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You’re working from home right now, which maybe you initially thought you’d love. But honestly, it’s getting pretty lonely being stuck in the house all day. Zoom and Slack chats somehow don’t equate to coffee breaks and happy hours with co-workers.
Working remotely is becoming more common each year, even in the best of times. According to an analysis of U.S. census data by Global Workplace Analytics, more than 3 percent of the U.S. workforce works from home at least half the time. That’s 5 million people who regularly spend their day sans commute.
Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this setup. Working from home certainly has its perks (like never having to wear shoes or pack a lunch), but it also has some pretty significant drawbacks — namely, it can make you feel pretty isolated and, sometimes, depressed.
Worried that you’re facing a bout of working-from-home depression? You’re not alone. Here are our best tips for combating those WFH blues.
If you’re starting to feel stir-crazy, that’s normal. “Working from home can definitely take its toll on mental health due to isolation and added stressors,” explains Salina Grilli, an NYC psychotherapist who specializes in helping high-achieving people manage anxiety and stress.
Grilli notes that when working by yourself, you miss out on the collaborative element of most office cultures. “When working from home, we often lose the human interaction, structure, and collaboration that we typically get in an office setting,” she says.
You’re also dealing with constant distractions: your mailman arriving, your dog barking, or your significant other asking if you’ve seen their car keys lying around.
“It can be a challenge to concentrate, which may impact your productivity and work quality,” Grilli says. “Over time, these factors can impact mental health and possibly contribute to burnout.”
Research shows that loneliness can have significant negative effects on mental health. It can affect your sleep quality, your ability to focus, and, yes, your overall health and sense of happiness.
Shared experiences make life richer, so it’s no wonder spending all your time alone can take an emotional toll. “Humans are wired to be social and to lean on others during times of stress,” Grilli says. “We want to feel connected to others, cared for, and loved.”
Without that frequent daily contact with other humans, it’s easy to get caught in your own head and for stress and anxiety to come to the forefront. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are having to adjust their daily realities in a pretty significant way, which can trigger mental health crises.
“Many of my clients with a history of depression have struggled to adapt to social distancing because they have not been able to engage in the types of social activities that help them feel connected and fulfilled,” Grilli says.
Loneliness can hurt your physical health too. A 2015 study found that social isolation, whether real or imagined, can increase the risk of early death. Your life literally depends on the company you keep.
Of course, isolation isn’t always the only reason for depression. “Depression looks different for everyone,” Grilli explains. “For some, depression can be triggered by feeling helpless and powerless over their life circumstances.”
Depression can stem from a variety of causes, including genetic predisposition, illness, or a bad breakup or other significant life change. There’s no one “right” way to experience or manage mental health challenges, and you should never be afraid to ask for help.
WFH depression could also be related to other lifestyle factors. If you’re working out less or forgetting to fill up on nutritious foods, you may start to feel sluggish and sad.
Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods can contribute to inflammation and decreased cognitive function. Sitting at your kitchen table all day and staying up late to watch TV probably aren’t doing you any favors, either.
To change things up, fill up on foods high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Get out for a walk or run whenever you can, and set a regular bedtime and wake time to ensure you’re getting enough rest.
There are ways to enjoy working from home, if you create a new routine for yourself. Here’s how to make the most of it.
Create a home “office” space
Working from bed might sound tempting at 8 a.m., but by 2 p.m. you’ll be feeling pretty meh. “If possible, avoid working where you sleep,” Grilli says. Setting up a home office will give you a sense of separation between where you need to get sh*t done and where you can relax.
“Over time, you will start to associate that space with work, and this can help boost your productivity,” Grilli notes.
Consistency is key
If you worked on a regular schedule in the office, there’s no reason you can’t do the same at home.
“Create a routine for yourself that takes into account your preferred working style,” Grilli suggests. “The key here is to work with, not against, yourself. For example, if you find that you are most productive in the morning, block off time early in your day to complete challenging tasks.”
Think of this as an opportunity to shift around your work hours and have your most ideal day!
Get ready for the day
Even if this means changing out of your pajamas and into a pair of daytime sweats, it will help you feel a sense of separation between when you get up and when you start work.
“This will help to differentiate professional from leisure and associate your outfit and routine with work,” Grilli says. Cute lounge sets are in style these days, so why not embrace them?
Use your breaks to get a dose of joy
Whether it’s exercising, taking a walk outside, pausing to meditate, or having a dance party in your kitchen (all of which are science-backed ways to fight depression, BTW), do something each day that brings you joy.
Then, bask in that happy glow when it’s time to get back to work.
Be gentle with yourself
Don’t push yourself to accomplish more just because you have more time in the day to get things done. “It takes time to adapt to change, especially if you are adjusting to working from home for the first time,” Grilli says.
Be open to adjusting your routine and taking breaks when you need them.
This is so important it deserves a deeper dive. Times are changing rapidly for many people, and with that comes anxiety, stress, and maybe a sense of grief. If you’re feeling a lot of feelings right now, try to process them without self-judgment or guilt.
“We have a tendency to compare our grief to others and to use this comparison to determine whether we can either deny or allow ourselves to feel,” Grilli explains.
If you find yourself thinking, “I’m upset about getting furloughed from work, but I guess I should be lucky to even have a job,” you’re being unnecessarily hard on yourself. “The second part of the sentence invalidates your own emotion,” says Grilli.
Instead, acknowledge your grief in the moment while also being grateful for what you have.
“You can start practicing this by replacing ‘but’ with ‘and,’” Grilli says. “For example, try reframing the above sentence as ‘I can feel sad that I got furloughed and am also grateful to still have a job.’ Notice how a simple reframe of your thought validates your emotions and keeps you grounded in the present.” Accepting your negative emotions can help you work through them more effectively.
You may be physically lonely right now, but you’re never truly alone. Call your friends, go for walks, and find ways to inject joy into your daily routine. You’ve got this.