WFH Survival Kit: Combating Stress and Burnouts

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What comes to mind when you see the acronym “WFH”? Here are topics often associated with it, now in mid-2021: Anxiety, eye strain, sore backs, not sure what day of the week it is, and more.

For some, working from home means lower monthly expenses due to not having a commute and now eating at home; for others, a chance to spend more time with loved ones. However, to certain individuals having kids and relatives nearby can further add to the pressure that employees already have from their jobs.

Now over a year into this historical event, some unexpected struggles have surfaced for millions worldwide. Usually, work and home are physically separated. Hence people can draw a line of when to answer calls and work on tasks and when to rest and spend time with family. Unfortunately, for many, this brave new era has muddied the waters by doing both throughout the day. Results are longer hours into the night, less sleep, the constant stress of emails, and other downsides.

This article seeks to light two significant issues, stress and mental burnout, and ways to solve them.

Photo by Tetiana Soares

Stressed Out

Stress at work has already been a common occurrence before COVID. Once the 8 hours are up, they can relax and do other things for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, WFH makes this an issue for quite a few.

In terms of communication, 1 in 5 workers have work-related messaging apps on their mobile phones, which results in 49% answering emails early morning or into the night beyond work hours, a study done by Furniture at Work. Interestingly, 51% are replying to messages faster than usual to remind their co-workers that they are working, which is typically not done in the office. Another study shows that “…number of meetings increased about 13%, and people sent an average of 1.4 more emails per day to their colleagues.”

Just from these statistics show that workers are undergoing an additional kind of invisible and subtle stress throughout the day, which can easily mentally wear down an individual just in a few months, if not less.

Sleep-Deprived

Because communication is not as clear with text instead of face-to-face, the intention and clarity needed can also cause stress in miscommunication and potential conflict. Words can be taken the wrong way, and without facial expressions, body language, and other signs to look to, this can be a significant worry for many workers. And what does stress throughout the day lead to? Sleeping issues.

A “sleep, work, and COVID” peer-reviewed study done by Tuck has shown a 37% increase in sleep disruptions, and 47% that never had sleeping issues from stress are now experiencing them. Since the beginning of COVID, around 37.5% of respondents are getting a healthy amount of sleep. Stress isn’t just happening at the moment when things occur; it can also be active subconsciously, which wreaks havoc on mental health over time if unaddressed.

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Solutions

Terrible sleep, and already tired at 9 AM, and yearning for lunch break already? You are not alone. Some examples of WFH ailments include cynicism, increased impatience, concentration issues, lack of appetite, and more. Once these build-up to their limit, everything can come crashing down and end up with work-related burnout. Except, in this case, mixing things at home can be an all-encompassing breakdown if other aspects of personal life are also causing tension. Now, with all these considered, what can be done to address these issues, hopefully before it’s too late? There are a couple of steps that one could take.

  1. Take Short Breaks!

First, make it a routine to take short breaks throughout the day.

Eye strain from long hours in front of the screen plus not blinking often can lead to ailments such as headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, and more. For those that have migraines, scheduled breaks can also reduce the chances of occurrences as well. Medical professionals at Cedars-Sinai recommend looking into the distance at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes for a minimum of 20 seconds. After that, take time off away from the computer for at least 15 minutes for every 2 hours of screen use. Screens are also recommended to be at an arm’s length out.

These steps not only help with your eyes but also mentally as well; being focused on a task for extended periods of time, especially mind-intensive ones, can eventually lead to mental burnouts. Amy Morin, a psychotherapist based in Florida, explains how not having clear boundaries between work and home and working around the clock, everything being intermingled can contribute to burnouts. A team at Microsoft utilized EEG equipment to conduct tests on 14 volunteers. One test group attended four consecutive 30-minute meetings without breaks, and the other with 10-minute breaks with meditation. Those without breaks had higher levels of beta wave activity with the brain or waves that are associated with stress.

