The worldwide situation since the Covid-19 pandemic remains to be unpredictable. This observation is based on the fluctuating number of cases and mortality rates despite massive preventive efforts such as the enforcement of lockdowns, physical distancing, wearing of personal protective equipment, and even vaccine rollouts.
Part of the new normal lifestyle that we all have adapted to is the work from home setup. Since last year, more and more companies of all sizes have required most employees to shift to telecommuting to help combat the contagion. This trend continues to be the norm, as many employers find that allowing work from home is not only prudent but also practical and cost-effective.
As much as this new trend in employment is convenient for many workers, it also brings about significant impacts. For one, working remotely introduces a whole new set of health risks that the unwary may soon experience. Besides unique challenges to physical health, many workers also share their stories on how they struggle to care for their mental wellbeing during these challenging times.
Let’s discuss the physical and mental impacts of working from home.
Musculoskeletal tension and pain
Believe it or not, but employees who work from home are more likely to work for longer hours than when they are working in the office. Many workers find it challenging to disengage from work because they’re online most of the time. This habit contributes to tension in the body due to prolonged sitting. This may even develop to back pain, neck stiffness, and aching shoulders in the long run.
How to prevent it: If you can’t help working on extended hours, at least invest in a comfortable workspace at home. Buy ergonomic equipment and furniture. Pick a chair and a desk that’s well-suited or adjustable for your height. Also, take breaks frequently and do some stretching when you can.
Office work can be sedentary in itself. But to also remove the daily commutes and short walks to buy lunch outside of the office further adds to a sedentary lifestyle. Those working from home and who are also not much of a fan of any exercise are susceptible to developing cardiovascular problems later on. As we know, physical inactivity causes heart disease.
How to prevent it: Prioritize moderate exercise before or after your working hours, and even while working, you could take some short breaks from time to time. Walk around the house, go out to your home garden, jump in place — anything to keep your blood flowing and improve circulation.
Weight gain and obesity
Also related to a sedentary lifestyle, weight gain may be inevitable for some people working from home. According to Dr. A.J. Marsden of America’s Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, “People who work from home are at a greater risk of obesity and diabetes due to a significant decrease in physical activity.” It doesn’t help either that people who work from home tend to eat whenever they want, leading to weight gain.
How to prevent it: In addition to exercise and physical activity, pay attention to your diet. Prepare healthy meals when you can and watch your calorie intake.
Depression and anxiety due to isolation
While many people can look at the bright side and enjoy the convenience of working remotely, others, especially those who used to thrive in conventional office life, are struggling with mental health issues. This type of people can’t withstand the prolonged loneliness, and news about the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic can even worsen their feelings of anxiety and depression. Strict social distancing rules also result in isolation from family and friends.
How to prevent it: Maintain an optimistic mindset and find a hobby that will keep you engaged. Keep in touch with your loved ones and limit your use of social media. It would also help to seek professional advice — it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Stress and burnout
With all the risks mentioned above, there’s no question about it. Although convenient and practical in many ways, working from home can cause a great imbalance between work and life if not handled well. The prolonged hours of working in front of the computer can lead to burnout, and elevated stress can come from any of these conditions: back pains, weight gain, and feelings of loneliness or worry.
How to prevent it: Prioritize work-life balance, set a firm boundary, and take strategic breaks from work as necessary. Practice effective stress management and look for a support system among your loved ones and colleagues.
Despite the collective efforts of governments, private firms, and medical communities, no one can tell for sure when our battle with the Covid-19 pandemic will end. What everyone can do, instead, is focus on what they can control, such as prioritizing safety and staying informed. The challenges in working from home may be unprecedented and unique, but with proper management, anyone can overcome these hurdles and even turn challenges into advantages.
About the Author
Jolina D. Santos, MD
Dr. Jolina began her journey as a health care professional when she took her medical degree in one of the most prestigious med schools in the Philippines.
With a solid foundation, the Thomasian took her residency training in internal medicine at Capitol Medical Center. Deciding her calling was to help treat people suffering from diabetes, she took her clinical fellowship at the Institute for Studies on Diabetes Foundation, Inc (ISDFI).
To further her studies, she proceeded to take her Master of Science in Diabetology at UERM-ISDFI and is currently completing her thesis. Apart from serving as a consultant for the For Your Sweetheart website, Dr. Jolina is a visiting faculty at the ISDFI and is currently practicing in Quezon City.