Mental Health and Remote Work
In recent years, we’ve started to see more people speaking out about mental health in the tech industry. This is great, as it is a topic that has been somewhat taboo in the past.
In my last blog post, A decade of remote work, I did not explicitly speak about mental health, and I must admit that it is something that I’ve only recently started to pay proper attention to. I would however argue that mental health does overlap with habits (which I did cover). I don’t think it is possible to have good mental health without good habits.
If we for a second assume that remote work equals working from home (it does not necessarily need to mean that), then it isn’t very hard to imagine that it having an impact on your mental health. Spending 8-10 hours in solitude every day will impact people differently. If you’re an extrovert, this might have an impact your mental health in a negative way (unless you have a good coping strategy). If you’re an introvert on the other hand, having that much time without having to deal with people around you, might have a big positive impact on your mental health.
Regardless if you are an introvert or extrovert, it is important to carve out time in your schedule to socialize. If you fail to do this, chances are that your mental health will take a toll with time and you will start feeling isolated and lonely.
Loneliness is widespread phenomena in the western world (Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam provides some clues to why). The reality is that while there are many downsides with working in a conventional office, one of the upsides is that you get circle of acquaintances that you see regularly. In some cultures, such as in England, it is expected that you go out for a pint with your colleagues after work. The point I’m trying to make is that, if you’re working remotely, you’re on your own. You are left to your own devices to find a substitute for the casual social activities. This is, of course, not a substitute for deeper, meaningful relationships, but it all plays a role in the mental health.
Let’s imagine that you’re new in town and you are looking to find a substitute for these casual social encounters (which of course could lead to more meaningful and deeper friendships with time), what do you do? As someone who has lived in multiple countries and been in this precise situation myself numerous times, one of my best advice is Meetups. The Meetup scene will vary a lot across cities, but in cities such as San Francisco and London, it’s thriving and you can usually find a Meetup that aligns with your interest, regardless if that’s a technical topic, bio hacking, or urban farming. Over the years, I’ve found many friends this way. If you’re not (arguably) lucky enough to live in a major city, there are usually countless of other groups that you could join (such as running, triathlon, scuba diving or biking).
While having casual social gatherings, this is not a substitute for your closest friends and loved ones. Depending on your situation, you may now be living far away from your old close friends and family. If that is the case, it is easy to get caught up with work and forget to carve out time in your calendar for them. One way to do this is to simply block time in the calendar for this activity. Maybe you schedule a biweekly FaceTime call with your old friend to ensure you don’t lose touch. Things like this can go a long way with regards to your mental health. I would also note that if you’re living in a busy city environment and your have close friends locally, it is easy to fall apart. Everyone is busy, you will need to book things properly in your calendar to catch up. If you do not, chances are that your relationships will deteriorate with time. The grass is greener where you water it, as my psychiatrist keeps saying.
Having healthy relationships with your friends is important, but for many people, the most important relationship is with their significant other. If you work from home, and your significant other is working from an office, there will likely be somewhat of an asymmetry when s/he comes back from work. While you might be excited to finally see a person when s/he gets home, s/he might be exhausted and just want peace and quiet. Be mindful of this, as it could otherwise overwhelm your significant other and have a negative impact on your relationship.
Take care of your mental health and carve out time to stay in touch with your friends and family. Mental health is something that we easily overlook in our busy lives. If you do not feel well mentally, there is no shame in seeking out professional help. There are a number of professionals who even offer remote sessions.
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