It’s coming up to a year since we swapped office life for our working from home setups.
At first, lots of us welcomed remote working. Joggers suddenly became a workwear option and being home for deliveries had multiple benefits, not to mention the easy access to the kitchen snack cupboard.
But now, as we approach the year mark, the novelty is starting to wear off and the realisation that we haven’t seen our colleagues in the flesh in almost 12 months is setting in.
When will we be able to resume office life like normal? When can we finally stop working at our dining room tables? And when will Zoom meetings stop being a thing?
If you’re feeling stressed about your current routine, you might be suffering from working from home burnout.
Burnouts typically refer to exhaustion, cynicism and feelings of reduced professional ability.
So it makes sense that WFH burnout is now a thing – we’re tired of doing it for so long and disheartened that there’s no end in sight.
In case it’s all getting too much for you at the moment, we’ve asked experts to share how this burnout can be avoided, but also what to do if you’re feeling a little frazzled.
Create clear boundaries between work and home life
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder/co-CEO of My Online Therapy, says: ‘It can be tempting to answer emails from your bed and take calls after working hours. But this can quickly blur the lines between work and home life.
‘Many of us are finding this particularly tricky whilst working from home during lockdown, so be sure to set clear boundaries. Don’t take on additional work after hours and be sure you create a separate space for working and leisure.’
Physical spaces can help create these boundaries, so you have spots to work and then separate places to relax in.
‘Even if your office is now a particular corner of the room or a section of the kitchen table, creating a working space helps distinguish between work and home life,’ explains Dr Elena.
This is also important when it comes to eating lunch. While it can be tempting to dine al desko, try to sit somewhere else to eat your food.
It’s a good idea to pack away your equipment on your days off, so it’s not a constant reminder of work.
This is something championed by Dr Rachael Kent, a lecturer in digital economy and society at King’s College London. She says: ‘For those with no separate office space at home – this is a big deal.
‘Yes, it takes time on Friday night (or ideally every night if you don’t have much kit), but if it’s not visible when you’re trying to switch off, it creates a mental division between work and relaxing or family time.’
Take regular breaks
We can often (wrongly) associate being busy with being productive – but the two are very different.
Dr Elena explains: ‘You might feel like you’re making progress, but the reality is we can’t give our best when we’re over-stretched and exhausted. Productivity takes real focus, so be sure to take regular breaks throughout the day to stay recharged and refreshed.’
This is particularly crucial considering how much we are on our screens during lockdown – something we know can impact both our physical and mental health.
Therapist Jessica Boston says: ‘Make sure you take regular breaks for your eyes and every 20 minutes you look at a blank wall for 10 seconds.
‘Every now and then get up and go for a long walk, leave behind your phone or any devices that connect you to work or the information and just be at one with your thoughts and pay attention to them.’
Schedule in something daily for yourself
Just because we are working from home now doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun once the day is over. After all, we’d be going for dinner or drinks after work in the pre-Covid world.
Dr Elena says: ‘As well as scheduling work, it’s important to carve out time that’s just for you — whether that’s reading a book, going for a walk in your local park or woods or treating yourself to an indulgent bath. As much as you feel the need to work hard, make time to do things that nourish you too.’
Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword over recent months, but it really does make a difference to both our physical and mental health. So it’s good to make time for small enjoyable activities that will help you relax.
‘Downtime from work is crucial to maintaining good mental health and helping to prevent burnout. It is even more important whilst working from home. You need to give both the mind and body the opportunity to reset and recover during the working week,’ says Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, medical director at Bupa Health Clinics.
We all know how vital sleep is for our health. And if we are feeling ‘burnt out’ it’s especially important to help our brains recover and to improve our mood.
Jessica says: ‘To avoid burnout we need to rest. Not just getting into bed and sleeping but making sure the conditions are right for the best sleep possible – switching off mentally and technologically by turning off electronics an hour before bed, and shutting off from work and making time for meditation and reflection for what tomorrow needs.’
Create a plan for the day
It might sound simple, but a routine is the best way to help your brain process the day in a stress-free way.
Dr Elena says: ‘As humans, we thrive off structure. It encourages us to put healthy habits in place. And the sense of achievement we get from ticking things off our to-do lists helps us feel good about ourselves.’
Jessica advises going as far as to set alarms when your working day begins and ends – that way you’ll try to stick to it, rather than working into the evening.
She says: ‘If we aren’t keeping a strict eye, it’s easy for timings to spread. Make sure your working day is set including downtime and keep alarms to get you in the habit of knowing when to start and stop. Be strict with this until it feels like a habit.’
Of course, you don’t need to do the same thing every day as this will be monotonous. You can switch up the things you do – just try and keep the bare-bones structure of the day the same.
Switch off… properly
As much as our phones are great for offering distractions, they can be a hindrance when we are trying to focus on daily work.
‘Seeing your phone or computer flash messages all day long breaks up cycles of productivity and creativity,’ says Jessica.
She advises keeping your phone face down, turning notifications and training yourself to go for long intervals without checking. This will help you be in the moment with the activity at hand and feel less stressed in the process, as you’re not multi-tasking.
Make time to unwind from work
It’s worth acting like you still have an evening commute and to use this time to wind down from work – this will help you properly switch off for the day and feel less stressed.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, from Priory Group, says, ‘Both male and female patients tell me they miss the commute because although it was previously seen as a chore, it was (for many) a time to chill, to listen to podcasts, to unwind for two hours or so a day, away from the family and work.
‘Interestingly, they’re nostalgic about it. They don’t feel it was a waste of time anymore.’
Exercising can be a good way to do this – plus it releases feel-good hormones. Alternatively, reading is another great option.
Ask for help
Career coach Natalie Trice says: ‘No one is expecting you to work miracles when it comes to working from home and, if it’s not something you enjoy, remember that it won’t be forever.
‘If you are feeling overwhelmed, alone or stuck, asking for help is a positive sign – not a weakness. If you battle on making no changes, getting more tired and increasingly overwhelmed, burnout will be biting on your slipper heels.’
Speaking to your boss or your team could be incredibly helpful as they might be able to offer practical solutions to help your situation – but they won’t know unless you tell them.
To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join our Facebook group, Mentally Yours.
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