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Why Working Remotely Can Be Challenging When You Have Depression

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For the past year or so, I’ve exclusively worked remotely, freelance writing and editing for a variety of clients. But in the past few weeks, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) has swept the globe and forced employees everywhere into remote work, I’ve become acutely aware of how working from home has affected my depression and may affect others’ mental health, too.

If you’re an introvert or live with social anxiety, working from home may seem like a dream come true — limited social interaction and fewer reasons to leave the house — but when you have generalized anxiety or depression, working from home may present unforeseen challenges. Here are four reasons why working from home may be challenging if you’re living with anxiety and depression (and how to cope with the challenges!).

The Transition to Remote Work May Take Away Your Sense of Control

If you’re accustomed to working in an office and are newly transitioning to remote work, the transition itself may increase your anxiety and depression symptoms. “Going remote,” especially if it’s a sudden change, may decrease your sense of control and catapult you into feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. You may feel like you’ve been displaced from your home away from home and thrust into an intimidating new world, especially if your return to the familiarity of office culture seems far away. And if you’re living with depression, shifting into remote work could lead you to ruminate about everything you miss from working with others or even increase thoughts of suicide.

How to Cope

If you’re accustomed to working in an office and are newly transitioning to remote work, take inventory of your feelings. Do you feel anxious? Uncertain? Hopeless? Helpless? Afraid? When you notice yourself experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms, journal about your emotions.  Then, make a list of some healthy ways you can accept and cope with each emotion you feel. Refer to your “coping toolbox” every time you have a difficult workday.

The Unstructured Time Could Increase Your Symptoms

Remote work often provides significantly more schedule flexibility than traditional office jobs, but that unstructured time can also allow anxiety and depression symptoms to overwhelm your life.  Without a set physical location to arrive each day, it may be more challenging to get out of bed at a reasonable hour, shower and put on clean clothes. And without a supervisor structuring your day moment by moment, it may be easier to whittle time away trying to feel something, binge-watch your favorite show for hours to decrease your stress levels, or sleep the day away instead of checking tasks off your to-do list.

How to Cope

If you know that structure helps you manage your symptoms, try writing yourself a schedule that includes both work time and safe, healthy self-care time.

It May Be Difficult to Cope Without Your Support System Close By

If social interaction relieves your anxiety and depression symptoms, remote work may be even more difficult, especially in the wake of the Coronavirus.  Often, remote workers are forced to cope with the reality that their friends and loved ones have significantly different work schedules from theirs, which may make coordinating leisure time and seeking social support challenging.  But now, thanks to pervasive social distancing recommendations from healthcare workers, working remotely, especially in response to COVID-19, breeds even higher levels of isolation. Employees in all lines of work should limit contact with others as much as possible, but being in quarantine may cause your anxiety and depression symptoms to skyrocket.

How to Cope

If you’re struggling or find yourself numb after days of confinement without social interaction, virtually reach out to your support system. Using technology to access support can work wonders!

When You Can’t Immediately Reach Your Supervisor, Your Symptoms May Amplify

Working away from your coworkers and supervisor can easily increase your anxiety and depression symptoms.  If you’re a performance-driven worker, not having immediate feedback on the quality of your work could cause you to spiral into negative thoughts about yourself as an employee or ruminate about your perceived weaknesses until you hear definitive, constructive feedback. The communication delay inherent in remote work can affect your motivation if you have depression as well — it may be more difficult to persuade yourself to complete your work if you don’t know when you’ll receive performance notes.

How to Cope

If adjusting to not receiving immediate feedback is difficult for you, lean on your coworkers and friends for support. Sharing your struggles with others will show you that you aren’t alone and may even provide you with the feedback you’re looking for!

If your anxiety and depression are making remote work challenging right now, take inventory of the coping skills that are still feasible for you or use the suggestions above to make working from home a little bit easier. Depression and anxiety may make it difficult to work remotely, especially with the Coronavirus pandemic in full force, but if we access our coping skills and lean on each other for support in these rough times, we will make it through.

Originally published: March 21, 2020
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