Although 2020 is in the rearview mirror, there is no doubt we as a society are still adapting to the new normal. These days, it is very easy to want to return to some semblance of a former life, complete with socializing. Still, most knowledge workers won’t see a return to in-person interaction for the foreseeable future, with 1 in 4 surveyed saying they will continue telecommuting. While some American corporations might eventually evolve into a hybrid employment structure, many are turning towards a permanent telecommuting model.
While there are inherent advantages to working from home, surveys have shown that there is also a downside, primarily with regard to social interaction with others. The number one documented problem is burnout, resulting from an inability to unplug during free time. Loneliness and a lack of motivation also contribute to burnout, as does a less-structured environment throughout the day.
If not treated, burnout can lead to mental and physical implications, as well as severe productivity issues. The rise in the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, causes physiological changes that affect every aspect of the body, including the immune system and mood swings. One of the leading wellness trends for 2021 is self-care and spotting early signs of oncoming burnout. Symptoms might include feeling fatigued or anxious, lacking creativity, being unable to concentrate, feeling unmotivated, catching illnesses more frequently, or feeling anger or sadness. If you start detecting a recurrence of these emotions or behaviors, it’s a clear indication that you need to take a step back and make yourself a priority.
Unplugging is a great way to unwind and experience the real world, free of distraction. If possible, take a relaxing walk and focus on your senses. Forest therapy is an ancient Japanese mindfulness exercise based on the idea that humans were meant to spend more time outdoors connecting with nature in mind, body, and spirit. Companies have even begun scheduling wellness hikes and retreats to restore employees’ well-being. Still, as a remote worker, you don’t need anything but Mother Nature to reap the benefits of going outside.
Another way to avoid burnout is by performing a self-assessment. Write down a list of activities that are causing stress and then minimize the effects of each. Tackling the individual issues is less overwhelming than the list as a whole. Self-care also means self-compassion, so allow yourself to validate that you are stressed and give yourself the chance to address each item mindfully and without judgment. In addition to making some adjustments, be sure to use any available resources, such as team members, to help balance the workload.
Another way to avoid burnout is by taking care of your most basic needs. Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs is used in psychological circles to describe how categories of human needs dictate an individual’s behavior. At its base, physiological elements such as proper nutrition, sleep, shelter, and exercise are formed. More cognitive needs can only be met effectively if the base is solid. Love and safety are next, followed by self-esteem and self-actualization. If you feel burned out, review your basic needs and make sure you are providing your body with the tools it needs to survive and thrive.