The Ups and Downs of Unexpected Long-Term Remote Work

As the coronavirus disease continues to spread throughout the United States, more and more companies have asked their team members to work from home. According to data from Flexjobs, telework has become more mainstream in recent years, with 159% growth between 2005 and 2017. But when just 3.4% of American workers work from home at least half the time, many employees who have been asked to work remotely due to COVID-19 may have little to no experience doing so—or at least not for an extended time.

Whether you’re a first-time remote employee or a business owner looking for new ways to keep your remote team engaged, remote work comes with several mental health challenges. According to a recent study from The Lancet, the psychological effects of lockdown and social isolation can be significant, resulting in mental health problems ranging from anxiety and loneliness to sleep disturbances and substance abuse.

With more people adjusting to the remote work lifestyle, remote workers are left to figure out how to take care of their mental health at home. From sticking to a routine to setting up your remote environment, here’s everything you need to know to keep your mind and body healthy as a remote worker.

pros and cons of remote work

Burnout is real—but you can avoid it.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the risk factors that lead to burnout and poses a new set of challenges for both remote teams and frontline workers, including first responders, psychiatric nurses, and healthcare providers. With the immediate, unexpected transition to remote work, many remote employees have experienced blurred boundaries between work and personal life. While a blurred work and life balance don’t necessarily translate to lower productivity, it can pose a threat to your overall health if ignored for a long time.

Burnout happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed, drained, and unable to keep up with constant demands, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Burnout can also lead to serious mental illness and negative effects on physical health, such as heart disease, frequent headaches, a weakened immune system, and insomnia.

One of the biggest struggles of working from home is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. To avoid burnout, it’s critical to set boundaries and create a routine. For higher productivity, aim to wake up at a reasonable time, change out of your pajamas, get ready for the day, and create a to-do list of what you need to accomplish during the workday.

Additionally, limit your work hours and avoid cutting your breaks—especially your lunch break—short. Work on different projects to break up your workday, and, if possible, separate your home office from where your bedroom or living room. If your budget allows, consider renting a coworking space or working at a coffee shop to avoid disruptions at home.

Staying motivated can feel impossible.

If you’ve had a hard time finding the energy or motivation to work lately, you’re far from alone. According to a recent study, nearly 75% of remote employees admit that their productivity has suffered due to distractions related to home life and the pandemic. 

According to the 2020 State of Remote Work Report from Buffer, loneliness is one of the biggest struggles associated with working a remote job. To fight social isolation and stay motivated while working a home job, build a strong support system by reaching out to your remote team. 

Even if you haven’t talked to your coworkers or teammates in the past week or month, it’s essential to stay in touch—whether it’s through video calls, Zoom calls, or Slack comments. You don’t need to talk about the future of work, but maintaining social interactions can help you combat feelings of isolation. If you’re not sure how to get started, try hosting a virtual happy hour on Zoom.

We’ve all been affected by COVID-19 in different ways—you may have taken care of higher-risk family members, suffered from a severe illness, or felt the impact of COVID on your mental health. Building a support network can help promote mental wellness and higher productivity, according to the World Health Organization. If you’re meeting with a friend, family member, or coworker in person, be sure to avoid close contact, wear a cloth face covering, and avoid crowded public spaces to minimize the spread of the virus.

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There’s no better time to reinvent your career.

Between a more flexible schedule, no in-person meetings, and no morning commute, many remote workers have found extra time since adjusting to the remote work lifestyle. From picking up a new hobby to focusing on career growth, one of the best things about working in a remote role is the opportunity to pursue personal development.

For example, if you’re a freelance content writer, consider using your extra time to expand your niche and reach out to potential clients on social media. For creatives like graphic designers, learning new technology might be the next step in broadening your work options. For entrepreneurs, exploring new ideas is the first step to working your own schedule and making your vision come true. Regardless of your career goals, putting in the extra effort now will pay off in the long run.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

It’s important to set aside time to take care of your physical health—even if you’re working a full-time job. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and incorporate physical activity into your daily schedule. If local gyms are closed, try moving your workout routine inside using workout videos on YouTube or downloading a meditation app.

Your mental health matters, too. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 can exacerbate pre-existing mental health disorders. If you have a pre-existing mental disorder, prioritize self-care during this time. If you’re currently taking antidepressants or seeing a mental health provider, continue your treatment plan and monitor for new mental health symptoms.

If you’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, or emotional distress, explore online mental health resources or ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health professional. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.

Final Thoughts

Change is never easy, especially when it comes to routines. Whether you’re struggling to adjust to the “new normal” or experiencing mental health issues, don’t hesitate to reach out for mental health support services from a licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or mental health counselor.

With relaxed HIPAA regulations under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services enabling increased access to online mental health services, more people can enjoy the mental health benefits of online therapy. Because the quality of your therapeutic relationship can affect the success of your mental health treatment, it’s important to consider your personal preferences and put in the extra effort to find a good fit.

According to the American Psychological Association, some common treatment options and types of therapy used to treat mental health issues include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT, a type of psychotherapy, can be a helpful tool in treating mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and eating disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). During therapy sessions, your psychotherapist will help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors to work toward more positive mental health.
  • Relationship therapy: With difficulties adjusting to remote work, child care, and social distancing, the coronavirus disease has changed the way couples and family members interact. If you’re struggling with social isolation or strained relationships, family therapy or couples therapy can help you identify stressors and find the best way to move forward.
  • Support groups: Video conferencing has made it possible for counselors to safely host support groups during the pandemic. Support groups can be especially helpful in helping people of all ages overcome stigma after a coronavirus diagnosis, as well as for those struggling with traumatic stress, abuse, substance use disorder, OCD, ADHD, and chronic medical conditions. To find a relevant support group, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or NAMI website.

We’re all human beings—and it’s normal to experience a regression in your mental health during times of crisis. At the Therapy Group of NYC, we know how challenging it can be to adjust to remote work, especially given the uncertainty and stress surrounding the spread of COVID-19. Our years of experience as a leading mental health provider have prepared us to offer dedicated mental health services during this difficult time.

Although reaching out for help can feel intimidating, one of our qualified mental health professionals can help you explore mental health treatment options while making the adjustment to remote work.


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