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Work stress in the COVID era

5 Tips to manage stress and anxiety, and boost your wellbeing while working from home.

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Bailey Mariner / Verywell
Bailey Mariner / Verywell

With most of us now working from home, 9-to-5 workdays are becoming extinct. The boundaries of work-life balance are becoming increasingly blurred, and it seems like there is no escaping work. Deadlines are shorter, meetings take longer and are more frequent, and workloads seem even more arduous to manage. Some of us may also experience mounting pressure to prove that we are working, resulting in unconventional work hours. All of this can lead to burnout and elevated work-related stress and anxiety.

According to an article on Healthline, anxiety can have physiological and psychological effects on your wellbeing, including depression, frequent irritability, headaches, and stomach upsets, to name a few. It is, therefore, imperative to manage work-related anxiety, especially in this WFH (Work from Home) era.

Here are five tips on how you can manage work stress while working from home:

1. Have a designated workspace

A suitable workspace should be well-organized with proper lighting, ergonomically friendly, and solely for work. Ideally, a reading table or a separate room will suffice and not a dual-purpose location like your bed or living room sofa.

It may sound comfortable and appealing to work on your bed or couch, but its best to avoid doing that. Otherwise, you’ll begin to connect these areas with work and may succumb to linger on working or be unable to unwind when you are eventually able to stop working. Even in a small home or apartment, you should try to create work-free zones where you can escape from work. A separate workspace creates some mental distance and maintains your mental wellbeing.

Cheryl Eisen, Celebrity Interior Designer and Founder and CEO of Interior Marketing Group, emphasizes the importance of proper lighting in your workspace. She says that especially for those who work on a computer screen all day, lighting has a significant impact on mood and productivity. Cheryl recommends natural light and setting up your workspace by or close to a window. Where that is not feasible, Cheryl suggests LED lighting as an alternative because, in addition to being energy efficient, they create comfortable, clean anti-glare light.

2. Step AWAY from Your Computer

Try to take 5 min breaks hourly or between meetings throughout your workday. For me, setting an hourly reminder has helped to cement this habit. In those five minutes, I either walk around my house, do a quick meditation/breath control exercise, or I stretch. I have found that carrying out these small activities throughout my workday is a great physical and mental outlet to dissipate some of that stress and anxiety.

According to an article by pt Health, a leading network of community clinics that offer physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture services, taking stretch breaks at work can have the following benefits: improved flexibility and posture, reduced risk of soft tissue injuries and joint pain, and increased energy and productivity. They also suggest taking a moment after stretching to practice breathing exercises to help release tension.

3. Communicate with People

Christine M. Riordan, a provost, and professor of management at the University of Kentucky in her article for the Harvard Business Review shares that:

“Friends at work also form a strong social support network for each other, both personally and professionally. Whether rooting for each other on promotions, consoling each other about mistakes, giving advice, or providing support for personal situations, comradeship at work can boost an employee’s spirit and provide needed assistance.”

A work buddy — someone you can talk to about difficulties and pressures at work can play a significant role in helping you navigate work-related anxiety. If you do not live alone, you can also talk to the people around you. Sometimes just saying: “I’m worried I won’t meet this deadline” out loud to someone that cares/can relate can ease feelings of pressure. Sharing your worries/concerns can relieve feelings of anxiety and help you get through the day.

4. Drink Water. Then, drink some more!

At the risk of being mawkish, I’ll say this: drinking water and staying hydrated alleviates most things. Often, when work responsibilities become inundating, we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to eat and especially common, we forget to drink water. I am also guilty of this. But, I’ve found that staying hydrated helps memory retention, improves my concentration, and balances my mood and emotions. Since our brain is 80% water, it makes sense that drinking water is beneficial to brain function.

A clinical trial published in the National Library of Medicine has confirmed conclusively that even mild dehydration can compromise your mood, memory, critical thinking, and brain performance. Another study has also shown that dehydration causes headaches and migraines and, consequently, drinking adequate amounts of water can alleviate these symptoms.

So, have a headache? Drink water. Can’t focus? Drink water. Dizzy or nauseous? Drink water. And eat too, of course!

5. Establish a Routine

It is easy to let go of typical routines while working from home. However, having a schedule/routine, and sticking to it can be instrumental in abating work-related stress and anxiety. Elements of a daily work routine could include:

  • waking up in time to shower, get dressed, and start work at the time you would have when you were going into the office and,
  • maintaining your usual eating routine and self-impose lunchbreaks by actually stepping away from your computer to take a proper break.

The most difficult adjustment most people struggle to incorporate into their remote working routine is “logging out” from work. It is easier to switch off from work when you leave your office and commute home as the change of scenery serves as a mental off switch from work mode. One way to activate the off switch while working from home is to find an activity to add to your daily routine that signifies the end of the workday. It could be working out, going for a walk around your neighborhood, or switching off your laptop and cooking dinner.

There are proven correlations between having a daily routine and improved mental health. According to Salynn Boyles on WebMD: “Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine report that bipolar patients fared better when their treatment stressed the importance of establishing daily routines for things like sleeping and eating.” Whether you suffer from bi-polar disorder or not, a solid routine can help you cultivate positive daily habits, feel more productive, and reduce anxiety and stress levels.

While the idea of un-ending workdays may seem appealing from the viewpoint of productivity gains, these outcomes may be short-lived due to inevitable burnouts. Therefore, we must take the time to prioritize self-care and cultivate healthy habits and routines that promote our physical and mental wellbeing, which will, in turn, make us consistently productive at our jobs and businesses.

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