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Sharp Health News

5 tips to help manage work-from-home stress

May 12, 2022

Woman working on laptop at desk

Eliminating a time-wasting commute, avoiding talkative coworkers and working in pajamas are among the perks many have enjoyed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But when your home doubles as your workplace, the boundaries between your work life and personal life can become blurred.

While many celebrate the flexibilities of working from home, the melding of work and home can take a toll. Stress has always been a factor in the workplace, but the pandemic changed its nature. Working longer hours and difficulty structuring the day are forcing many to feel the strain.

Stress may seem like a good motivator to power through your to-do list but left unchecked, it can contribute to mental and physical health problems. “Stress increases levels of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone,” says Dr. Kathy Head, associate director of occupational medicine with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Some concerns associated with high or ongoing cortisol levels may include weight gain, problems with sleep, and depression or difficulty focusing.”

Taking steps to prevent or lessen stress can promote a healthier work-life balance and overall well-being. Here are five tips for coping with work-from-home stress:

  1. Schedule movement breaks into your day.
    It is well known that exercise has numerous health benefits. Often overlooked is the positive impact that physical activity has on mental health. With its mood-boosting and endorphin-releasing properties, exercise is a natural stress reducer.

    Setting a timer to get up and move every hour or taking a walk during your lunch break are quick and easy fixes. “There are huge health benefits of incorporating even short movement breaks into your workday,” says Dr. Head. “Muscles do not become as tight due to change of posture, and physical activity can help with alertness, appetite control and general mood.”
     
  2. Set boundaries.
    Commuting to work creates specific boundaries because it gives your mind time to transition and get ready for work — or ready to go home. But remote work has made it easy to feel pressured to be available all hours of the day.

    It’s important to establish some healthy work-life boundaries for yourself to avoid potential stress. Making a rule to not check email in the evening, or not answering the phone during dinner are great ways to divide work and home life.
     
  3. Stock up on nutritious foods.
    One of the perks of working from home is easy access to snacks and leftovers in the kitchen. If you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for that bag of cookies in your pantry to curb your hunger. But some of your favorite snacks may not be the best option.

    “Sugars, sweets and processed carbohydrates often taste great,” Dr. Head says. “However, these foods can quickly make us feel empty and hungry again.”

    Instead, stock your fridge and pantry with nutritious foods. Fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats will provide you with a steady source of energy while offering the nutrition you need for long-term health.

    “Try a fatty fish such as smoked salmon for lunch,” Dr. Head recommends. “If you crave something a little sweet, turn to dark chocolate, which has much less sugar.”
     
  4. Establish a routine.
    There’s a natural cadence to working in an office. At noon, the smell of food indicates it’s lunch time. In the evening, traffic starts to build and there’s motivation to head home. None of these signals are in place at home, making it difficult to distinguish when the day starts and when it ends.

    Creating a routine can help you manage your time and focus better on your work. Try making a general timeline for yourself throughout the day. Simply scheduling calls, meals, stretch breaks and any other activities can go a long way to minimize stress.
     
  5. Create a dedicated workspace.
    Instead of falling into the temptation of working from your bed, set up a separate workspace for yourself. Creating specific work and home boundaries, even if you are just using a small corner of your home, can help you mentally shift from home life to work. The distance created by separating the space can let you focus on a productive workday and allow you to “leave” the office when needed.

There are many ways to reduce stress while working remotely. Dr. Head encourages you to figure out what works best for you and be sure to give yourself the care and attention you need and deserve.

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