3 Ways Working From Home Has Actually Been Better For My Mental Health
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I am absolutely not a morning person. I struggle to get out of bed and prefer late nights over the early hours of the day. So when my employer announced that they would start letting us work from home, despite all my anxiety and uncertainty over coronavirus, I felt relieved.
Prior to the pandemic, certain workers at my company were allowed a handful of days a year to work from home. Each glorious work-from-home day, I rolled out of bed nearly two hours later than usual, feeling refreshed. Maybe it’s just my workplace’s culture, but I felt less pressure to be “on” during my work-from-home days. I also felt less distracted than I did in the office.
Although more employers are warming up to the idea of telework, many still refuse to acknowledge the benefits, but in a post-COVID world, many employers don’t have much of a choice. According to a Gallup poll conducted between March 30 to April 2, 57% of workers reported they were working from home or offered flex time, a significant growth from 39% prior to the pandemic.
Of course, it’s an incredible privilege to work from home, especially in the middle of a pandemic. I’m able to self-isolate as much as possible, and I only need to venture out for essentials. I’ve kept my job throughout the pandemic and can still save money. With an unprecedented rise in unemployment rates, I am fortunate I can still get by without much financial worry. (It’s important to point this out because we should respect the workers who are literally risking their lives to save our economy, and the least we can do to extend that respect is to follow the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing.)
Working from home also offers financial benefits like lower transportation costs, less money spent on lunches, and not having to fill up a wardrobe with fancy clothes. All of these things are great, but in the past few months at home, what I’ve valued most was how much my mental health has improved from not having to go into an office every day. These less tangible benefits give me a sense of freedom from the daily grind of office life. `
No more commute.
Like many, I struggle with managing stress (I actually just booked my first ever therapy appointment!), and a significant portion of that stress is work-related. My job isn’t stressful per se, but my former two-hour daily commute certainly raised my blood pressure. Living in the Chicago suburbs, morning and evening traffic is maddening, to say the least. And as a surprise to no one, a long commute is bad for your health! Bumper-to-bumper traffic after a poor night’s sleep or a bad day at work would send me over the edge. I would regularly come home frustrated. Even if my day wasn’t that bad, I’d return to my apartment aggravated by merely sitting in traffic.
Without the two-hour commute, I’m not only prolonging my vehicle’s lifespan, but I’m also making myself healthier. Chronic worrying and stress have a number of negative health effects on people, possibly even a shortened life expectancy. Without the dread of heaving myself out of bed and plunging into the daily commute, I’ve seen a noticeable improvement in my mood and overall happiness. I simply have more time to myself.
I became more observant and mindful.
Each morning, as I boot up my computer, I notice a familiar chirp from a black-capped chickadee. It’s built a nest just outside of my apartment. It seems silly, but since I’ve been home more, I’ve started to notice the small things, like a hummingbird flying just outside of my window, a butterfly caught under the awning, and the same people taking an afternoon walk. Maybe I’m just lucky and have a nice picture window to stare out of, or maybe feeling more at ease has made me become more observant.
My husband and I have taken advantage of the lovely park that’s within walking distance from our apartment. There’s a wooded jog that leads into a quaint park with a few ponds where we regularly see people fishing and families of ducks and geese. Before the pandemic, we’d walk this trail maybe once every month or so. Now, we try to get out on a weekly basis, weather permitting. I even took a cue from Jenny Odell, the author of How to Do Nothing, and toyed with the idea of getting into bird watching. Now, each morning I wake up, I’m eager to hear the chickadee welcome me to the day.
I started reading more.
As I mentioned earlier, not having a commute has given me extra time to do things I want to do, whether it’s trying out a new recipe or simply shutting off my brain and doing nothing at all. Reading is one of my most treasured hobbies. By picking up a book or listening to an audiobook, I can turn off my thoughts for a while and immerse myself in another world. I value any time I have to read, and when I was working at the office, I would come home drained, not having enough energy to keep my eyes open long enough to read anything. In the past few months, I’ve plowed through books (and probably bought too many of them, if I’m being honest). If you’re a reader, you know having extra time to get in a few pages of a book is a treasure. With more time on my hands, I can pursue something that makes me genuinely happy.
Whenever the pandemic comes to an end, I think we’ll see a drastic shift in remote work. If people can effectively work from home, employers should seriously consider incorporating this benefit or at least allowing people the option to work remotely full time. The majority of people I’ve talked to who now have the ability to work from home love having that option. And who can blame them? It offers more flexibility, a better work-life balance, and generally improves happiness.
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