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5 Signs Remote Work Stress Is Getting Under Your Skin

Different people respond differently to remote work life. Don’t beat yourself up for your reaction to a unique and challenging situation.

Change is hard. New jobs, relationship struggles, and worldly stressors can all contribute to feelings of unhappiness and exhaustion.

Right now, many people are experiencing all these challenges at once. Companies have pushed their entire workforce into remote life, without a hint of remote readiness. News outlets keep a 24/7 vigil of frightening news on a loop. Friends and family can’t visit one another for fear of spreading the infection, and even couples who get along well argue more than usual in the isolation of quarantine.

Not even longtime remote workers are safe. In the past, people who worked from home could at least go to happy hour after work. Now, everyone working from home must do so with the added weight of virus-induced isolation.

If you find yourself struggling to cope, you’re not alone — and it’s not your fault. Millions of people around the world are tired of trying to maintain a sense of normalcy right now. Watch for these signs that you’ve had enough, and if you see a pattern, take steps to give yourself the space you need to recover.

You don’t find quarantine jokes funny.

When companies first sent their workforces home, many people felt at least a little relief that they would have more downtime. For some, that wish came true. For others, remote work during quarantine has turned into one long, never-ending workday.

When you see jokes about people with too much time on their hands, do you laugh along, or do you wonder what it would be like to have a single stress-free moment? If you fall into the latter camp, you may be experiencing remote work burnout. This happens frequently to people who struggle to set boundaries between work and home life, a struggle that gets tougher when work life and home life share a physical space.

Talk to your boss about communication expectations, like when you can respond to emails. Leave your desk a few times per day, even if only to hang out in the break room/kitchen.

You procrastinate on work you used to enjoy.

Part of working effectively is maintaining a schedule. Your colleagues and managers depend on you to do your work on time, and you have all the skills and experience you need to deliver. Why, then, do you keep putting off work that doesn’t take much effort to finish?

Procrastination is a common sign of burnout. People who experience work-related fatigue experience a constant hum of stress under the surface, which they attempt to avoid by distancing themselves from their work. Ironically, this only makes stress worse by turning manageable deadlines into emergencies.

Ask yourself whether you’ve been running tighter on deadlines than usual. Maybe the added complications of quarantine have slowed you down, but if you find yourself looking for excuses to delay work, you may need to make changes. Try setting a series of timers on your phone to build breaks into your day. Set more than you think you need at first, then evaluate how you feel as the days pass.

You get snippy with others who live with you.

Living with a partner or roommate during quarantine has its perks, but it carries real drawbacks as well, even for people who love each other. Your “work mode” may not gel with how your cohabitants conduct business. Some people have suddenly begun working at home next to newly unemployed roommates, which can be a recipe for disaster.

Before you bite your partner’s head off for leaving dishes in the sink or scold your roommate for making too much noise, ask whether you’ve explicitly set boundaries. Others in your home may not recognize how their behavior impacts you unless you bring it up first.

If others in your home are working, create separate spaces to avoid stepping on one another’s toes. Invest in some noise-canceling headphones and a music streaming subscription to create some distance from in-home distractions.

You never feel like your work is done.

Normally, you can’t work outside of work without making a deliberate choice to do so. After you leave the office, you have to make a whole series of choices and physical movements to start working again when you get home. In a work-from-home environment, your work is never more than a few steps away. You can keep working on projects and answering emails from sunup to sundown.

This constant state of connectivity can create an anxiety loop in which you never feel like you’ve done enough. Break the cycle before it starts by creating and following a “going home” routine. Pack up your laptop, and stow it out of sight when you sign off. Put your papers into folders instead of leaving them on the desk.

It may take longer to set up in the morning, but you’re already saving time on your commute. Teach yourself to go home from your remote workstation to avoid feeling tethered to it.

You start letting chores and personal care slip.

As anyone who has worked from home for a long period of time can attest, it’s easy to let the life of sweatpants and 7:55 a.m. alarms get to you. Casual working arrangements without established expectations of dress and decorum make the temptation to slob it up that much stronger.

You don’t have to dress to the nines to impress your colleagues through your webcam, but do yourself a favor — be more deliberate about how you dress. On days when you put your head down and grind out a ton of work, you may want to wear something comfortable. If you have a lot of meetings, use the opportunity to dress up a bit and experiment with style choices. 

Beyond clothing and self-care, put housecleaning on the schedule a few times a week to ensure your work mess doesn’t become your life mess. Just 30 minutes every other day should be plenty to keep your workspace and home looking sharp.

When companies begin to welcome employees back to the office, will you rush to be the first one to your desk or petition your manager for a permanent home office arrangement? Different people respond differently to remote work life. Don’t beat yourself up for your reaction to a unique and challenging situation. Watch yourself for signs of burnout, keep in touch with friends and family, and be willing to act in your own best interests if you need to take a breath.

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