blended together.
Even though you suddenly have extra time to tackle household chores and do all your work, we can’t stress enough the importance of taking time for yourself on a regular basis. If you have hobbies that you love, you should continue to find time to regularly enjoy them.
The need for balance doesn’t evaporate along with the need for putting on pants.
You should also find ways to incorporate self-care into your routine. If you find yourself struggling with depression or mood changes, you should find tools that you can work into your day to help, whether that’s talking with a therapist, physical exercise like yoga, writing in a journal, or meditation. Whatever you will do consistently to help yourself relieve stress — do it.
Finally, you’ve got to maintain your social ties. You’ll no longer be having regular face-to-face interactions with coworkers, so it’s especially important to connect with people in new ways. Set aside time to chat with a friend (in person is ideal, but on the phone works, too!), and maybe try to attend networking events in your field to keep meeting new people. Your career doesn’t stop moving forward just because you’re working at home.
Working from home can get lonely very quickly, so you’ll want to interact with people as much as you can. Now go forth and happily live that remote life!