Remote working with MS in the ‘new normal’
We understand that not everybody has a job that requires them to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. You might be a healthcare worker, have a job in retail or construction, or maybe you’re a teacher. For some, the challenges that come with working from home simply aren’t an issue.
But for those of you who do, you may have encountered several obstacles when adapting to remote working. Finding the right work-life balance, managing wellbeing and dealing with job insecurity has been difficult for many. And for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS), this may have been even harder if MS symptoms are already affecting worklife.
Here we’ll explore how you can strike the right balance between your home and work life, offer advice on how to stay healthy when working from home and discuss the pitfalls and advantages to this new way of working.
Although it has taken some time for everyone to adapt to working from home, every cloud has its silver lining and there are many positives to this new way of working.
Benefits we have seen for everyone include a reduction in CO2 emissions, which has been observed around the world as a result of fewer cars commuting to work. We have also been able to save both time and money travelling to and from our workplace, giving us more time to spend with the people we love and doing things we might not have previously had time for. For example, cooking evening meals from scratch is something that many people have picked up more frequently this year.
And for people living with MS, there are even more benefits to this widespread change in how we work. Many employers are now more open to the flexibility offered by remote working, meaning that people living with MS might be able to continue working from home when needed beyond COVID. This year of restrictions has also given the general public a much needed better understanding of what it’s like to be living with the limitations of chronic conditions. Hopefully this can only work to better serve people with conditions like MS in the future.
Striking a health work-life balance
Establishing a healthy work-life balance can help you to maintain a good rhythm and routine in your daily life, supporting your mental health, aiding productivity and ensuring you spend good quality time with your loved ones.
“Being able to do work whilst wearing my pyjamas from the waist down has of course helped!”
– Jenny, Living with MS
While the flexibility of remote working provides some benefits, you may find yourself struggling to disconnect and separate your work life from your life at home. But it’s important that you set yourself boundaries and stick to them! There might be occasions when you have to spend a little longer working than the normal working day, but you should aim to keep this to a minimum.
Try building some of the following activites into your daily life to help maintain a routine and encourage a healthy work-life balance when working from home:
Fuel your body with the right food
When you start working from home, healthy habits that had previously been built can sometimes take a back seat. However, if we don’t take care of ourselves, our ability to work effectively may suffer. This is the case for everyone but might be particularly true for people living with MS, where symptoms like fatigue can already interfere with your daily life.
While there is no specific diet proven to help everyone with MS, many people have found benefits to switching to a healthier diet. For people with MS, eating a healthy and consuming a balanced diet can have a positive effect on energy levels and mood. It can also help to improve some of the symptoms of MS, including pain, cognitive impairment and fatigue.
When we’re sitting down for most of the day working from home, it can be easier to snack and make less healthy choices. But luckily, your diet is something you can control. Make an effort to keep to the routine you had when you were in the office and try to eat food from all the foods groups throughout your day, limiting the amount of fatty, sugary and salty foods that you consume. There’s also no harm in adding more fruit and vegetables to your existing diet. Either add them to your meals or blend them into smoothies!
Keeping a diary to track how you're feeling
If you struggle to manage your energy levels when working from home, you may find it beneficial to track how you’re feeling in a diary. By rating your level of fatigue at different times of the day, and in relation to different activities, you might be able to identify patterns in your fatigue which can be shared with your neurologist or MS nurse. This will also be beneficial to you, as you can establish the amount of work you can take on and when in the day you are likely to be less affected by fatigue.
Similarly, if you’re affected by ‘cog fog’, you may find it useful to note this down too. If your ability to think clearly and concentrate on your work is affected more at home, this might help you to figure out why.
The importance of regular contact with colleagues
Living with MS, loneliness and isolation might not be a new experience for you. But with the transition to remote working, these feelings may have returned or become more apparent than they were before.
Keeping in regular contact with your colleagues is important to help you feel like you’re not missing out on social conversations you would normally have in the office environment. Why not catch up over a short video call during the day or arrange to chat on the phone outside of working hours.
Of course it won’t be quite the same, but doing just small things to maintain workplace relationships can do wonders to help you feel less alone and more connected to the people in your life.
This year has been a challenging one. But you should take comfort in the fact that many people experience a period of personal growth following a difficult time. Whether it be a heightened sense of personal confidence, a deeper sense of gratitude or realising what really matters most to you, it’s not unusual for people to feel like they have grown after working through some tough circumstances.
However, problems with employment security and a lack of social day-to-day interaction with others continue to cause stress and feelings of isolation for many, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re still struggling to get to grips with remote working. There are numerous online resources that can help to provide information and offer you support.
If you’re feeling isolated or are looking for more social interaction with people you can relate to, why not join the MS One to One community on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to connect with other people who are living with MS.
Discover how you can make the most of the MS community