How To Deal With Stress Caused by Working From Home

April 7, 2023

Routine and structure. For many people, these are two major keys to success in the professional world. Consistent schedules and deadlines, regular rules, and clear organization keep work on track and make coworkers, customers, and bosses happy.

These days, work-from-home arrangements—made more common by the COVID-19 pandemic—have made it harder and harder for professionals to maintain routines and structure.

Disruption of the office working experience can cause ongoing stress for many people, especially for those that have shifted to working from home.

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“There’s no doubt that the biggest stress for professionals working from home is change in routine and structure,” according to Christopher M. Palmer, MD, director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital.

“Whenever people’s routines change significantly or expectations change, it stresses people. That’s the way our bodies work.”

Challenges facing professionals working from home include reliance on technologies, like teleconferencing and Zoom. In addition to the stress some experience from having to learn new skills, the virtual communication reduces much-needed personal contact and can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Other challenges include spending the entire working day at home with spouses, children, or aging parents. Working in a house full of people means more distractions and disruptions. Also, many workers feel they are less productive, which leads to stress.

The fact that working remotely means many workers must juggle the demands of their working lives in very close proximity with their parenting and family responsibilities can cause even more stress.

Palmer is not surprised that these factors lead to increased levels of stress for stay-at-home professionals.

“If you have massive disruptions to your life, you should expect to experience some degree of stress,” he asserted. “This stress will persist until you reach an equilibrium or comfort level.”

This comfort level can be described as “a position where you’re getting the things done that you need to get done, and you feel like you’ve got some structure and a routine,” he said.

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Tips to Balance Mental Wellness and Remote Work

For some, remote work is uncharted territory—for others, it’s just another Thursday. Nearly 25% of U.S. workers work remotely, but for employees who are new to working from home, it can be a major transition. For some people, being a remote employee can feel overwhelming.

Getting into a steady work routine and structure at home may not be easy for many. There will be setbacks and stressors along the way. To help, we’re offering a few tips and techniques for stressed-out professionals.

1. Structure Your Day

Know when you want to start and end your workday, and if you need to take a break from your screen, schedule it in.

Angela, a channel marketing manager and full-time remote employee for three years, said, “Break your time up into blocks. If you don’t have designated times when you’re committed to prioritizing work, you might end up trying to juggle housework, office work, and your kids at the same time. Making work the main focus in designated hours is key to feeling less chaotic.”

If you’re accustomed to structure, it can help you cross more tasks off your to-do list. Palmer advised, “Having a predictable structure in place often helps people get more accomplished. They can go on autopilot and accomplish the day’s work without having to create a new plan every day.”

2. Be Protective of Your Time

Not commuting to work can have its drawbacks. Since your home is your office, it can feel difficult to “leave work,” logging more hours as a result.

Just like you have your time in the office, you should have office hours for your remote work. Share these times with your coworkers and the people in your household.

In addition, if you’re used to taking a 30-minute lunch every day, continue to do so when working from home. Taking a break is good for your body and your mind, and if a break is part of your routine, continuing to do so will make the transition feel less disruptive.

Mom working while kids look on

Finding the balance of work and home responsibilities can be a challenge, especially for those new to working from home

It is possible to be productive at work while also handling time-sensitive parenting and caregiving activities.

It’s important to work as a team with everyone in the house. Set clear guidelines and basic rules. Set up a simple schedule. Be sure to include time to take care of the needs of your children and others who depend on you, but also schedule some time for you to focus exclusively on work.

Palmer suggested avoiding multitasking, despite how easy it may seem to do when looking at your to-do lists for work and home.

“Although multitasking often seems like a good idea,” he said, “research has shown that it makes people less productive, which can lead to feeling more overwhelmed.”

So, do your best to engage fully in things you are doing, and stick with them until they are done.

3. Keep Your Morale High by Staying Connected

Maybe your desk has become your kitchen table, but that doesn’t mean chitchat with teammates has to end.

Rachel, a financial analyst, lives in Boston, but her boss of five years lives in Dallas. To maintain a good working relationship, she advised, “Always take time to talk as people and don’t fully dedicate all your time in every conversation to talk about work. I’ve only been in person with my boss eight times, but with how much we knew about one another, you’d think we saw each other daily.”

Despite not being together in person, continuing to have lighthearted conversation with your colleagues over email, text, or a messaging system can help you feel less alone. Human interaction, digital or not, can make a big difference in productivity and mental health.

If you are feeling stress or anxiety and you know coworkers who will be supportive, seek them out and talk with them to find out what they do to cope.

For many, expressing vulnerability or asking coworkers or the boss for help may be difficult. But if bosses and coworkers look out for one another, we can all create compassionate and healthy workplaces.

4. Realize That Every Day Will Provide Its Own Obstacles

Just like every day in an office is different, every day when working at home will provide productive moments—and challenging ones too.

With pets, children, or other loved ones at home, you might find your new “coworkers” distracting or disruptive. Or you may find that everyone else at home is streaming movies, so you can’t download a big file for a presentation.

Be compassionate toward yourself as you navigate remote work, and practice self-care that lowers your anxiety.

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Dr. Lisa Coyne talks to us about how we can navigate stress and anxiety in the workplace and at home.

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5. Remain Flexible

Productivity may look different when working at home, but you can still end up accomplishing your tasks.

Just like your work style in the office may differ from that of your peers, your work style at home may differ from your norm at work.

Despite Angela’s tenure in working remotely, she shared, “I am constantly readjusting my strategy to be a more successful work-from-home employee.”

Lately, she has found success in using the Pomodoro Technique for work.

She explained, “It’s based on a kitchen timer: 25 minutes of work and a 5-minute break, repeated all day long. I find it easier to commit to 25 minutes at a time than the prospect of a full 8-hour day.” Pomodoro Technique or otherwise, working remotely is a great way to figure out the working style that is best for you.

If you feel stressed out by missing or changing routines, it’s important to recognize that feeling stressed is not helping your situation and may make things worse. Because stress can prevent you from thinking clearly, it can also keep you from being productive.

It’s important to try to manage this feeling. Try deep breathing, taking short breaks to clear your mind, meditating, or practicing mindfulness. You can also try to distract yourself with another activity, like vigorous exercise.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Basic self-care is essential to keeping yourself healthy and happy.

While working from home may sound like a good opportunity to stay in pajamas, it could actually hinder your productivity.

Alice, a communications director in health care, shared, “Get dressed like you’re going to leave the house. That alone can change your mindset altogether.”

She also explained the importance of using what would have been your commuting time to do something productive for yourself. “If you carved out 60 minutes a day for getting to and from your job, use that as an opportunity to exercise, meditate, or just drink water,” she said.

Spouses, children, and other loved ones can also support you in your work from home adjustments. This can include being mindful of anything they are doing that might be disruptive or problematic, such as noise levels from television or video games, or simply asking how they can be helpful.

When everyone shows interest in being helpful and offering to help, this provides a fair amount of relief.

Whether you are a seasoned work-from-home professional or are new to remote work, there’s no time like the present to prioritize mental well-being.

If you or a loved one is struggling to manage anxiety or stress, McLean Hospital is here to help. Call us now at 617.855.3141 to learn more about treatment options.