Mental health implications of working from home with kids doing home schooling and social isolation

These are strange days indeed. In a matter of two months, Australians (and people the world over) have dramatically changed the way they work and learn. And for many families, the dual challenge of working and supervising children’s schoolwork is positively overwhelming.

While it may have started out as a bit of fun – setting up the home office, getting new routines in place, not having to worry about whether you stayed in your pyjamas or not – the reality for many is that long hours cooped up at home, with minimal social interaction and many new and unusual distractions is placing pressure on family relations and impacting on the mental welfare of many.

Workplace stress and mental health have been increasingly under the spotlight over recent years, with a range of mental health advocacy groups working with employer groups, governments and even insurers to generate a better understanding of mental illness and its impacts on individuals and workplaces. The insurance industry has come on in leaps and bounds with how it deals with mental illness in this context.

Dr Jill Newby of the Black Dog Institute recently published a useful article about how to identify and manage these new experiences and feelings.

Dr Newby notes that some of the experiences might include:

  • A feeling of social and/or professional isolation or disconnectedness
  • Being unable to ‘switch off from work’
  • Challenges with maintaining motivation
  • Difficulty setting workload and task priorities
  • Performance anxiety
  • Insomnia and sleep problems

The article also identifies some tools for helping to manage these challenges:

  • Establish routine and structure and set “home” and “work” boundaries.
  • Create a specific home “office” space (away from the bedroom).
  • Maintain connection with colleagues with telephone or virtual meetings.
  • Try and stay off digital media during the evenings – give yourself a break.
  • Spend some time focusing on the positives – more time with family, less commuting, fewer interactions with “challenging” colleagues.

The University of Melbourne also has some additional tips on how to manage stress during this challenging time, including:

  • Regular exercise and use of online mindfulness or relaxation tools.
  • Eat well and moderate your use of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Ensure you get sufficient sleep.
  • Manage your expectations in terms of work and your relationships.
  • Break tasks into smaller achievable chunks to prevent being overwhelmed.
  • Make sure you get outside.
  • Avoid conflict – be aware of your stress/conflict points with others you are living with.

It is likely to be quite some time before the economy moves fully back to office-based work without social distancing restrictions. The challenges being faced, particularly by parents trying to get their normal work done while also looking after children and their schooling, are real and will be in place in some parts of Australia for the foreseeable future. Looking after your mental health during this time takes some effort but is achievable by considering some of these simple and effective tips.