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How working from home impacts your mental health

Reviewed by Monika Cope-Ward, LCSW

A man working from home while holding a baby.

Working from home has its fair share of perks. I love that my commute is nonexistent, and my office is designed just the way I like it.

People who’ve never known what it’s really like to work from home tend to tell me I’m “living the dream” as a remote worker. But that’s because they’re not looking past the comfy sweatpants and DIY schedule.

The truth is that working from home can be hard—and sometimes even downright unpleasant. Here are some of the risks that remote workers face every day.

Working from home can cause stress, anxiety, and depression

Each person’s job, work style, work environment, and personal life are unique to them, but everyone who works from home has some factors in common. Researchers have found that our mental health takes a hit if we struggle with loneliness, have trouble focusing on work, feel like we lack control over our work hours, suffer from poor sleep, or don’t exercise enough.1

It’s hard to separate work from your personal life

Though some studies have shown how remote work leads to better productivity and engagement, it can also lead to worse work-life balance and work satisfaction.2 This is primarily because the boundary between work and private life has become blurred for people who do their jobs from home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become common for remote workers to put in longer hours and feel like they always have to be available. The pandemic stress level also seems to have been higher for women, likely due to their experience of a “triple whammy”: having to work, take care of most household responsibilities, and be the primary caretakers for children.

It’s isolating

Working from home can mean limited socialization and long periods of being alone. This can be hard for even for the most independent or introverted people. Some experts suggest that loneliness is associated with high levels of stress and may be detrimental to work satisfaction and performance.3 If left unaddressed, social isolation and feelings of loneliness can lead to depression.4

“Zoom fatigue” is real

If you work from home, chances are you rely on technology to get your job done and meet with colleagues. Increased usage of Zoom, a popular video calling app that many companies have embraced in the pandemic, has also resulted in “Zoom fatigue,” meaning the tiredness many of us feel from joining so many virtual meetings every day. Research shows that this exhaustion may be tied to how much harder our brains have to work to send and receive communication signals in such an unnatural environment.5

Tips for staying healthy while working from home

If remote workers aren’t careful, poor mental and physical health habits can lead to other serious conditions like burnout, heart problems, obesity, and more. Here’s how to take control of your workday and find a better balance.

Start your day with a proper routine. The way you get ready for work can help create momentum and stability to drive motivation. Think of it as a launchpad that helps you start strong and improve your mood, energy level, and focus. For example, taking a shower, getting dressed, and brushing your teeth each morning may help you get “in the zone” more effectively than starting work in your pajamas.

Have a dedicated workspace. Reserving a room or a space in your home for work—and only work—can help you set boundaries between your job and your personal life. Ideally, this workspace is not in your bedroom or any other space where you like to relax.

Plan your day. Instead of having a mishmash of things to do, try scheduling time for specific work tasks, as well as time for personal tasks. This will also help divide your work and personal life, so it doesn’t feel like a never-ending workday.

Avoid multitasking. Studies show that multitasking is not only inefficient, but also detrimental to your mood and level of work satisfaction.6 Instead, focus on doing one thing at a time to help you finish each task faster and better.

Take breaks. Without giving your mind and body the chance to recharge every so often, you’ll become fatigued and potentially burn yourself out. Try taking a 5- to 10-minute break every hour to stand up, stretch, get a snack, drink some water, or rest your eyes.

Set limits for yourself. Working late nights and weekends can make you less productive because it violates work-life boundaries and gives you less time to relax and recharge. Schedule time off in your calendar, let coworkers and clients know when they can (and can’t) reach you, and turn off your work-related devices when you’re not working.

Stand up and move around. Sitting at a desk and staring at a screen for many hours a day is hard on your body as well as your mind. Combine break times with movement by physically leaving your desk to walk around, stretch, do a few yoga poses, or even dance.

Get out of the house and socialize. Try to leave the house at least once a day to get a change of environment, reconnect with friends and family, or even meet new people. It takes some effort and planning, but it can really help make remote work feel less isolating.

Managing the challenges of remote work

Remote work is great for creative and independently motivated people like me, but it’s not a utopia. The stress and isolation can feel overwhelming at times, even when you have the knowledge and tools to try and manage it.

Everyone experiences remote work differently, and some people find it easier than others. If your personal life is affecting your ability to work from home—or vice versa—consider looking for help from a licensed therapist. They can help you explore what’s going on and find effective strategies for improvement.

About the author

Elise Burley is a member of the editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.