We are in the midst of a pandemic, and mental health is suffering. At Rehab 4 Addiction, we have received many calls from people who have seen their mental health impacted during the pandemic, and we wish to discuss the topic in this article.
One recent study found that ‘almost half (45%) of the UK population had felt anxious or worried in the previous two weeks’. 
One of the reasons for this is the huge number of people who have been forced to work remotely. The Office of National Statistics reported in April 2020 that ‘49.2% of adults in employment were working from home’, due to the pandemic. 
Why might remote work be having a negative impact on mental health? And what are some tips for staying positive when working from home?
Read on for answers to these questions and more.
Remote work had been growing in popularity before the pandemic, but it was still significantly less common than working at the workplace.
What has happened, therefore, is that the majority of the working population has had to readjust completely. People who were accustomed to working at their workplace have had no option but to start working from home.
This in itself is a major challenge. People like routine, and they tend to dislike change.
It would be one thing if everyone had suddenly decided, of their own free will, to start working from home, but what we are dealing with is a huge number of people abruptly being made to work from home without having any say in the matter.
This causes real problems for mental health. The majority of the population has had to adapt their routines completely in order to adjust to this new world order. When you have change, and chaos, it becomes more difficult to stick to good habits. You may find people eating less healthily and exercising less, all of which contributes to depression and poor mental health.
There are other challenges that go hand-in-hand with this sudden switch to working from home. One of the biggest ones is that many people do not have a good workspace in their home, and maybe forced to work somewhere that is not conducive to productivity, such as a bedroom, a dining room, a kitchen, or even a shed.
You may not realise it, but your work environment has a huge impact on your mental health. No matter how much you love your job, working in a dank shed will do your mental health no good!
Another issue is that people are finding it difficult to separate their work life from their home life. It is very easy when you work in an office to leave your job behind you at the end of the day. Things get harder when you are working in a bedroom, and the place where you sleep and relax is now doubling as an office.
When the whole family is working (or studying) from home, and the whole house is full, this makes it even more difficult. Noise can be distracting, and with a small child, it may be even harder to concentrate.
Unfortunately, this particular issue is probably exacerbating divides in society, since more well-off people are more likely to have larger houses and dedicated office spaces.
What are the solutions to these challenges?
The first challenge we discussed was the idea that people who are not accustomed to working from home have had to change their habits, causing anxiety.
There are a few tips we can give to help to offset this.
One is to maintain social forms of communication. Arguably one of the best things about working in an office is the sense that everyone is working together; this can make people more productive and give their work more of a sense of meaning.
To preserve this atmosphere it’s important that people continue to find ways to socialise from home. Whether it’s having a virtual coffee break, or communicating via social media, or simply calling up a colleague to have a chat about how things are going, keeping those lines of communication open is a great way to stay sociable and reduce feelings of isolation.
Another tip for those who aren’t used to working from home is to establish a routine. It’s easy to let your bedtime get later and later, or start eating meals at odd times when you don’t have the security of a workplace routine to keep you on track.
Writing down a routine with set times for meals, sleep and exercise will do your mental health a lot of good, because it reduces the potential for anxiety and increases productivity.
We also talked about the challenge of working in a poor workspace. There is an extent to which this one may be difficult to get around: if your house isn’t great for remote work, then you may just have to live with it. However, there are a few little things you can do to improve your workspace.
One is to buy a pot plant. Plants add a bit of colour and increase oxygen in a room. They also help to combat the feeling of being surrounded by technology all the time.
Another is to place your desk somewhere with natural light, ideally under a window. Getting a bit of natural light increases vitamin D reserves and can improve your mental state.
Finally, there is the challenge of trying to keep work life and home life separate. As mentioned above, it can be hard to maintain this line of separation when you may be working in a bedroom.
There are a few things you can do to minimise this. One is to always switch off your computer as soon as the work day is over. Resist the temptation to work at odd hours: this messes with your routine, and will ultimately make you less happy and less productive.
Also, turn off email alerts when you’re not working. Try to enter a different headspace when you stop working for the day. If you get an email during the evening, it’s best to leave off replying until tomorrow.
One final thought to close with: try to see remote work as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. It definitely has some advantages: less time spent commuting, more time to spend with family… See if you can use that extra time to do something creative, or to pick up a new hobby.
And remember, this won’t last forever. It’ll be something to tell your grandkids about, at least. And don’t forget to read our guide about online resources.