Prioritizing Mental Health for Work-From-Home Professionals
In my research for this article, I decided to look into the Google Trends map for the search term “mental health resources” over the past five years. Unsurprisingly, the map shows a huge spike in interest for the term during the first few months of the pandemic in 2020.
For me, what’s more telling is the relative consistency of interest for mental health resources pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. Upon further reflection, these findings shouldn’t be too shocking. According to the nation’s leading mental health nonprofit, Mental Health America, the percentage of adults who have reported an unmet need for mental illness treatment has increased annually for over a decade.
Access to quality, affordable mental health treatment remains an ongoing issue for many who live in the United States. Because of this reason—along with other factors, such as lingering cultural stigmas around mental illness and neurodiversity—many people choose to ignore their mental health struggles and simply hope that they will pass over a long enough period of time. This line of thinking can be particularly appealing for work-from-home professionals who may not always be able to see how their mental health struggles can directly affect those around them.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, remote professionals can take active steps in addressing their mental health concerns as needed. To help shine more light on this topic, below are some of the early signifiers of mental distress, as well as steps that people can take for addressing these symptoms and seeking the right treatment.
Knowing the Signs
Mental health struggles can manifest in a variety of forms for separate individuals. For some, a flare-up can be as apparent as a fire breaking out in the kitchen. For others, these flare-ups may feel more like a simmering flame slowly spreading on the stovetop.
Whether they arrive as subtle or blatant, here are seven common warning signs of mental distress:
- Seemingly random feelings of anxiety.
- These feelings can manifest as sudden pangs of fear, dread, or panic from out of blue, regardless of external factors.
- Change in appetite.
- The mind has a way of affecting the physical functions of the body, particularly in the stomach. Loss of appetite, indigestion and even random cravings throughout the day can all be signs of mental distress.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Similar to changes in appetite, your mental health can also affect your sleep routine. Stress can manifest itself both in struggling to fall asleep at night, as well as struggling to get out of bed in the morning.
- For some, work can serve as a distraction from other symptoms of mental distress. Overworking, however, can rapidly exacerbate mental health problems and lead to feelings of burnout.
- Loss of focus.
- Mental distress can often cause people to lose focus on a singular task for more than a short period of time before getting distracted by something else.
- Intrusive, negative thoughts.
- We all have those negative thoughts that pop into our head from time to time reminding us of our guilt, shame, regret, and fears for the future. However, when these thoughts become debilitating and unceasing, it may be a sign of a larger problem.
- Not thinking about or planning for the future.
- A lack of personal investment in the future is a common symptom of depression and typically be identified through behavioral changes such as increased social isolation, reckless spending, and an unwillingness to pick up after yourself or clean your living space.
In isolation, none of these symptoms are clear indicators of acute mental illness or distress. However, when these symptoms begin to feel all-consuming and detrimental to your overall well-being, it is likely time to seek professional treatment.
Taking the First Steps
Upon recognizing the signs of mental distress, it is important to recognize that your negative thoughts and feelings do not define your identity or self-worth as a person. Passing phases of feeling intense emotions such as rage, hopelessness, and despair is perfectly natural.
We may not be able to control when these feelings may arise, but being able to recognize them as fleeting and intangible may prevent them from overstaying their welcome. And even slight changes in your daily behavior can help soften the impact of these negative emotions.
- Set a schedule that works for you
- Commit to a schedule that prioritizes time for rest and physical activity can help reduce overall stress. Find the opportunity that meets your personal and professional needs.
- Take breaks to go outside.
- As a remote professional, it can be all too easy to limit yourself to one space for hours at a time. Taking the time to step outside and get some fresh air every few hours has been proven to have a positive impact on one’s mental health.
- Limit your media consumption.
- These days, it often feels as though the news and social media are deliberately designed to amplify stress. While staying informed is important, sometimes the brain needs a break from all the external stressors associated with our current moment.
- Prioritize the things that bring you joy.
- Mental distress has a nasty habit of severing us from our personal passions. Try to dedicate time each day for your hobbies that are completely unrelated to work and productivity.
- Reach out to your community.
- Just because you work remotely, that doesn’t mean that you’re alone in your struggles. Even when it seems difficult or scary, talking with your friends, family, colleagues, or an outside support group about your mental health struggles can be a crucial step on the path toward recovery.
Finding the Right Help
Adjusting your daily behaviors may help with the symptoms of mental distress, but they are no substitute for professional treatment and counseling. Leverage tools and resources to find support when needed.
For more thorough information on mental health and support for remote professionals in the United States, consider the following resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mental Health America Support Page
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255