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  • Dr. Terri Bacow

10 Mental Health Tips for Coping With Work-From-Home Burnout

Working remotely can affect your mood, but there are steps you can take.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, work-from-home (WFH) rates have soared. Even as the pandemic has improved, many continue to work remotely. In fact, a good portion of recent college grads have not yet experienced working in an office setting. Since so many internships and classes were remote throughout much of their college years, the idea of going into an office may be unappealing or even a bit intimidating.

In my private practice, I have noticed that when a workplace offers a choice, some people strongly prefer the work-from-home option, while others crave RTO (returning to the office). Many people are happiest when a hybrid option exists.

Why is this the case? Happiness is correlated with how much control we have over how we spend our time.

Working from home brings great comfort and flexibility. Your commute is effectively eliminated. You can eat meals out of your kitchen and use your own restroom, and you can even possibly step out in the middle of the day to run an errand (or attend a therapy or counseling session in person or via telehealth).

Yet, working from home also comes with drawbacks. First, it can be isolating. You miss out on the camaraderie of socializing with office mates (live, not via Zoom). Humans are social creatures and many of us gain energy via social interactions. Office culture may provide a sense of belonging that comes from being part of a group, which can be invigorating.

Second, some people find that they focus better in novel environments (e.g., in an office), especially if they are surrounded by distractions at home (e.g., family members). Leaving one’s house provides structure and creates boundaries between home and work life, which can be essential for mental health and mood management. It brings to mind the New Yorker cartoon that asks, “Do I work from home, or do I live at work?”

Third, others find that when they WFH, the days blend into each other and there may be a sense of monotony. After all, variety is the spice of life. Remote work also requires a person to be mostly sedentary, and a lack of exercise and movement can impact one’s mood. With unfettered access to our phones at home, social media use can increase and, along with it, a sense of FOMO. Everyone else’s life looks great, and your self-esteem may dip a little.

What to do? Even if working remotely is working for you (no pun intended) the majority of the time, it is not uncommon to feel at least sporadically anxious or depressed due to the factors mentioned above. If working from home is your overwhelming preference or your workplace has mandated it, it is very important to be mindful of your mental health.

I teamed up with a fantastic career counselor, Pamela Weinberg, to offer some key guidelines for taking care of your mental health while working remotely. Pamela has 15 years of experience working with a range of individuals seeking help with their careers, from making a career change to finding a new job. I am a psychotherapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), an action-oriented and solution-focused approach. Together, we curated what we have found to be most helpful for our clients who work remotely.

If you feel that working from home has put you in a rut, consider the following:

  1. Give yourself a sense of structure. In the absence of the external structure provided by the office, we have to artificially create it. Make a schedule for yourself and be realistic with your expectations and goals. Commit to ending each WFH day at a certain time—boundaries are crucial. Go above, but do not go beyond!

  2. Make sure to take designated breaks. If it is possible to leave your home during your work day, do so as often as possible. Run out to do an errand or attend an exercise class. Purchase one item from the grocery store. Walk around the block. Behavioral activation is an approach to mental health that focuses on using behaviors to “activate” pleasant emotions, and it is one of the gold-standard treatments for depressed mood.

  3. If you are feeling lonely and isolated, call or Facetime someone. Make time to socialize with friends or coworkers that you haven’t seen in a while. Go out to lunch with someone or schedule a happy hour. Generate another workplace bonding activity. Often, we can’t wait for others to take the initiative and we must do so ourselves.

  4. Join affinity or employee resource groups at your company. This is a great way to meet people outside of your team and to expand your network while working from home. If the group meets in person, even better!

  5. Look to cultivate a hobby so that you have interests outside of work that will help you decompress. Join a running club, volunteer to walk dogs at a shelter, or take a painting class. Getting out of your home, away from your computer will help to recharge your batteries. Further, having something to look forward to and “mixing it up” are two key elements to maintaining both a good mood and a generally positive outlook.

  6. If you feel overwhelmed, this is a sign that a change needs to be made. It is an indicator that your work tasks should be broken into smaller pieces or that you need to be kind to yourself. Refrain from judging yourself and challenge negative self-talk.

  7. Keep track of your mood. Check-in with yourself and monitor your sense of well-being. If you notice your mood is tanking, do not ignore it or “white knuckle” through it. Take a mental health day. Consider speaking to a therapist, executive functioning coach, or career counselor.

  8. Get dressed every day. We all had our “Covid” tops and pajama bottoms for our 2020 Zoom calls, but that is a thing of the past. Getting “dressed” (even if in jeans and a shirt) will help that transition from “home” to “work.”

  9. Find a coffee shop or other spot where you can work that is out of your house. A change of scenery and human interaction can help pick up your mood.

  10. Ask your workplace if a hybrid option exists or if they offer a coworking space. Consider dipping your toe in by trying out a day in the office. Doing a commute can be tiresome, but the benefits may outweigh the costs. Above all, do what works best for you.

As compelling and comfortable as remote work is, our advice is, if you have the opportunity to go into the office, even for a day or two, give it a try. We have found that spending time in the office with colleagues, managers, and peers helps young professionals truly acclimate to work life in a way that working from home just does not. There is no substitute for that in-person connection; research shows that socializing with others helps promote your brain’s release of the chemicals oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

In sum, it seems that hybrid and WFH jobs are here to stay. Enjoy the advantages, and when you are feeling lonely or burned out, refer to the above list and give one of our suggestions a try.

Portions of this post have been excerpted from my book, Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry.

Blog as published in Psychology Today on 6/26/23.


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