During the lockdown that began in March 2020, I remember the challenges of quarantining at home with my family and having ill family members. I was not able to see any of my friends or have any other physical contact with people outside of my immediate family. I was not able to go anywhere unless it was around my immediate community. This was a remarkable change from how I traditionally lived my life, especially since I was born and raised in New York City where walking around, exploring, and being around others is a normal part of everyday living. It’s safe to say that the early stages of the pandemic had a huge mental toll on me. I felt that I lost control of my life.

By now, I know that I was not the only person going through these struggles. The working population experienced significant disruption. It was hard for employed people to adapt in such a short amount of time, switching from their hectic and fast paced working environment to operating exclusively out of their home. I recently read Emily Bashforth’s How to Improve Your Mental Health While Working From Home article and she points out several important statistics from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) including, “Home-working is having an impact on people's mental health, with 67% saying they felt less connected to their colleagues and 56% saying they found it harder to switch off.” She also touched on the impact of working from home on employee physical health, noting decreases in exercise and increases in musculoskeletal problems due to working from bed or the couch. 

Every worker is different. Some may be living alone, some with roommates, and some with a significant other. They can also come from different areas and backgrounds such as from a city, a suburb, or a rural area. Regardless of demographics and living situations, employees were impacted mentally and physically by the shutdown (albeit, not all in the same way). 

It is important to note, however, that working from home has proven to also have its perks. Bashforth shares another notable statistic: “Nearly three quarters of people (74%) said that they wanted to split their time between the home and office”, suggesting that working at home may be preferable for some folks (such as people who may tend to be more introverted). At the end of the day, many employees desire flexibility and comfortability, which home-working provides.

Amidst the pros and cons, it is crucial to keep in mind the importance of self-care while working from home. Self-care can help improve mental and physical functioning for folks who are struggling, and can help maintain that functioning for those who are enjoying a work from home setup. For both groups, it is important. There are five key aspects of living that Bashforth noted are important to regularly manage: 

  1. Sleep
  2. Maintain a healthy diet 
  3. Exercise
  4. Work/Life Balance
  5. Communication with friends/family   

Always keep a balance of these areas, and when you feel one is spiraling or worsening, take some time to re-establish it as an important part of your life. I can remember my sleep being impacted right away - once I addressed the issue, I felt much more energized and less stressed. With more sleep, I experienced a boost in my overall functioning.     

Lastly, Bashforth commented that adhering to the four principles below could prove to be helpful in maintaining a strong sense of wellbeing while working from home:

  • Set boundaries
  • Remain sociable and keep communication open
  • Take breaks
  • Replicating working day

While the aforementioned principles seem somewhat straightforward and almost obvious, they are so often overlooked. Focusing on these tips are essential to home-working and workers’ mental health. 

As employees, it is helpful to know where you can find support when working from home. You can gather this information by reaching out to your Human Resources department and learning about the resources available to you through your company. There is also nearly an infinite amount of resources available publicly - but be careful in selecting something based off of a Google search. Google is good at finding pages related to your search terms, but it does not vet or personalize the resources it guides you to.

The pandemic has taken a toll on the employed population, both mentally and physically. By using some of the approaches suggested by Bashforth, in addition to communicating with HR about available resources, you are setting yourself up to minimize your risk of any undesirable outcomes. Remember, though, that you can’t always manage everything on your own and if things become overwhelming, reaching out to a professional is something available for you to do at any time. 

We must continue to spread awareness of addressing and improving mental health for all, especially for employees that have been so significantly impacted by the pandemic. We’ve certainly seen an increase in how regularly mental health is being discussed, but let’s continue to open up the conversation.

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