Having a regular job during these trying times is a privilege, and even more so being able to do it from home. While I’m more than grateful that I have work that pays the bills, the reality is that it’s a huge adjustment from the regular routine of waking up early in the morning, clocking in at the office, and heading home in the evening to disconnect from the grind. This time, everything is happening in one place, and boundaries are blurred. It feels that there’s no clocking out, and the work just goes on and on and on.
A feature on Very Well says that while the flexibility of a work-from-home set up is much appreciated, it doesn’t mean that doesn’t come with its own issues.
“Part of this stress experienced by those highly mobile workers may be due to the fact that those who work from home face a host of challenges that are unique to this particular setup… However, a significant part of this stress is due to higher use of mobile devices, which is perhaps unsurprising in light of other research that connects higher levels of stress to the habit of constantly checking one's phone.”
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With the mobility comes the feeling of being on call 24/7, and while I love my job, I wasn’t careful about managing my personal time. Another thing that I didn’t realize I was struggling with was actually having to decide how to safely deal with all the tasks I had to do which I didn’t have to worry so much about before—an issue which experts call “decision fatigue.”
Journalist and Fordham University adjunct professor in bioethics Elizabeth Yuko says on BBC, “Normally, we’re not thinking about the ethical implications of ordering delivery or whether to offer to get groceries for your elderly neighbor. It’s this psychological stress most of us aren’t used to. We’ve never experienced anything like this in modern times. You have these range of decisions that go from borderline life-or-death on one end of the spectrum—and then snacks on the other.”
Psychologist Janna Koretz adds, “Information is constant: whether it’s about the pandemic itself, whether it’s about things you should be doing, schedules for your kids, how to work best from home—it’s just a lot of information.”
I knew that I was already burning out when I began to getting bitter about everything and I started making mistakes. A Forbes article reflected exactly what I went through then: I had difficulty concentrating, I felt cut-off from others, and I was getting more and more irritable at the smallest things. That’s when I knew I had to step back.
I asked for half the day off the following day and slept in. (I couldn’t ask for a full day then because I felt guilty—which is wrong, because rest isn’t something anyone should feel guilty about.) I took it easy when I timed in that day, and reminded myself that there’s always tomorrow to close unfinished tasks.
It’s also important to find an outlet. For some, it could be plants or books or cooking—anything you find enjoyable works. And don’t treat it like a waste of time. Previously, I would tell myself that maybe I could do work late into the evening to prepare for the following morning instead of sleeping early. I didn’t prioritize rest or recreation, and that really zapped me out so quick. Taking breaks should be part of any routine and should remain a non-negotiable: I learned that the hard way.
I had to remind myself that we’re in unprecedented times. No one could have imagined living through a pandemic. We’re all experiencing trauma in one way or another, which is why it’s very important to be gentle with ourselves (and that I should also start taking my own advice).
So if COVID-19 has pushed your company to create a work-from-home set-up and five months in you’re still adjusting, don’t worry so much. It’s happening to a lot of people. You don’t need to get it right and even if you’re already used to it, you’ll still get those moments when you feel like you just want to curl up into a ball and cry. Allow yourself time to find out what things will make the transition (and the current situation) easier for you. Set aside time to do nothing. Doing nothing is doing something, because rest is important. Lastly, remember that this is not forever, and this too shall pass.