Unpacking the psychological stress of working from home


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Finance 27 March 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has an obvious physical impact — over 60,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 1,000 people have died so far in the country — but there are also psychological effects as well.

In states like New York and California, 100% of the workforce is expected to work from home unless deemed essential. And while isolation measures are crucial for flattening the curve and containing the spread of the virus, the circumstances negatively affect mental health.

“There’s no trial period here for a lot of people in organizations,” Cathleen Swody, an organizational psychologist at Thrive Leadership, told Yahoo Finance. “All of a sudden, there’s been a drastic change from working in an office to working at home. And that can lead to social isolation, sadness, boredom. Our routines go out the door. All of these things that we’re used to, disappear.”

Swody continued: “Especially given the context of a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity, we don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know how bad it’s going to get. That’s a recipe for stress, and that leads to physical and psychological health concerns.” 

‘August, could be July, could be longer than that’

The U.S. has seen an increasing number of coronavirus cases since the first case back in January. New York City has become the country’s epicenter of the pandemic while other states are following at varying levels of spread.

It still isn’t clear when the pandemic and ensuing restrictions will come to an end. At one press conference, President Trump said that experts “think August, could be July, could be longer than that.” However, at a subsequent press conference, the president asserted that the social distancing measures could be loosened soon — by Easter Sunday, April 12 — to help the economy. 

The ongoing uncertainty is an added psychological pressure.

“This is definitely going to impact people’s mental health,” Saltz said. “They’re not only home, but they’re home under scary circumstances. They may have lost a lot of the structure of their day that they typically have. They’re together with people — their family — but in the setting of being more anxious to get on each other’s nerves.”

She added that if family dynamics become “frayed, that stresses people further. As their finances are concerning, that increases anxiety as well. And over time, the social isolation from others can really impact not only anxiety, but mood.” 

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