Remote work has improved the lives of millions of employees across the nation. Folks who work from home enjoy greater freedom over their daily schedule and save heaps of cash on commuting costs.
But what impact might remote work have on our health? At first glance, remote work appears to be a boon for fitness enthusiasts and folks who never had time to visit the gym. However, as we slip into habits of inactivity and overwork, it may be that working from home harms our health and well-being.
There’s no doubt that remote work was, at first, good for employees’ mental health. Those of us lucky enough to work from home enjoyed spending more time with our families and used the extra time to join fitness groups or go on walks with loved ones.
However, after a while, people who work remotely may begin to cut down on outside activities and experience a sense of isolation and loneliness. This is particularly true for people who live and work on the road. Nomadic remote workers have to be particularly careful to keep tabs on their mental health, as it’s easy to become dissociated and overwhelmed without a community or support network.
Fortunately, it is possible to beat loneliness when working from home. Visiting a nearby coworking space can give remote workers a sense of community, and working in coffee shops and cafés is increasingly popular. Folks who are struggling can also find support in the form of telehealth services like those offered by BetterHelp and Talkspace.
Remote work was originally hailed as the working model for folks who wanted to live more active, healthy lifestyles. However, research from the University of Stanford shows that activity levels decrease when folks work remotely. This is because few people use their newfound leisure time to get moving, and spend most of their workdays shuffling between their desk, the kitchen, and the couch.
Reduced activity levels from remote working are having unexpected effects on our health. Remote workers are suffering from hip misalignments and poor posture from hours spent sitting down every day. Folks who work with keyboards are also likely to suffer from tennis elbow and sleep disorders due to time spent in front of screens.
Of course, the solution to low activity levels is simple: move more often. But, for many remote workers, that simple command is hard to follow. Instead of feeling guilty, remote workers who struggle to move should be kind to themselves, and focus on starting with small changes like standing up every 30 minutes, or completing gentle yoga flows a few times per week.
Office workers have always suffered from some form of chronic pain. This usually comes from sitting at a desk with poor posture for lengthy periods. Unfortunately, this trend doesn’t improve when workers are transplanted from their offices to their homes — it may even get worse.
The aforementioned reduction in activity levels means that millions more workers are now sitting for lengthier periods with poor posture which is a common contributor to chronic pain. Bad posture can cause muscle strains and tension headaches, and can worsen digestive issues.
Seeing a doctor can help alleviate chronic pain and improve posture. Medical professionals can spot the underlying cause of poor posture and suggest treatments. Additionally, remote workers can take better care of themselves by using an ergonomic keyboard and desk while taking regular breaks to stretch and move their bodies.
Remote work was meant to free us from overbearing work schedules and renew our love of leisure. However, for many people, the temptation to “check a few emails” quickly turns into habitual overworking as the boundaries between being at home and being at work become blurred.
Overworking is particularly challenging for folks who work in project-based roles. Upcoming deadlines are easy to compartmentalize when workers leave the office and are at home, but it’s all too easy to get a little extra work done on a major project when the office is just a few feet from the couch. Unfortunately, this will only lead to heightened stress and increased isolation.
Folks who routinely overwork should take a deep dive into their work habits. Some people may have taken on too much responsibility during the pandemic and are now struggling to keep up with demand. Others may find that they’re using work to cover up other issues like depression and loneliness and should get help by speaking to a therapist and actively pursuing activities that exist outside of work.
Remote work is a blessing and a curse. Some folks have found that remote work gives them the time they need to exercise, eat more healthy food, and socialize with friends. For others, remote work has added to previous issues like isolation, overworking, and chronic health conditions. The key is to be intentional about the way we work, and seek help if the challenges remote workers face seem insurmountable.
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.
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