The idea of working from home was something many people aspired to but 2020 took that concept from an aspiration to necessity very fast. The novelty of the concept wore out equally fast because there is a huge difference between WFH by choice and WFH because the world is
coming to an end closed to human interaction.
This hasn’t been my first prolonged period of time working from home, but this time things were different. Unlike the ‘before’ times when we were still able to go out, have people over, and travel this was the year where the line between work and home blurred to no recognition.
On many occasions working from home turned into sleeping at the office with little opportunity, or time, to get outside. There were no vacations, weekdays and weekends lost definition, social activities and hobbies were all taking place on the same digital devices that I was already spending my days and nights working on. As a freelancer, I was afraid to say no to work or take time off to rest because the uncertainty of the future – the financial uncertainty of the unknown future – is frightening, a feeling I am certain many of us have been experiencing.
Research shows that on average “remote workers actually work longer hours than their in-office counterparts, even without supervision or incentive” which can lead to higher burnout rates which “can lead to long-term health and career regression”(Forbes). The main reasons for this burnout, according to Forbes (and many other articles) are the inability to disconnect, lack of workplace inspiration, and lack of a supportive environment. Now, all that is paired with loneliness and the non-existence of social life. We are all left to our own devices, especially those who live alone.
According to CAMH burnout is “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress”. This type of burnout can make a person feel “emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of work and other aspects of life,” it can also reduce productivity and lower motivation making one feel “helpless, hopeless and resentful” (CAMH). Personally, I thought I was doing quite well: it’s fine, I have work, I have a good bubble (however tiny), and I’m generally good at being alone, keeping myself busy. Reading this definition, however, really put things in perspective and explained the general feelings of apathy, exhaustion, and waves of uncontrollable anger living rent-free in my head (no doubt also fueled by the historic events happening one after another around the world).
Soon enough I began to feel claustrophobic in my home, annoyed with my plants, my cat, and bits of my home universe that used to give me joy. I needed to spend some time in a place that was safe and was not the walls I have been looking at all these months so my partner and I booked a last-minute AirBNB Christmas getaway a few hours out of the city. To minimize exposure to other people we stocked up on groceries from a local city supermarket, packed the car, and drove directly to the Christmas rental (house tour video here).
This wonderful Chapel AirBNB is located in Plympton-Wyoming, a small town about 3 hours outside of Toronto – a region that boasts with broad farm lands and features a lovely lake conservation area. Christmas Eve weather was a magical snowfall which led to a windy and a very cold day, making it challenging to explore the park and beach but seeing new nature and scenery was worth the freezing stroll.
I can’t say that this small trip solved my issues completely or released the burnout but the change of scenery certainly eased the ‘holiday break’ and added a little colour to the otherwise dull routine.
This time has been about finding ways to give new dimensions to my regular environment, finding joy in having drinks at the dining table under candlelight, dressing up for dinner, or listening to the sound of a crackling fire (streaming on TV via Netflix). In this new space, we cooked together, ran around in the snow, and spent hours sipping cocktails by the fire – a kind of self-serve cozy bar that has nothing to do with my daily digital routine. In time, some distress and apathy melted away.
Our options to add colour back to our lives are still limited and it’s hard to tell how long we will be living through history but there are a handful of (band-aid) solutions that can help make this experience a little bit easier. I really like this Medium article that encourages self-care through a well-managed work routine. Click through for the complete read but the main points are:
- Set consistent work hours
- Sleep more
- Adopt slow mornings
- Get outside
- Move more
- Stay hydrated and eat well
- Set aside time for exercise and self-care
- Take a vacation (as in time off work)
It is especially important to consider self-care (however overused the term is) now that we are going through the second wave of COVID-19 lockdown and in the winter months. According to CTV News, “many experts are concerned that seasonal affective disorder could make pandemic mental health even worse” which means we need to start embracing the cold for the sake of mental and physical benefits. I will be first to admit I’m not stoked to spend prolonged periods of time in the cold winter weather but I do notice that even short walks make a difference in my mood and motivation.
This year, I promise to take better care of myself, to work less (especially on the weekends), and at least try to explore this beautiful province, even if it takes wearing half of my winter wardrobe all at once.
What will you do for yourself this year?
In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR and Fujifilm 23mm f/2.0 R WR lenses