Steel Products

Thoughts on Working from Home (Part 4) – Isolation & Anxiety

Written by John Packard

By John Packard, President & CEO, Steel Market Update

Even though I have worked from my home office for more than 20 years, the last month “feels” different. More accurately, I do not feel as connected with the normal world as I have been in the past. The reality of being confined to a limited space, having to be concerned about grocery shopping or running “essential” errands, having limited one-on-one contact with family and friends, living with interruptions of my normal daily or weekly routine (such as no longer being able to workout out at my local gym) and the blare of the non-stop negative media reports are all starting to have an impact on my health and well-being.

I have a feeling some of you may also be suffering from isolation or dealing with stress/anxiety issues (or will be soon). Here are some tips that I am using, or from my research on the subject, as I prepare for the next 8-12 weeks of isolation, which is what many medical experts are saying we will need if we are going to break the coronavirus cycle.

At this point, part of the new normal is a heightened amount of stress associated with changes related to the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the desire to stop the spread of the virus. Heck, being in my 60s, there is also the fear of contracting the virus and not surviving. This new normal is impacting my life, and I assume it is impacting others as well.

I am not a doctor and do not pretend to have all the answers. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression issues beyond your ability to handle, I highly recommend you speak with a medical professional or reach out to whatever resources exist within your company, family/friends or place of worship.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website addresses stress and coping with COVID-19. The CDC website says, “The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

The site points out some of the reactions you might have related to the stress associated with COVID-19:

• Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones

• Changes in sleep or eating patterns

• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

• Worsening of chronic health problems

• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

directionsIt is not just the stress of living with the coronavirus in our daily lives. If you are new to working at home, you will need to learn how to cope with the isolation from your business associates who normally provide positive feedback and energy to you. I recently read an article in The Guardian on the subject of how to work from home and stay healthy.  

Sean Blanda, an editorial director for a tech company based in Philadelphia, was quoted in The Guardian article: “You’ll need a lot of quiet self-confidence…You won’t get the positive reinforcement you’d normally rely on from body language and the ‘vibe’ from being in an office.”

The Guardian article continues: “Beyond the lack of interaction with colleagues – there are no ideas by osmosis, no overhearing others talking – there is also the lack of interaction with the wider world. ‘The main way most of us are connected to our local, geographical communities is through work,’ Blanda says. ‘When you remove that – when you’re not commuting, you don’t bump shoulders, you don’t meet the guy who happens to have a cousin on your block and now you’re friends – you have to work harder to feel connected.’”

Some of the issues associated with working at home include anxiety, stress, depression (the feeling of not being part of the “team”) and it is hard to maintain self-discipline (watching TV, raiding the refrigerator, spending too much time on social media or playing games).

Last night I had my first Zoom ( chat with my children and their mother. It was a relief to be able to “sit around the table” if only in a virtual sense and be able to see the expressions on their faces and to know they are doing well in these circumstances.

It is important to remain connected to your business associates. In my case I am spending more time on the phone (or Zoom/Skype/GotoMeeting) than just sending emails or texts. There is a sense of connection hearing a familiar voice or being able to see someone on your computer screen.

As The Guardian article points out, “…even though you’re on your own, you’re not alone.”

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As was mentioned in our previous Working from Home articles, it is important to develop a new routine, a new structure to your workday. It is important to have a clearly defined workspace. If you know when you are going to be at your home work station, it’s essential that you plan the tasks you need to accomplish for the day, when you are going to take some personal time to exercise, eat healthy, interact with family and friends and when to call the day complete.

At first it may seem like a much more rigid and controlling structure of your day. Over time, you will learn how to cope with the space constraints, how to communicate with your teammates and what you need to do to stay both happy and productive.

For me, the issue is hearing too much negative news on the television. I am a bit of a news junkie and always have been. This is a habit I am trying to break as the news is quite disturbing, and not conducive to me remaining focused on my task at hand,  which is to provide the best market intelligence to you and your company, and to help the SMU Community get through whatever challenge we face at any particular point in time.

Here are some websites/articles you may want to read to assist in your transition from the office to home, and from a very social interactive setting to one of isolation:

Center for Disease Control: Stress & Coping (COVID-19)

The Guardian: Extreme Loneliness or the Perfect Balance? How to work from home and stay healthy

Vox: Coronavirus will also cause a loneliness epidemic

SMU: Thoughts on Working from Home (Part 1)

SMU: Thoughts on Working from Home (Part 2)

SMU: Thoughts on Working from Home (Part 3)

One last comment – loneliness and anxiety are heightened issues for children, the elderly and those with chronic health issues. Please take the time to reach out and comfort your children, parents, grandparents and those you know with health issues. They will appreciate the act of human kindness.

As a parent of adult children and having a brother with health issues, I know contacts can sometimes be few and far between. In the circumstances we are under today, understand the need for personal interaction (not one and done) over the next 8-12 weeks or however long it takes to defeat the virus. Make a choice to remain connected – another act of human kindness.

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