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Expert says… Work-from-home burnout is real

Angeli Ortiz loved the flexibility telecommuting afforded her when their office decided to allow it because of the pandemic. The time she used going to and from work was spent for rest or more productive activities. She thought she had more time to pursue other endeavors or learn new things.

That was the case three months ago. 

WORK BREAK. Anxiety, stress, and day-to-day activities and pressure from work can potentially lead to burnout, according to a psychiatrist.
WORK BREAK. Anxiety, stress, and day-to-day activities and pressure from work can potentially lead to burnout, according to a psychiatrist.
Four months into this set-up, Ortiz, a junior auditor for a multinational company based in Taguig, finally felt exhausted, physically and mentally. 

“At first I felt like I was working longer, then when I recorded my time—including answering to emails past office hours—I realized I really was,” relates Ortiz, who usually clocks out at 6:00 p.m. but now works till past 10 in the evening. 

Working from home, she says, has made her feel guilty of not putting in much work, hence she did. The boundaries between work and home slowly faded when she would respond to work-related messages before going to bed. The sanctuary her bedroom offered before now feels like an extension of her office. 

“It’s like I’m always at work,” she laments. “And when I feel frustrated because of it, I often redirect my anger to my family.”

The stress and anxiety due to the current situation has made Ortiz, in the past few weeks, lethargic and less productive. 

A psychiatrist from a leading healthcare institution in the Philippines said the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended quarantine have amplified negative emotions, which when piled up on top of one’s day-to-day work stress and pressure can potentially make a person less productive, unmotivated, and burned out. 

Dr. Lovie Hope Go-Chu, psychiatry section chief at Makati Medical Center (www.makatimed.net.ph), warns that work burnout may manifest in different ways. 

“Some may experience anxiety, insomnia, and irritability. Others may feel physical symptoms like headache, fatigue, and gastric discomfort. There are also those who might become clinically depressed, or increase their substance use like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or other drugs,” 

To prevent WFH burnout and build mental resilience in these uncertain times, Dr. Go-Chu recommends establishing a good work-life balance and practicing self-care habits. 

Prioritize what needs to be done

Dr. Go-Chu emphasizes the value of identifying tasks in terms of urgency. Ticking them off one by one may help in managing work and lessening feelings of being overwhelmed. 

Stretching or stepping away from work, even for just a few minutes, is vital especially when feeling tired or overwhelmed.
Stretching or stepping away from work, even for just a few minutes, is vital especially when feeling tired or overwhelmed.
“It is not realistic to be 100 percent productive all the time. If you’re having a hard time at work, don’t beat yourself up about it. Tomorrow is another day,” she says. 

The expert continues, “If you need help with work-related tasks, ask for it from your colleagues or supervisors. If you need help in non-work-related issues, ask for it from family and friends.” 

Step away from work

There’s nothing wrong with taking a breather if you’re just feeling downright tired, according to Dr. Go-Chu. “Step away for a bit, do some deep breathing exercises, play a quick game on your phone, then go back to work,” she suggests. “You can also try to move around, do some stretching exercises, go out for some fresh air or if this is not possible, go to a window to get some sunlight. Give yourself a break.” 

She also recommends following regular working hours. Weekends should be days of rest, she adds. Identifying a specific work area is also advisable.

She also recommends lessening exposure to stressful news by going offline and doing other activities such as reading a book or watching a movie.

Stay connected with colleagues and friends

Maintaining social connections, even virtually, can help minimize the feeling of isolation from working from home. Dr. Go-Chu suggests taking time to ask colleagues how they are doing before or after work meetings. 

“You can also organize online social gatherings at work or with friends—you can exercise together or generally just unwind together,” she adds.

Look after yourself

Dr. Go-Chu says that taking care of mental health while working from home also includes taking care of physical health. 

“Maintain a regular routine. Eat on time. Sleep on time. Expose yourself to sunlight. Get regular exercise, preferably at the same time every day. Socialize at home—eat together, watch a movie together, play board games. Learn a new language, learn a new skill. Get started on mindfulness and meditation. Pray, if you are religious,” she says.  

If stress and anxiety are severely interfering with work and relationships, they should consider getting professional help. “If things get so bad that there are thoughts of death or even suicide, then seek help at the soonest time. It is considered an emergency,” emphasizes Dr. Go-Chu. 

Topics: Work-from-home , burnout , COVID-19 pandemic
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