Work from home (WFH) may have given us “a perspective on slowing down” as we spend more time with our families, but it has also added to our responsibilities. Whether it’s household chores or increased office workload given our availability beyond working hours, the result is that a fortnight into lockdown, some are feeling stressed out and anxious.
“Yes, WFH makes you think about work all the time. You can’t take a walk or refresh your mind. There are limitations, such as not being able to access Business Skype for client calls and hence end up making con-calls, which are challenging during presentations. It’s easier to focus in a professional setup; the atmosphere at home is different,” said Drishti Bhatnagar, a public relations professional.
For many like Bhatnagar, on a usual day, WFH would have been music to ears. Wake up, don’t drive, slip into comfortable clothes and work at a relaxed pace while managing other chores as well. However, coming to terms with loss of control over free movement and the resulting uncertainty is causing many individuals to experience “immense worry and anxiety”. For many, the social disconnect is also posing challenges, besides the additional workload at home.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, there has been a 20 per cent rise in mental illness cases since the outbreak in India. Restricted movements, isolation, social distancing, uncertainty in jobs, “constant fear of contracting the virus are causing panic and anxiety attacks among the people”.
“Online consultations have also seen a steep rise in the number of consults coming in for psychiatry,” said Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, chief healthcare strategy officer, Practo. According to the website, top queries came from the working population in the age of 21-30 years and issues discussed were loneliness, anxiety, stress management and panic attacks.
In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. To take precautionary measures and curb the virus spread in India, the government announced a countrywide lockdown for 21 days. The virus spread which started with cases in tier-1 cities like Delhi NCR and Mumbai has also reached the small pockets of our country with significant cases in cities like Indore, Jabalpur, Raipur among others. This prompted organisations to declare WFH for employees except for those involved in providing essential services.
For many like Gauri Joshi, who is a software professional and is pregnant, working from home means more meal times, taking care of groceries, planning what to cook for main meals and snacks, running around her four-year-old child besides other household chores. “It’s like work from home plus work at home. Since domestic help is not available, I am also doing the utensils, cleaning the house, besides keeping up with official work. So, it is a lot of stress and leaves me with hardly any personal time,” said the 32-year-old.
Her husband, Chaitanya, who is in the manufacturing sector, and helps her with chores, said that though WFH is a challenge, companies including his own have started initiatives so that employees continue to feel connected in the lockdown.
Agreed Ambika Sharma, founder and MD, Pulp Strategy. “This needs to happen at an organisational level. Working from home is a necessity but it is not all that it is made out to be. There is isolation and lack of human contact, cabin fever is likely. Humans are social creatures.” Her company has begun a team yoga session at 10:30 am daily via video where everyone can join in. “It mostly ends in chatter and conversation but it’s good to start the day like that,” she sai.
Be it virtual coffee sessions or sharing talent videos – cooking a recipe, singing, playing musical instruments, Origami, painting, knitting – varied activities have been included by organisations like Icertis, which recently also hosted an online session with a doctor to answer all the “panic queries” employees and their families and share practical tips on prevention, which was “a big hit”.
“Teams can be amazing in the way they rise to the occasion as a community; it’s the best thing in such tough times. Just the other day, somebody shared that their charger gave up on them, and the next day, I heard how the team came together to get another delivered to them. While technology can aid in employee engagement, the key ingredient is empathy and conversation,” Sharma said.
As for how to keep your morale high, while working from home, “try to follow the same work schedule that you normally do at office”, according to Anna Chandy, chairperson of the board of trustee, The Live Love Laugh Foundation. “Set clear boundaries (at work and at home). It is possible to revitalise personal bonding when one is with family members 24/7, but it is also important to respect personal space and boundaries of parents, siblings, spouse or children. Careful planning, seeking help from mental health experts and relaxation/meditation activities can bring down stress,” suggested Chandy.
Dr Sonal Anand, psychiatrist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road, Mumbai, said, “Avoid excessive pessimistic thinking, spend some ‘me’ time, balance your household chores by involving each and every family member, maintain a journal, exercise daily, keep yourself well hydrated, stay away from negative things on social media and instead watch entertaining shows. Express your worries and listen to the other’s concerns as well. If you feel anxious, then seek immediate medical attention.”
Here are some tips from Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, to help you tide over the COVID times.
*Accept your worries and anxiety as being normal. You are no different from any other individual in feeling the way that you are. Understanding this would allow you to not feel victimised or singled out in your experience.
*Shift the focus to the present moment. In place of worrying about what would potentially happen, attempt to keep pulling yourself back into where you are and what you are doing in the moment. Keep working on one day at a time.
*Focus on what you can control. Plan ahead and demarcate time to do the different things that you need to. It would help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and allow you to take a problem-solving approach.
*Restrict the amount of information you consume. Steer away from platforms or accounts that are triggers and instead expose yourself to those which provide positivity and calmness for you.
*Make sure you connect with friends and family. Use visual mediums and social media platforms to stay more engaged with family and friends. This will help you cope with the isolation you may experience.
*It’s an opportunity to learn something new. Remember this time also gives you the option to be able to try something new and different which you otherwise may not have time for. So be sure to integrate it into your routine.
*Practice mindfulness or meditation to help yourself feel relaxed.
*Reach out to experts for teleconsultations or use any of the helplines available if you feel you are not able to cope.
*Most importantly, remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself and don’t be too harsh in passing judgment about how you are feeling.