Coping with Work-Related Stress When Your Home Is Your Office

Managing stress can be a challenge when you work from home. The freedom from the constraints of working in a traditional office comes at a high price: Your living space ceases to be a haven from work-related stress. You, your tasks and assignments, worries and deadline pressures coexist in one tiny apartment. Your stress-free sanctuary now has begun to feel like a pressure cooker.

How do you escape workplace stress in your home?

First, it helps to identify some of the factors that contribute to chronic stress for remote workers.

  • In today’s always connected world, employers, clients and colleagues can reach us anytime, anywhere. This makes it difficult to shut out the pressures of our jobs. Those mobile devices that help us to be more productive are also adding to our stress levels by interfering with down time, making it difficult for us to rest and recover, according to “Working Anytime, Anywhere: The Effects on the World of Work,” a research report recently released by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  • Gadgets aside, many work-from-home professionals don’t know when to stop working. Therefore, we end up working longer hours trying to finish a project or get that one last task out of the way.
  • Remote workers don’t call in sick, we just soldier on and work through it. For instance, according to the report, 50% of teleworkers in Buenos Aires said that working while sick was one the biggest disadvantages of working from home.
  • Working from home often leads to isolation and loneliness. And those who feel isolated also are at higher risk of feeling stress and anxiety.

For home-based professionals, setting boundaries can go along way toward coping effectively with work-related stress. How? By establishing specific office hours, setting limits on how long you work, learning how to switch mentally and emotionally from work mode to relaxation, and making self-care a priority by scheduling daily personal time.

So how do you regain work-life balance in your home? The following are a few tips for managing stress during and following the workday.

Managing Stress During the Workday

Manage your time. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when your schedule is out of control. After all, it seems like everyone and everything is coming at you all at once and from every direction. You can’t seem to get anything done. Take an objective look at your task list. Is the time allotted to each task and activity realistic? Have you given yourself some breathing room in between meetings and activities? Try timing your regular activities for a while to ensure that you’re not underestimating how long it takes you to perform each task. You might be surprised at what you find.

Take plenty of breaks throughout the day. Schedule breaks at regular intervals. Set an alarm and force yourself to stop working when the alarm goes off — even if you feel like you’re working productively. In addition, taking part in some type of physical activity during breaks will get your blood flowing and boost your energy. Also, if you’re starting to feel stressed out, brief exercise will help to burn off excess energy triggered by your body’s response to “fight or flight.” For instance, try jumping jacks or running in place for two or three minutes. Take a quick five- or 10-minute walk around the block. If you can’t get outside, walk up and down the stairs or hallways.

Keep your workload in check. This is often easier said than done for many of us who like to accommodate requests from the people in our networks. Practice the art of saying “no” to coworkers who try to offload their tasks to you, or who try to make their deadlines your priority. If it’s your employer who is overloading your schedule, ask them to help you to prioritize your tasks. In addition, let them know how much time you’ll need for various tasks during a typical day/week. This way, they will begin to understand how long the work takes, and if they want to add more responsibilities, something else will need to shift or be removed.

Try a change of venue. Get out of your home workspace for a few hours and take your work to a cafe, co-working space or the library. Sometimes a change of scenery can go a long way toward boosting your productivity. If you’re used to working alone, being around others for a while can bring you some positive energy.

Feeling isolated? Meet a friend for lunch. No one available? Treat yourself to a nice lunch out. For the longer term, consider joining (or starting) a networking group for remote workers.

Set a time to stop working… and then stop. Working longer hours won’t improve your productivity, say the ILO report authors. Most noteworthy is that: “Productivity declines after you hit a threshold — usually about 50 hours a week — then it goes down pretty fast from there to a point where you don’t get any additional gain.”

Managing Stress After the Workday Is Over

Create an end-of-day ritual to send a signal to your brain that the workday has ended. Leave the apartment, shop for dinner, hit the gym or simply walk around the block. Office workers use the commute home as a chance to decompress and ease out of work mode. Home-office workers need to develop a similar routine.

Turn off all work-related notifications and alerts. Use a call management system to send your work calls directly to voicemail. Also, disable your work email account on your personal devices. Note: If your job requires you to be available for work-related crises, set up an emergency procedure with your team mates, supervisor and colleagues so they can reach you. Be sure to outline what types of contacts do and do not fall into the emergency notification category.

Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best approaches for long-term stress management. Besides contributing to your physical and mental fitness, exercise releases endorphins, therefore adding an instant boost to your mood and sense of well-being.

Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down at the end of the day is a great way to ease stress. It helps to release the negative or obsessive thoughts that seem to stick in your mind, nagging at you long after the workday is over. It doesn’t have to be a great piece of writing, since no one will be reading it but you. Just let your thoughts flow in a stream of consciousness, unedited form. Most of all, just focus on writing it down, getting it out, and then go do something more relaxing.

Spend time with family, pets, friends. Although it can be difficult to give your full attention to a family member, friend or pet when you’re stressed out about your work, concentrate on being present in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts stray back to work, keep pulling yourself back to the present moment, what you’re doing and feeling right now. Many times, we get anxious about something that may happen in the future or replay situations that happened in the past. Practicing mindfulness brings us back to what’s important in the current moment.

Schedule quality time for yourself. Everyone needs some “me” time. So, allow yourself at least 30 minutes or an hour a day to unwind and do something that you enjoy. For instance, read a book, soak in the tub, have a cup of tea at a sidewalk cafe, listen to music. Make sure that it’s a priority by putting it on your daily schedule.

Get a hobby. Hobbies are great stress relievers. We all need leisure activities that are fun and entertaining. Try to find hobbies that take you out of your apartment. Join a team sport like a bowling or volleyball league, or sign up for board games at a local comic book shop.

Incorporate aromatherapy into your post-work day. Find a calming scent — like lavender, jasmine or sandalwood — and make it part of your end-of-day ritual. Light your candle or incense, or bring out the essential oils, put on relaxing tunes and let the fragrance take you away.