COVID-19 has changed life for everyone in one way or another, but it has probably changed how we work the most. During this pandemic, it’s been estimated that more than 60% of the U.S. workforce has worked from home. As entrepreneurs, many of us were already accustomed to working at home, but we can’t even hang out at the local coffee shop with our laptops anymore.
Working at home during a pandemic can be stressful and isolating, and this can lead to an array of mental health issues. Plus, many of us become so consumed with work that we neglect self-care. We become too sedentary and do not eat as we should. Let’s examine some of the most common health problems that we face as we work from home, whether we are new at this or have been doing it for a long time, and things that we can do to prioritize our health during these uncertain times.
Make Mental Health a Priority
The COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and abruptly working from home have led to conditions that are detrimental for our mental health:
- Many of us are scared that we or someone we love is going to get ill.
- New working conditions and schedules have interfered with our sleep and have made it more difficult to concentrate.
- We are isolated for long periods of time, causing loneliness in many people.
- Those of us with chronic illnesses and mental health conditions have not been able to see the doctor or attend in-person counseling.
- Some of us are having problems separating our work and our personal lives.
These conditions have led to depression, stress, and anxiety and have contributed to some resorting to drugs or alcohol to cope. There are things that we can do, however, to make our mental health a priority:
- During your lunch break and when you quit for the day, go someplace else. Get away from your workspace, work computer, and phone.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. When it’s time to quit, don’t be tempted to keep working. Quit.
- Use technology and social media to keep in touch with others. Use video to see other’s faces so you can make a better connection with them.
- Show kindness to others in the community who may need help. Being kind to others will increase your own sense of purpose and well-being.
- Take advantage of telehealth options to connect with your doctor or mental health counselor.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation to relieve stress and anxiety. There are many meditation apps available to help you.
By following these suggestions, you can prioritize your mental health and counteract many of the mental health concerns that can arise from working at home, regardless of whether you are under a stay-at-home mandate or not.
Get Up and Move
Another problem that many of us have is that we are way too sedentary. Simply put, we sit way too much, and it’s been linked to many health issues. In fact, Dr. James A. Levine, M.D., coined the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking,” and numerous studies have been performed that support his claim. An American Cancer Society study, for example, revealed that men who sit for six or more hours a day have a 20% higher death rate than men who sit for less than three hours. For women, the numbers were even worse, with the more sedentary women having a 40% higher death rate.
Getting up and moving can be hard when you work on a computer all day. There are things that you can do, however, to get up and moving a little more often:
- Take frequent breaks and get outside. Ride your bike or take a quick stroll. The exercise and fresh air will do you good.
- Download a fitness or yoga app on your smartphone.
- Create a short playlist on YouTube and dance or exercise to the music.
- Put exercise equipment like hand weights or resistance bands within reach of your desk, so when you get up from your desk, you are tempted to use them.
- Purchase a standing desk.
- Schedule exercise time into your day.
With a little bit of foresight and planning, you can get up and move, even when you work at a desk or from your couch at home.
Focus on Diet
Diet is a concern for most Americans, regardless of whether they are working from home or not. Nearly 80 million adults in the U.S. are obese. Americans eat foods that contain large amounts of saturated fat as well as too much sodium and sugar. In addition to obesity, a poor diet can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol which can greatly increase our risk for heart disease and stroke. A poor diet may even increase our chances of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Processed foods including potato chips, granola bars, cookies and crackers, and frozen dinners are easy to grab when you’re sitting at your desk and get the munchies, but with a little bit of effort, you can greatly improve your diet while working from home:
- Set times to stop and eat meals, just like you would if you were in the office. Eat breakfast by 9 a.m. and lunch around noon, and plan time for snacks if you’re going to work for a while in between meals.
- Go shopping on the weekend and purchase healthy meal items that are easy to prepare. Instead of traditional snack items, buy nuts, and fresh fruit. Instead of buying presweetened granola, make your own.
- Limit how often you order from Grubhub or Doordash. Fash food is usually filled with large amounts of fat and sodium.
- Learn to read nutrition labels. Pay attention to the serving size and how much saturated fat, sugars, and sodium foods have. Many foods have more sugar, salt, and preservatives than you think they do.
- Stay well hydrated. Sometimes, you may think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty. Keep a bottle of water by your desk or write yourself a sticky note reminding yourself to drink.
Healthy eating is important, and it is often neglected when you’re working from home. Some of these suggestions may require a little bit of self-discipline, particularly when mid-day tiredness, boredom, and hunger hits, but it’ll mean a world of difference to your overall health.
Working at home may be necessary right now, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it comes with its own array of health challenges. It is important, however, that you prioritize your health while working from home. Using these suggestions, you can maintain your mental and physical health, no matter if you are new at working from home or if you’ve been doing it for a long time.