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For years, alternative work environments have been all the rage. Estimates claim that there will be over 6,200 U.S. co-working spaces in existence by 2022, and employees from all across the country have been eager for remote work options — sometimes even in lieu of other kinds of benefits or pay incentives.
But now, much of the American workforce has been required to make the transition to working from home. Up until recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 29% of the U.S. labor force was able to work from home. Now, those numbers are likely a lot higher. But some employees (and some companies) have handled this transition better than others. And even if you have the infrastructure needed to work from your home, adjusting to this new way of life can be a big challenge.
American workers were already stressed out before the pandemic hit. But now that many employees are trying to maintain a work-life balance when it all takes place under the same roof, you might need some tips to stay both sane and productive during this time. Here are a few ways you can better handle your stress while you work from home.
Stick to a Schedule
If you’ve gained some newfound flexibility, you might be tempted to sleep in or take a leisurely lunch. However, deviations from your normal schedule can quickly spiral out of control. Before you know it, you’ll be forced to work late into the night or over the weekend to make up the hours. That can be harmful to your mental health and can make you feel as if you’ve had no time to recharge.
If you know you work well on a normal 9-to-5 schedule, try to emulate your normal routine as much as possible. That said, don’t try to force yourself to work when you know you won’t be productive. If you’re feeling distracted by your cluttered house or you’re in dire need of groceries, take care of those tasks and work your schedule around them. The important parts are holding yourself accountable and making sure you aren’t always chained to your computer. You may also benefit from waking up with enough time to exercise, shower, get dressed, and eat a full breakfast before you log in for the day. Not only will you be more productive, but you’ll also feel better overall.
Practice Setting Boundaries
Above, we mentioned that you should make sure to stick to a schedule — which involves setting boundaries for yourself. But you may also want to practice setting boundaries with others. This is a skill that many people work in therapy or with a life coach, which has proven helpful for over 70% of individuals who receive coaching and subsequently benefit from improved work performance and personal relationships. But if you haven’t set boundaries before, now’s a good time to start.
For one thing, you need to feel empowered to say “no” to certain people. Whether it’s a manager who’s asking too much of you or requesting you work outside normal business hours or it’s a friend who wants to invite you to a video chat in the middle of the day, politely but firmly saying no will ensure you’re prioritizing your needs and protecting your energy. You should also communicate clearly and with compassion to both business associates and family members alike what you need and how your situation has changed. If you’re now responsible for homeschooling your children, for example, or you need to establish some privacy during the day in order to get work done, you have every right to express what needs to change and be firm about having others respect those boundaries. You may even request not to talk about work in the evening to help you stay mindful and as zen as possible.
Limit Your Mobile Device Use
For many of us, the internet represents our major news source. And with so many new developments emerging by the minute, it makes sense that you’d be glued to your phone. But it’s a good idea to set some limits for yourself pertaining to your use of the internet, social media, and any mobile devices. Not only can this activity be a source of stress, but it can also disrupt your sleep. While you can certainly check in a few times a day, try not to endlessly scroll — and definitely restrict your use before bedtime so you can wind down and get a good night’s rest.
Take a Break When Necessary
While it’s a good idea to stick to a routine, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any wiggle room. No one is working at 100% productivity levels right now — and it’s best not to fight it. One study found that employees who “grind it out” at work experience more stress at home and at work than those who take sanity breaks. You can build mini-breaks into your work schedule, take a long walk during lunch, or make use of your paid time off and take a mental health day. Even stepping away from your desk for a five-minute stretch session can do wonders. There are apps you can use to remind you to take a break or change your position, which can alleviate the possibility of spending hours in front of a screen without a breather.
Establish a Post-Work Ritual or Reward
If you normally commute to and from an office or you schedule after-work dinner and drinks with friends, you may no longer have a way to separate your work life from your personal life or to unwind after a long day. While bars and restaurants may be closed and you aren’t commuting right now, you can still celebrate the end of a day and reset your brain. After the workday is over, make a ritual (like meditating, working out, spending time outdoors, dancing around to music, or watching an episode of a show you love). You can also reward yourself with a small treat (like a sweet snack, a bouquet of flowers, or by placing an online order with a local business) to keep you motivated to get through each day. You can even use this tactic after reaching each goal throughout the day or for completing a larger project at the end of the week. This can keep you focused on the prize (literally!) and allow you to focus on the positive aspects instead of the stress you feel.
Ultimately, no job is ever going to be stress-free. And while it might seem like working from home can be relaxing — after all, you can do it in your pajamas! — there are a host of new challenges you’ll need to contend with when working remotely. By keeping these stress relief tips in mind, you’ll have an easier time adjusting to this new normal and keeping feelings of work-related anxiety at bay.