More than 8 in 10 workers who worked from home during the Covid-19 pandemic planned to continue with hybrid working. Since then, hybrid working in the UK has risen from 13% in early February 2022 to 24% in May 2022.
We take a look at some of the physical and psychological consequences of working from home for an extended period of time, and the steps you can take to protect and improve your health.
Working from home offers lots of benefits. You avoid long commutes to and from your place of work and have more time for your family and other interests. But the social aspects of our jobs are very important to some of us.
Working from home for long periods of time can lead to feelings of loneliness and social exclusion. Studies show that involuntary loneliness takes a great toll on our mental health, and may lead to depression and anxiety.
How to feel less lonely working from home
If you mostly work from home, or going to the office to see colleagues is not an option, you can actively look for other ways to ease your loneliness. Find a coworking space – If you’re a freelancer or don’t have an office, you can rent a desk in a coworking space. Find your nearest coworking space and try working from there a few days a week.
Communicate digitally – Try to stay in touch with colleagues and friends via phone calls, video calls and text messages. While this isn’t the same as meeting face-to-face, it may help you feel less isolated. Spend more time with friends – Make an effort to spend some extra time socialising with a friend or neighbour, either during your lunch break, evenings or weekends.
2. Muscle stiffness
Working from home often involves long periods of sitting in front of your computer. Some of us may experience muscle stiffness and discomfort after prolonged periods of inactivity. You’ll usually be able to ease this stiffness simply by moving around.
Here are 2 exercises you can do to relieve a stiff neck and shoulders:
Stretch your neck
- Keeping your shoulders straight and relaxed, gently incline your neck sideways until your ear touches your shoulder
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then gently incline your head to the other side
- Turn your head so that your nose touches your armpit, hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then change sides
- Lower your chin towards your chest while carefully holding the back of your head with both hands
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat these exercises 2 or 3 times
Roll your shoulders
- Stretch your back so you’re sitting or standing straight and relaxed
- Roll your shoulders upwards, backwards and down
- Repeat this movement up to 10 times
3. Excess weight and obesity
Working from home inevitably involves more sitting still. Moving about more and exercising can reduce your risk of excess weight and obesity, low mood and anxiety.
Several conditions are linked to excess weight and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Arthritis, a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in your joints, is also associated with excess weight and obesity.
How to manage your weight
There’s a lot you can do to improve your health and maintain a healthy weight:
Diet ‒ eat regular healthy and balanced meals. Remember to eat slowly and mindfully, and stop when you feel full.
Activity ‒ exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes a day and try to include both strength and conditioning training. It’s important to start exercising at a light to moderate level and gradually increase your activity.
Behaviour ‒ identify and embrace the activities or habits that help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Social support ‒ tell your friends and family that you’re making a conscious effort to improve your health, and ask for their help and support.
4. Piles (haemorrhoids)
You can develop gastrointestinal problems like piles after sitting still for long periods of time. Piles may also be caused by constipation, especially if you strain too hard on the toilet.
If you notice any bleeding after you poo, always speak to a GP. Or if you already know that you have piles, keep them clean and dry, but avoid using soap as this may irritate your skin. There are creams available from the pharmacy to ease the pain, itching and swelling.
How to avoid constipation and piles
- Drink more water and eat plenty of fibre
- Go to the toilet regularly
- Try and get some exercise each day
- Try over-the-counter medicines that soften your poo
5. Skin problems
Dry indoor air can make your skin especially sensitive and sometimes cause skin problems. When your skin is dry, its natural protective barrier has been damaged by the lack of moisture and oils in your skin.
Typical symptoms include tight, inflamed or flaky skin that itches. Your skin may even crack and bleed. These problems can lead to eczema, which may require treatment with emollients and steroid creams.
If your skin tends to be dry, you’ll need to regularly apply moisturising and hydrating products. This helps to restore your skin’s elasticity and protect it from further damage. You can get emollients and moisturising products from the pharmacy.
How to avoid and treat dry skin
- Regularly moisturise your skin especially after washing
- Don’t scratch as it will make the problem worse and can cause infection
- Stick to shorter showers as water strips your skin of its natural oils
- Avoid harsh soaps and choose products made with natural plant oils
- Use rubber gloves when washing up to protect your hands
- Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun and always apply sunscreen
- Protect your skin against the cold as chilly, dry air is tough on your skin
6. Alcohol dependence
For some people, working from home contributes to a lack of routine and social isolation. This can increase your risk of having problems with alcohol – especially for people who may have experienced these struggles in the past.
A temporary high intake of alcohol has an immediate effect on the nerve cells in your brain – it impairs your judgement, your responses, your balance and your memory.
Your muscles and emotions are also harder to control, your sleep is disrupted and you may experience nausea and vomiting. A really high blood alcohol level can lead to unconsciousness and alcohol poisoning which requires urgent care.
How to spot the warning signs
If you suspect that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s important to seek professional help. Here are some of the signs to look out for:
- You feel a strong craving for alcohol
- You drink more, for longer and more frequently than you intended
- You need to drink more to get the same effect
- You have memory gaps and feel shame about your drinking
- Alcohol has a dominant role in your life to the detriment of everything else
- You’ve tried to cut down on your drinking with no success
- You experience withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink such as shaking and feeling sick
- You drink in secret or continue drinking to cure a hangover
- You drink to cope with your daily life
- The people around you are concerned you drink too much
- Your drinking is causing you financial problems and/or relationship problems, or making you suicidal
- If you’re struggling to limit or give up drinking, you can get help in several different ways. You can contact your GP, or alcohol support services such as Drinkchat, Drinkline, Alcoholics Anonymous or With You.
7. Mental health problems
Depression is a state of feeling persistently sad for weeks or months, and losing interest in the things you used to enjoy. Sleeping badly and feelings of lethargy and hopelessness are other common symptoms.
While depression may be triggered by traumatic life events or setbacks, sometimes there’s no obvious cause. Genetic factors and anxiety-related difficulties can make you more susceptible.
Ways to improve your mental health
Get some fresh air – going outdoors every day helps to boost your mood, as both the light and natural vitamin D are good for you, and give you a much-needed break from work.
Stay active – physical activity makes you more resilient against anxiety and low mood, and can alleviate stress, worrying and sleeping difficulties. Eat healthily – nourishing food at regular intervals throughout the day helps your body to function better.
Prioritise sleep – good sleeping habits make you less prone to low mood, anxiety and depression.
Avoid stress – make time in your working week for relaxation, mindfulness or an activity that you feel has a positive impact on your stress levels.