Work from home stress is a very real thing. It is also a potentially harmful thing, too. If it is ignored or dismissed, it can lead to burnout and other issues. If you are used to working in an office and find yourself working from home instead, you may struggle. Some may initially find it hard before it starts to get easier. Others may struggle to stay productive. Moms trying to balance kids, work and life find it especially difficult.
During lockdown, a huge number across the world are working remotely. Along with the stress of quarantine itself, the added stress of trying to keep up deadlines, do virtual meetings, deal with kids, fit in exercise, and try to take care of your mental and emotional health can all too easily lead to total overwhelm. Once this happens, it becomes much harder to get things done.
How do you identify work from home stress and how do you manage this type of stress? Let’s take a look.
Coping With Work From Home Stress
Work from home stress applies to the stress of working in a home-based environment. Some people adapt to this work environment and others thrive. Many find it easier to work in an office, finding working from home to be distracting, isolating, boring, and harder to motivate. Stress arises when it all gets too much and you start to struggle to get things done or you start to battle to plan your day productively. If you live alone or your partner is out of the house during the day, feelings of isolation make things even more difficult. If you have kids at home, frustration, distraction and tiredness amplify your stress further. Soon, you begin to feel totally overwhelmed.
If you experience any of the above feelings, you are very likely heading towards stress. If you are already feeling like everything has gotten too much, that stress has gotten closer to burnout. Whatever stage you have reached, there are a few strategies that can minimise the stress and make it a bit easier to work from home.
Set clear boundaries.
Boundaries are hugely important for self care. That means saying no to things you cannot do, being realistic about deadlines, communicating your work hours clearly, sticking to those work hours, letting friends and family know that you are unable during those hours, having firm rules in place for kids wanting your attention, and avoiding guilty feelings that come with setting boundaries. I know it is hard – I still struggle with trying to please everyone. If I have learned anything in the decade or so I have worked from home, though, it is the importance of boundaries. Without them, you will end up trying to do everything, trying to please everyone, and trying to stay afloat even when you hit exhaustion.
Create a routine.
It took me a while to establish a routine that worked for me. I used to work all hours of the day, pulling far too many all-nighters. That is why boundaries are important. When you don’t have any place, it is harder to create a routine that works around your available time, your energy, your sleep cycle, and your needs. If you are a mom, you will need to find a routine that works around the kids. If you are not a morning, you need to find one that allows you to work later in the day. If you are a morning person like me, you need to maximise your mornings to get things done early. It helps to make your day as close to a regular workday as possible. Giving yourself breaks helps. When you have a routine in place, it will be easier to wake up each day and know what you are going to do. Using a planner and setting realistic goals for the day will also help. Focus on adding just a few tasks at first and do those before you do anything else. This will take your biggest stress off, leaving you finding it a bit easier to continue the rest of the day.
Make time for yourself.
One of the biggest causes of working from home stress is not making time for yourself. This one was my undoing. Combined with a lack of boundaries and a lack of routine, I very quickly found myself working all the time. I was not being productive, either. Even though I was working all the time, I was not working at my best. I was exhausted, I was drinking too many energy drinks. I was not making time for breaks or going outside to simply sit for a while. I was not looking after myself. Instead, I was basically a robot, working myself into the ground. Set aside even an hour for yourself that does not involve work, kids, partner or anything else. Do something that you love doing and try to make it offline so that you can get away from your computer. Make a reading hour or a gardening hour. Do some restorative yoga or a good workout after work or before work. Take a walk or go to the shop. Finding time for yourself will make the day a bit easier, giving you something to look forward to.
Set up a workspace.
For a long time, during my bleakest days, I worked on the couch. I used to smoke back then, too, and I was depressed and burnt out. My mom would visit and open my curtains in the lounge and open the back door and insist that I went outside. At that time, I had a lovely, light-filled office that led out onto the garden. I had fallen in love with the place I was renting specifically because it had an office. After years of living in a small flat, I was thrilled at the idea of a dedicated office. Working from the couch made it harder to separate work and life. When I moved out to the country, I set up a workspace near a window. It had loads of natural light and I found it much easier to get things done there. A workspace gives the illusion of an office, creating a dedicated area that you can ‘go to work’ in and leave work for the day. This reduces work from home stress by tricking the mind into thinking you are not at home.
Avoid isolation and boredom.
Offices give you a sense of community, with plenty of jokes, laughter and conversations happening each day. Being around people can make it easier to work and also add to your workday – especially if you get along with your co-workers. A big cause of work from home stress is suddenly finding yourself all alone. Time starts to go much slower, the day starts to feel much longer and boredom quickly sets in. When this happens, you may find yourself taking far more breaks than you would do in an office. You may find yourself battling to focus on work and easily distracted. To feel less isolated, make use of virtual communication tools wisely. Schedule Zoom catch-ups with friends. Set time aside at lunchtime or at the end of the day to chat to your work friends on Skype or other message apps on your computer. WhatsApp is great for after-work chats, but it can quickly get distracting. Rather limit phone time and stick to one app on your computer.
Manage your stress.
While all of these things are about trying to minimise stress, it is also important to manage stress on a broader basis. Stress in itself does not always have to be unhealthy. A tiny bit of pressure can be motivating. Most of the time, however, stress does not stop at giving you a prod to get things done. Real stress happens when minor stress is left unchecked. Stress goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression. If you do not manage stress, it grows and grows until it becomes much harder to manage. If you are struggling with panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, depression, exhaustion, worthlessness, fear of failure, crippling doubt, negative thoughts or feelings that you cannot cope, get help. That could mean speaking to a therapist, talking to your doctor about medication, using self care strategies such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling or exercise or even reaching out to friends.
Whether you are in it for the long haul or doing it for the short-term, working from your home gets easier when you have a few strategies in place. I hope that these tips make it easier to deal with work from home stress so that you can get your best work done.