Why I'm glad to be back in the office: working from home had a negative effect on my mental health

Everyone else seemed to be enjoying time away from the office, but I struggled with feelings of isolation and frustration

A person uses a laptop computer while working from home in an arranged photograph taken in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 0.4% as compared with the same time Monday to 6.32 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
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It's been an extraordinary year.

From wearing face masks in public to practicing social distancing, life as we know it has been reshaped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. One big change to emerge over the last six months has been the wider introduction of working from home.

Many people turned their living or dining rooms into home offices, and tried to accommodate a new way of working. But while everyone else appeared to be ready to embrace the idea of rolling straight out of bed and spending all day in their pyjamas, I struggled – and at times, it seemed like I was the only person who felt that way.

After all, a recent Microsoft survey said that 71 per cent of people polled desired to continue working from home, at least part time. But what if you don't want to?

My situation was made more complicated due to timing: I moved from my apartment to a new villa just one week after being told we would all be working from home. Much like my colleagues, I was excited at the idea of it – it felt new and was something I thought I wanted.

In the beginning, it was a nice change of pace, with a new routine and new surroundings. I turned my living room into a makeshift office by using my sofa as an office chair and a side table as a desk. I had a lovely little garden to look out into and my cats became my work buddies. My partner and I had more time together than ever before.

However, it soon became tiresome.

Even though I felt like I should feel great, I didn’t. I found it hard to focus and felt even more pressure to prove that I was being productive, which made some days more stressful than they needed to be. While everyone else seemed able to successfully navigate working from home, I felt lost. Even though Slack proved to be a helpful communication tool, I couldn’t always bring myself to reach out.

These feelings of uneasiness and frustration began spreading: first at work and then in my personal life

I also couldn’t figure out how everyone else seemed to be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Having my laptop nearby made it so easy to just keep working, even after I finished my shift, or to just log on for 10 minutes late in the evening to check or fix something. The previously clear line between when work ended and home life began started to blur. Closing my laptop didn’t seem to be enough to disconnect the two.

The feelings of isolation

There were also the feelings of isolation that crept in many evenings after I finished work. Even though my home was new and I should have felt excited by that, it just added to feelings of loneliness. It didn’t help that I had the same four blank walls staring back at me, no matter what day of the week it was.

One bonus of WFH for Evelyn was more time with her cats. 
One bonus of WFH for Evelyn was more time with her cats. 

These feelings of unease and frustration began spreading: first at work and then in my personal life. I'd get agitated by one thing and suddenly be caught in a cycle where everything seemed to blend together. If I had a bad moment, it easily turned into a bad day. My thoughts would zero in on the one bad thing, ignoring everything else that might have been good.

Eventually, after doing research on how to deal with these negative feelings, I slowly adjusted to this new normal. Nonetheless, once I had the opportunity to return to the office, I welcomed it. Just walking into the newsroom gave me a burst of renewed energy. The things that I used to get annoyed about felt like a type of freedom I had previously taken for granted.

For example, the 25-minute drive to work is something I now look forward to. It gives me time alone with my thoughts and time to mentally prepare myself for the day ahead, whereas when working from home I'd wake up and log on almost immediately to start my working day. It also gives me some time away from my partner which, admittedly, is probably for the best for all relationships.

Seeing colleagues is another thing I didn’t realise I missed deeply. Hearing how they’ve been and getting to joke around with them in person is something a Slack chat simply can’t replace. It’s refreshing to be able to bond with them again face-to-face.

But I must also admit that working from home for the past six months has been a valuable lesson in itself. I’ve learnt what I need to do for myself to feel better and how important it is to make mental health a priority.

The pandemic has made things more difficult for many people, but it has also helped highlight the resilience we all have inside of us.