In these trying, indecisive times of the perpetual COVID – 19 pandemic, everything has been confined to our homes. Study, work, entertainment - everything is to be done between the five walls and the floor. To some people it was somehow nice, closing down on socializing but the employed masses have been hit hard. Organizations and institution leaders have been struggling to review their plans, policies, and regulations to create new guidelines around their fluid work dynamic, involving more remote working and classes, for the foreseeable future. Finding a balance while juggling work, childcare, virtual schooling, and in some cases, struggling finances due to salary reductions, while staying at home have taken a toll on these working individuals' mental health. According to the United Nations, this pandemic shed light on the urgency of organizations increasing investments made in time and providing mental health services. Isolation has been the worst hit for the social beings. Employees and students transitioned to working and studying remotely, having to adapt very quickly. These changes to the working environment can have a significant impact on the well-being of individuals. This transition has led to the inability to partake in face-to-face meetings and class sessions and have limited social interactions with coworkers and fellow students.
Not all individuals are accustomed to working and studying for days on end without interacting with anybody else. The socialization with colleagues and batch mates which starts from a simple chat and vent about work and life could be sorely missed. Unfortunately, this physical disconnect with people is irreplaceable with virtual conversations, leaving people feeling lonely and isolated, leading to negative impacts on their well-being. Studies show that isolation links with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other somatic symptoms. Pressures from work to meet performance standards, routine and tedious tasks with unmanageable workloads, in these difficult circumstances have left employees feeling highly anxious and stressed. This feeling isn't helped by having to double up and be counselors and educators to their children at home who are confused and struggling to make sense of things while adapting to virtual schooling. Having constant connectivity to work while working from the seat of your own home has led to longer working hours, gradually leading to burnout. Finding it harder to mentally switch off from work has led to the disruption of quality time spent with family members and finding less or no time to spend with oneself.
Research shows that depression and other serious mental illnesses following disasters and other pandemics are exacerbated by loneliness and lack of social support. Moreover, spending long hours in a sedentary lifestyle has also led to excessive back and joint pain in individuals, which further deteriorates their mental well-being. Exercising 20-30-minutes a day has been proved to significantly lower anxiety and boost endorphins and serotonin to the brain. Chronic pain and depression share neural pathways and affect the same part of the brain. Depression increases the intensity of physical pain, causing the brain to create a cycle of pain that becomes learned and chronic. These adverse psychological effects aside, working from home have also been beneficial to some, who have used this time to spend quality time with family members and learn new skills, which elevates their sense of self and emotional well- being. The Oracle study showed that employees felt that 51% of them could spend more time with their family, 31% getting more sleep, and 30% finding that they were more productive.
A major advantage of working remotely is employees' ability to work hours that suit them, which could be earlier or later in the day, based on their convenience. Women juggling commitments between her professional and personal lives have been banking more on flexible working hours to ensure that they don't lose control of either front. For students, pre-recorded classes can be viewed at their convenience. Online submissions have also made it possible for them to carry on with other interests, be it reading, cooking, watching TV, etc. The unprecedented switch to working from home may have started with many disadvantages and a negative impact on mental health, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Organizations have begun to take mental health on their agenda and strive towards making a difference, with small efforts. The use of psychological assessments can help employers and teachers keep track of their employees' and students' mental health to identify issues and take timely action.