Work from home (WFH) has been the ‘normal’ ever since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak last year. And while the idea of working from home was welcomed by many for the time it gave one at home while having to skip the dreaded long-hours of commute in bad traffic and extended hours at one’s workplace, the celebrations around soon ended. In fact, for many professionals WFH digressed into a terrible nightmare, with the lack of work and home life boundaries and almost no human interaction, adding to even less motivation to give 100% at work as compared to when one worked from the office. It has also been one of the leading reasons for to depression, anxiety and stress in the recent months.
In fact, a study undertaken by Economix Consulting Group (ECG), a Chennai-based niche consulting and analytics firm focusing on consumer behaviour and strategic insights, unveiled a research report on the impact of COVID-19 on urban working women in India. According to the study, 52% of the respondents reported worsening mental health since COVID-19, with many anecdotes of challenging experiences at home. Disturbingly, all regions reported an increase in stress and deterioration of mental health. The largest share of respondents suffering from a decrease in income, as well as a worsening of mental health were shown to be from South India — at 41% and 60% respectively.
Speaking about the study, Latha Ramanathan, Founder & CEO, ECG, pointed to multiple reports across the world, which show women being disproportionately affected due to the pandemic. “And that’s in the areas of employment, income and mental health. Furthermore, the respondents have reported a decrease in income and increase in mental health issues, possibly due to increased stress levels,” adds Latha.
The grey world of work–life balance
The expansion of remote work has led to a blurring of the lines between one’s personal and professional life. Kiran Kalakuntla, Founder & CEO, ekincare, a Hyderabad based health benefits start-up also informs us that the lack of social communication, coupled with constant information overload about COVID cases, has led to several cases of increased stress, chronic fatigue, health issues and a general decline in the quality of life for employees across industries.
“We’ve had many people consulting us with complaints such as feeling of hopelessness, anxiety and sleep issues,” states Kiran. “With the outbreak of the pandemic, our Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) / mental health sessions for employees have seen a tremendous increase in usage across industries.”
Sreeja De Behll, Senior Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Nehru Enclave, New Delhi, reminds us how the ongoing pandemic situation has also been preventing people from catching up with friends and families, with interactions only limited to phone or video calls.
“Due to reduced social interaction, people tend to bottle up their feelings, do not express what they feel, avoid conversations and slip into depression,” points out Sreeja.
However, she goes on to share insights on how to compensate for the situations too. “Instead of keeping things to yourself, talk to whom you are comfortable with. Spend some quality time with your loved ones and give yourself enough time to rest and de-stress,” says the psychologist. “Do not burden yourself with work. Follow a proper schedule and divide the tasks to avoid pressure. Stay fit by exercising and doing relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation.”
Agreeing with Sreeja is Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, who’s a laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon at Saifee Hospital, Apollo Spectra, Namaha, and Currae Hospitals, Mumbai. “Today, several people have been experiencing high-stress levels. Financial, work-related and family-related stress is on the rise. Many people resorted to cooking and eating as a stress buster, but there has been an increase in emotional and mood-dependent eating habits. There has also been an increased reliance on alcohol consumption and smoking as stress busters,” points out Dr Aparna.
But all’s not as bleak, as the doctor adds. “Instead, one can go for walks in the garden or in any open space around the house, do floor exercises at home or enrol in online workout or yoga classes. In addition to focused exercise, take short breaks in between work and stretch or move around. Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and pulses,” she adds.
Skin deep issues? Or can these be fixed?
Sadly, work pressure, lack of sleep and stress due to WFH has created havoc even on one’s skin too, informs Dr Venu Kumari, MD, DVL, LMIADVL, who’s a dermatologist at Dr. Venus Institute of Skin & Hair, Hyderabad.
“Breakouts, wrinkles, dryness, acne, pale skin, puffy face and eyes, and pigmentation. Even insufficient vitamin D can also cause skin problems,” states Dr Venu. “Pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or rosacea can aggravate during the pandemic because stress can worsen the skin conditions you are suffering from in addition to hampering your immunity.”
Dr Venu’s suggestions to maintain skin health are pretty simple. “Avoid alcohol and smoking while you are stressed as it can deprive the skin of those much-needed nutrients, which ultimately leads to dull, dry skin and puffiness around the eyes,” says Dr Venu. “It is important to ensure a minimum of 8 hours’ sleep for one to stay active, which will also work wonders on the skin.”
The WFH culture has drastically increased sedentary behaviours, given that physical activity has reduced due to lack of commute and fear of attracting diseases. So people who were already sedentary have become even more so.
Neha Sahaya, a celebrity nutritionist and fitness enthusiast, also talks about how with the loss of routine and social life people have become more obsessed with comforting high calorie and low nutrient dense food. “Added to it, the increase in social media and overall screen entertainment has resulted in not only weight gain and unhealthy lifestyle but also poor posture,” she comments. “The sedentary lifestyle has put a load on the spine and weakened abdominal and back muscles.”
According to the nutritionist, the best way to deal with the negative effects in this pandemic and WFH is to have a routine and more important is to stick by it. “Not having a daily routine can lead to anxiety and mental health conditions. Find ways to relax even though you can’t socialise at the moment. Meditate, read a book, watch TV, talk with your family and friends to stay connected or simply listen to music or a podcast,” suggests Neha in conclusion.