Working from home broke me, gave me crippling anxiety

WE'VE all fantasised about working from home. Rolling out of bed midmorning and beginning work still dressed in pyjamas, avoiding those sickeningly perky co-workers the moment you walk into the building, getting paid while you go about your social life while sneakily working on your phone.

As irresistible as all those things are, for me the biggest drawcard when I started working from home was being able to continue looking after my young son (and avoid childcare fees) while earning a much-needed income. Unfortunately though, "the dream" didn't last long as the line between personal and professional life quickly went from blurred to non-existent.

To say the thought of work was constantly in the back of my mind is an obscene understatement. Everyday activities were plagued with crippling guilt: playing with my son, relaxing on the couch, eating, showering - I was constantly plagued with the feeling I should have been working.

 

Yes, working from home was even worse than working in the office.
Yes, working from home was even worse than working in the office.

It got to the point where I couldn't do anything without the physical effects of anxiety (sweaty palms, increased heart rate and breathing, sickness caused from intense "butterflies", tears - oh so many tears). I would hide from knocks at the door, praying my son would keep quiet just because I was so terrified of that person staying for a quick coffee. The sound of my phone ringing or receiving a message was another trigger and could leave me in tears.

And equally leaving my son to fend for himself because "I just need to get this done" in turn led to mum guilt.

Anxiety was like a tumbleweed silently rolling along as it collected other aspects of my life in its wake.

While my stress was mostly aggravated by working from home, its power meant I lost control over my emotions in other areas of my life. I would break down if the house looked untidy, stress over neglected relationships and a once mild case of social anxiety saw me avoid even the supermarket.

I often wondered what was wrong with me. Why was I feeling so incredibly stressed by a job that averaged 10 hours a week?

I was embarrassed that I wasn't doing it with ease. In my mind, and many others, it should be a walk in the park. To be able to work from home earning money while my son and I were under the same roof - surely that's the perfect gig.

Strangely, a simple tummy bug made me realise I needed to make a change. I realised the stress and anxiety of the imaginary metre-high stack of work multiplying while I was out of action was actually worse than the sickness itself.

Melbourne-based psychologist Catherine Madigan says working from home can be a perfect storm for people who have underlying anxiety disorder.

"Anxiety is a disproportionate level of fear, worry or nervousness in a particular situation.

"The isolation and social deprivation of working from home can exacerbate the condition of a socially anxious individual and lead to them retreating further from society."

She says there's often a link between anxiety and perfectionism and expects some people to struggle with juggling work and home life from the one location.

"For some it may be the ideal way to focus completely on their work free from the distraction of co-workers etc, however often the reality is they may experience constant distraction from family, housework, visitors."

While I'm still regularly reminding myself to let go of the overwhelming feeling of guilt during normal day-to-day activities, I've seen a significant improvement by implementing some simple changes.

By setting clear boundaries such as strict work hours, creating a dedicated work space and avoiding the temptation of "quick" email checks during non-work hours I'm creating a much more balanced life.



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