When the pandemic hit and many people started working from home, no one lamented the loss of daily commutes and dimly lit cubicles. Almost overnight, workers could enjoy more time with their families, less stress commonly associated with getting to and from work, and greater flexibility throughout the day. It didn’t take people long to recognize the many benefits. Now that the pandemic is, for the most part, behind us, remote working has become commonplace for many. Unfortunately, we’re learning that it, too, has some downfalls—especially as it relates to mental health.
In many instances, fully remote work can lead to isolation and loneliness. That’s because many workers form the bulk of their friendships at work, and they rely on the workplace for most of their social interaction outside of the home. For individuals who live alone, the effects of worker isolation can be especially daunting and could lead to a host of mental health challenges.
Individuals who are most at risk are often younger workers, mainly because they may live alone but also because they are highly sociable at this age. On the other end of the spectrum are older workers who may be empty nesters and living alone. People with pre-existing mental health conditions are also highly vulnerable.
An epidemic of loneliness
Since the pandemic, much has been written about a possible loneliness epidemic, and for good reason. The desire to feel connected and interact with others is a basic human need. According to a large amount of research, we know that social interaction is necessary not only for better emotional health, but for improved physical health as well.
Adults spend a large part of their day at work, which means that remote workers are often spending large amounts of time alone. It’s no wonder many remote workers struggle to make friends and develop relationships.
While it appears that some level of remote work is here to stay, there are things you can do to combat the loneliness and care for your mental and physical well-being. Here are a few to consider:
- Adopt a hybrid work format. Try to get into the office at least one or two days a week. Spending some time in the office is better than none at all as it offers a best-of-both-worlds scenario. While you will still benefit from less commute time, you will also be able to collaborate, communicate and socialize with your co-workers.
- Get outdoors every day. If you work remotely, it’s easy to go through the entire day without leaving your home. Resist that temptation and make the effort to spend some time outside every day. Take a walk with friends. Visit the dog park with your mutt. Maybe even ride your bike to the grocery store. Just get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
- Find other ways to socialize. The time you save by not having to commute can be used to socialize in other ways. Schedule a coffee date with a friend or grab breakfast with a neighbor. You might even use the extra time to plan social outings on the weekend.
- Work in a different location. If hybrid work is not an option, look for a co-working space, coffee shop or library that can help alleviate the problem of isolation. The idea is to be near other people even if you aren’t directly communicating with those individuals.
- Find other ways to connect with co-workers. Video conferencing only goes so far when it comes to connecting with others. In fact, research shows that it’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction, and employees still feel isolated and alone. Instead, plan after-work outings with your co-workers so you can do everything from chatting about work to sharing photos of your kids.
Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.