Updated: May 7
Adapting to the new realities of WFH can be mentally exhausting and psychologically distressing for some people. Here we provide some research-based coping suggestions for those who are finding it hard to adapt to the new work situation.
Connection between WFH and Depression
In 2017, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions published a report suggesting that 41 percent of remote employees report higher levels of stress compared with just 25 percent of their counterparts who work in the office. With the extension of the Covid-19 shutdown, WFH is now the new normal for many. Although many have adapted well to WFH, the majority are struggling with this new work paradigm. How many online meetings can you sit through a day before you feel mentally exhausted? Thus, it is not surprising to find that there is a correlation between WFH and depression in already at-risk individuals. In this article, we like to share 5 scientifically researched ways to mentally and psychologically survive WFH.
#1 Avoid Social Isolation
Social distance but don't socially isolate. While you would not be able to meet friends and extended family physically, make the effort to stay connected to them through technology. Social distancing prevents the Covid-19 virus from spreading but social isolation triggers depression in those who are already at-risk. Family relationships that are strong will get stronger, but those that are weak will break leading to increased tension and stress in the house. People who are mildly or moderately lonely will miss the social interactions with colleagues at their workplace and feel more lonely and isolated when WFH. Actionable Steps: Use technology to connect with people as often as possible. For example, when it comes to socializing, you may not be able to sit in a restaurant together with a friend, but you can still have a lunch chat with them over video call. If possible, you should also schedule your get togethers at regular intervals eg biweekly Friday lunch catchups. This will make it easier to maintain the relationship, and saves time and mental energy. When working on energizing tasks like brainstorming and reporting positive news, do it through brief video calls instead of keeping all discussions to e-mail and text, so you can reap the benefits of seeing positive facial expressions. Within the family, social bonding activities can include: doing household chores or activities like working out, cooking, reading and watching TV together. You can also try introducing your hobbies to one another: inter-generational TikTok dance videos have become popular and can break the ice between different generations.
#2 Avoid Overthinking
WFH allows us time to slow down and reflect. The change of pace can cause many people to overthink about the negative impact that the prolonged isolation can have on their lifestyles. Many businesses have closed down and unemployment is rising as a result of the Covid-19 shutdown. Jobs are scarce and hard to find. This is the new reality for many people especially for those who are just coming into the job market. Instead of worrying and feeling anxious about the future, previous economic depression and downturns have shown us that the setback is temporary and things will pick up again once the crisis is over. Actionable Steps: Go through some cost-cutting measures, reduce expenses, hang on to your job if you have one and if you are looking for a job, look also at the job market from the lens of an entrepreneur rather than an employee. Be ready to take on jobs that you are overqualified to do and once you are employed, take the opportunity to slowly strengthen your CV.
#3 Avoid Addiction
It is easy when WFH to develop an addiction or to get hooked deeper into an addiction. The home environment is set up for members of the family to relax, play and bond. Thus, it is easy when WFH to cut corners and to indulge. Weekends for example are often about taking a break, spending time with the family and indulging in some activities as a reward for the work done. But when we stay at home 7 days a week, our work-life separation will start to blur causing us to wake up later than usual, to stay up later than usual, to eat more, to drink more and to exercise less. Many people put on weight during the MCO. WFH also makes it easy to postpone doing something work-related and instead spend the time binge watching dramas or playing computer games. Those who used to drink or smoke a joint at pubs after work may now start to drink or smoke at home, breaking a huge boundary that could tip a person towards becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict. Actionable Steps: Be self-aware, monitor yourself and do not allow boredom to push you towards developing addictive behavioural patterns. Try to keep separate spaces for your work and recreational activities. You don't need a lot of room to do this: it can be as simple as not working on your bed, and not watching shows while at your work table. Separate your work and recreation mentally as well, schedule set hours for recreation and take a short but completely work-free break if you find yourself struggling to keep working.
#4 Avoid Being Negative
You spend hours at home, you avoid going to public places that will expose you to the virus, you are bombarded with negative news and the growing numbers of deaths around the world, the stock market is stagnant and edgy, business is down... there are a lot of reasons to be negative but being negative is probably the worst state of mind to adopt during a crisis. However, being too positive is not helpful either. The best way is to remain neutral, rational and to balance your perspectives. Actionable Steps: Limit the amount of time you spend per day "doomscrolling" through the news. Keep in mind what history has taught us that there's always a rainbow after the storm.
#5 Avoid Being Lazy and Lame
Capitalise on the WFH period. Start a DIY wellness program for your own benefit. Actionable Steps: Eat a proper diet, exercise at home, get some direct sunlight on your skin every day. Rebuild relationships with your family members, clean up your house, do some gardening, organise your life better, set up daily sessions with a friend to pick up a new transferable skill together via online learning, set yourself up to succeed once MCO is lifted. However once you have done all these and you are still feeling depressed, anxious or worried or have developed medical or clinical issues e.g. insomnia, obesity, hypertension, heart palpitation, skin issues, nightmares, addictions... use this period to heal. Get professional help. Article written by Dr Lennie Soo 7/10/2020. Article most recently updated 07/05/2021.