As workplaces across Australia encourage their employees to work from home, it’s important to take a moment to consider the impact this could have on mental health.
Amid the surge in Australian coronavirus cases, health authorities have advised we practice social distancing in order ‘flatten the curve’ and slow the rate of transmission, and this has led to more people working from home as companies take initiative to curb the spread.
As such, those who are in a position to work from home are being strongly urged to do so.
Acting in accordance with the advice of health authorities is no doubt the most responsible thing to do right now. But in doing so, we need to be aware of the toll working from home and social distancing can take on our mental health.
To help maintain good mental health in these complicated times, 10 daily reached out to a experts Julie Sweet and Amanda Gordon for their advice.
According the clinical counsellor and psychotherapist Julie Sweet, the psychological impact of working from home will vary widely from person to person.
“For some people the psychological impact upon their mental health can be detrimental and extremely frightening to the individual. For others, the impact can be minor,” Sweet told 10 daily.
The psychotherapist explained that the mental health risks of working from home for two or more works increase greatly for the more vulnerable members of our society.
“Even though the psychological impact is understandable, some cohorts and population groups are susceptible to being more vulnerable than others when it comes to the enormity of the impact they sustain.”
Sweet continued, “People who are isolated or who lack connectivity in their lives or who already suffer from a preexisting condition or predisposition to depression or anxiety or even PTSD, can be at greater risk.”
Amanda Gordon, clinical psychologist and director of Armchair Psychology, adds that those who live alone are most likely to experience feelings of isolation while working from home.
“There are some people for whom their real social connection is through their workplace. That’s perfectly reasonable and legitimate. But it does mean if you don’t have your workplace, you risk social isolation,” Gordon told 10 daily.
She explains that even if time with your coworkers is vital for your mental health, there are a number of ways you can manage that while working from home.
No matter your situation and background, it’s important to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible during this complicated process. The experts recommend you try implementing the following tips:
Maintain contact with friends and co-workers
Gordon recommends a number of ways to stay social and interactive with your friends and co-workers beyond the office.
“Don’t just text or email your colleagues, have telephone conversations with them. Perhaps even organise lunch breaks with them or FaceTime them, rather than just texting when it’s a ‘work thing’,” she said.
Beyond the important friendships and social stimulation we can experience when keeping in contact with our co-workers, it’s also very important to keep them in the loop with your workload.
Gordon believes that an effective way to battle feelings of isolation is to stay as stimulated and productive as possible. But also outlines that on the flip side, we need to be confident in communicating to our co-workers when we’re feeling overwhelmed.
“If you’re at home, you don’t have that ease to say ‘I’m overloaded, this is too much for me, can I hand it over?’,” she said.
You have to take responsibility for yourself and stay in contact with your manager.
“If you’re the manager, stay in touch with your team and ensure that they’re okay. Talk to them and check out how they are, say hello — don’t just check out how their project is going.”
Communicate openly and externalise your feelings
For Sweet, speaking up about your mental health is paramount.
“Share your fears with someone, anyone, from a trusted co-worker, to your closest friend, to your partner, or a professional. A burden shared becomes a lighter load to carry, so vulnerability is crucial when a momentary and fleeting feeling, becomes ongoing and chronic,” she said.
Sweet explained that a change in environment, like suddenly working from home, can activate an array of emotions.
It’s healthy to talk about it and to externalise our feelings. Basically, get out what lies within.
“It’s positive to identify the feeling and express it, giving a name to it.”
Sweet continued, “this may seem basic communication 101, though some can shut down in crisis and can feel flooded, creating them to become immobilised. Self awareness, insight and self care is paramount so needs can be met. Even more so when people transition from a collective team backdrop at work, to working from home often autonomously.”
According to Gordon, “the best protector of mental health is exercise.”
She explained, “often we get our exercise before we go to work or when we come home. And if you’re not going out to work, you might forget to take that time to yourself to exercise.”
If you are in quarantine, the clinical psychologist said that you must exercise in your home. But if you are working from home just to take precautions, there are a number of ways you can keep up your fitness.
“Get out and about and go for a run or jog or walk. Even see if a friend can work with you. Even though you’ll be apart a safe distance, you’re one and a half metres from each other, you can still exercise.”
Recognise the signs and seek clinical support quickly
Whether you take on the above recommendations or not, poor mental health can still affect anyone. This is why Julie Sweet stresses the importance of seeking clinical support, “whether it’s counselling, or psychotherapy, [it] can be hugely beneficial for many, as they navigate these new uncharted waters.”
By staying hyper aware of your own mental health and recognising your triggers, you can tackle the problem in its early stages.
“Early intervention is vital and it’s encouraged that the moment people feel charged, triggered, increased anxiety or panic, its in their best interest to contact professional healthcare and psychological supports services immediately,” said Sweet.
Amanda Gordon is a clinical Psychologist at Armchair Psychology, located in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. If you would like to speak to Amanda or one of our team, please reach out for tips on coping with the pressures of working from home.