2. Schedule it Out
Next, stick to a schedule.

As previously mentioned, WFH means that the usual commute to work is no more, at most, perhaps walking from your bedroom to the living room. As a result, maintaining a consistent routine for when to start work, when to eat lunch, and when to log off for the day is important in separating between work and personal lives. When clear separation is made, it will be easier to focus on one or the other, instead of both mixing into each other from the moment of waking up to going to bed.

Just as a consistent sleep routine is necessary for your health, it is also good to apply the same concept to what happens during the day. Eating (lunch especially, if you tend to skip breakfast), although it may seem like a waste of time, is necessary to provide energy to power through the rest of the day.

3. Call it a Day
Lastly, switch off when the day is over. According to a survey done by Buffer, in a survey of 2,300 remote workers, over 27% considered not being able to unplug as their biggest struggle. Reasons for struggling to unplug could also be tied to the previous section with regards to not sticking to a schedule.

Other possibilities include not wanting to call it a day until something is done or to continue working into the night since they could not go out anyways. Set boundaries not just for work but personal time. Not having some time to yourself over extended periods of time can be extremely draining. After all, you’re human, not a robot! Once work is done, be sure to have time to yourself at the end of the day. Switch to “offline” or “away” for any communication apps, turn your phone on “do not disturb”, and so on.

4. Pomodoro Technique
A tried-and-true technique used by numerous professionals worldwide. Created by Francesco Cirillo, it is a time-management method developed in the late 80s. The word “pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian, which was what Cirillo’s kitchen timer looked like. These are the six steps:

1. Choose a task to complete.

2. Set the timer (usually 25 minutes).

3. Work on the task.

4. When the timer rings, rest for 5–10 minutes. This is one Pomodoro.

5. If within three repetitions of steps 2–4, repeat until you have accumulated 3 Pomodoros.

6. If three repetitions of the Pomodoro are done, take a 20–30-minute break, then repeat step 2.

In a way, this technique incorporates the first two suggestions above. The keyword to all these recommendations is “rest”. Be it in short or extended periods of time, rest is necessary for the mind and body to recharge. By taking things in “bite-sized” pieces, tasks are easier to be completed in both amounts of time and effort, just like you wouldn’t eat an entire steak in one bite.

Conclusion

As a result, from the examples provided, we can clearly see the ever-worsening issues of stress and potential burnout in the lives of millions today.

Backed by scientific research and medical proof, these recommended techniques are proven methods to help you work towards a more balanced lifestyle while still being able to provide the best quality of work that is needed, no matter what sector or position you are in. Remember, because we are all human, taking breaks, either short or long ones, or even a vacation, is essential to reset and tackle the next assignment, meeting, and more!

Sources:

http://www.bu.edu/wellness/five-healthy-habits-for-working-from-home/

http://hrnews.co.uk/wfh-paranoia-49-of-workers-send-emails-late-at-night-or-early-morning/

https://www.everydayhealth.com/self-care/how-to-cope-with-work-from-home-burnout/

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-work-from-home-still-be-productive/

https://www.eatthis.com/unhealthy-work-habits/

https://spacecoastdaily.com/2021/06/health-experts-sound-alarm-on-work-from-home-bad-habits/

https://www.themuse.com/advice/work-from-home-healthy-habits

https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/your-work-from-home-survival-guide-for-self-care/

https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/2072/9-ways-healthy-happy-telecommuter

https://www.idealist.org/en/careers/habits-working-home

https://www.tuck.com/sleep/sleep-work-covid-19-study/

https://www.vistage.com/research-center/personal-development/work-life-balance/20210407-burnout/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-03/the-pandemic-workday-is-48-minutes-longer-and-has-more-meetings

https://www.menshealth.com/health/a35537947/how-to-deal-with-work-from-home-burnout/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/working-from-home-health-tips#health-tips

https://www.wellandgood.com/work-from-home-brain/

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