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    DR MAX PEMBERTON: The PJs and toast days are over – home working is messing with our heads

    DR MAX PEMBERTON: The PJs and toast days are over – home working is messing with our heads

    • Dr Max warns working from home may not be as blissful as you once thought
    • Suggests a tendency for the working day to bleed into evenings and weekends 
    • Recommends  the fitness platform Hayo’u Fit which teaches Chinese yoga

    Have you been working from home? Before Covid the idea that you could sit in your pyjamas, eat toast and potter away on your laptop while getting paid sounded bliss. Seven months on, I think more and more people are coming to realise it is a gilded cage.

    I have no doubt that while the idea of working from home might be appealing, the reality is psychologically toxic.

    I count myself fortunate that, being a doctor, I was going into work most days, even during lockdown. I’m not sure how I’d have coped if I had been sent home to work.

    The days of PJs and toast are over: Dr Max Pemberton suggests people who are working from home and beginning to realise how much of gilded cage it is. Picture: Stock

    Sure, commuting is a pain, but the structure of work — having to start and finish at certain times, is useful.

    I’ve had so many friends tell me how, since working from home, they’ve struggled to switch off. It’s all too easy for the working day to bleed into the evening and weekends.

    Then there’s the social element which we lose with working from home. A friend recently told me how, after being allowed back into the office in July, she saw a colleague walking down the hallway on the way to a photocopier, whom she hadn’t seen for months. 

    She was overwhelmed with excitement to see her and waved frantically as they greeted each other like long-lost friends.

    She realised afterwards that, truth be told, they hardly knew each other and had rarely spoken before Covid. Despite this, they had both been genuinely thrilled to see each other.

    The fact is these vague, tentative connections are incredibly important. They feed into our deep-rooted sense of tribal affiliation.

    Dr Max (pictured) warns people working from home may struggled to switch off because it is too easy for the working day to bleed into your spare time

    Dr Max (pictured) warns people working from home may struggled to switch off because it is too easy for the working day to bleed into your spare time

    We might not know the person down the corridor well, but we are still connected to them through our place of work, and this sense of connection needs to be fostered and nurtured.

    While we have tended to focus on measuring tangible numbers such as the rate of infections or deaths, the virus has taken away something incredibly important that we have rarely thought about: our ability to interact.

    It might sound daft, but one of the most important things we do at work isn’t work. We are gregarious animals — interacting with each other, fostering alliances, making connections and friendships, is incredibly important for our emotional wellbeing. And it works the other way round, too.

    Care homes finally getting regular testing 

    Finally, murmurs of sense over the plight of older people trapped in care homes.

    Minister for Care Helen Whately has said a trial will take place where relatives will be tested regularly and wear PPE. 

    Banning all visitors has been inhumane — older people should be treated like adults. 

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    We’ve all had the experience of an infuriating boss or irritating colleague. Frustrations and annoyances are a normal part of working life.

    But the working environment helps us let off steam. We can go and complain to a sympathetic colleague when something happens.

    A surreptitious roll of the eyes in a meeting about a boss droning on lightens the mood and makes things bearable.

    These small, apparently inconsequential moments act as the lubricant that helps us work. Conversely, we might complain about a colleague only to find others found them a joy to work with, and that in turn triggers some pause for thought.

    Standing around the water cooler was the modern equivalent of sitting round the campfire, chatting and telling stories. It was about forming connections. Of course, those connections might not last outside of work.

    Few people we work with will become friends that transcend the working environment. But in order to help us get on with one another, to work and help each other when necessary, we need to be face to face.

    There’s no preamble chit-chat before Zoom meetings or lingering discussions after everyone has gone, yet these were vital.

    I was talking to the eminent Professor of Psychiatry, Sir Simon Wessely a few days ago about the pandemic’s impact on our mental health. He said some people have convinced themselves working from home is sustainable in the long term, but he has his doubts.

    Why do the arts think they’re so special? 

    I’ve been really irritated by the outcry after a minister suggested that those in the arts might have to retrain.

    Millions are facing financial ruin, unemployment and the prospect of retraining, why does it only provoke outrage when it happens to ‘creatives’?

    Why on earth do they think they are so special? 

    Their horror at the prospect of having to do a regular job like the rest of us just speaks volumes about their narcissism. 

    We desperately need more nurses and social workers so I hope many of those out of work from any industry will consider this as a career option. 

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    What we’ve failed to take into account, he says, is how important social interaction is in forming trust — vital for cooperation in all areas of our life. He argued that while we might be able to work from home for a short period, ultimately we all need to return to work to gossip, to form alliances and friendships — it’s not possible to do that virtually.

    At the moment, we are trading off previously formed relationships, but we need to return soon to build more. He gave an interesting analogy. He likened it to an experiment by the conductor André Previn. To demonstrate the importance of the conductor, half way through a concert, Previn sat down.

    The orchestra managed to keep playing for some time, but slowly, the tempo was lost and in time the orchestra had to stop and couldn’t start up again. Without the direction of the conductor, and the sense of playing together to achieve a collective goal, the orchestra became unstuck.

    That’s how it will be working from home: we’ll manage for a bit, but eventually need to return. Long term, it’s just not sustainable psychologically.

    STOP COLD CALLING THE ELDERLY 

    Cold callers are targeting elderly people to pressure them into buying bogus or unnecessary cover for household appliances according to consumer group Which?

     It reminds me of my Gran a few years ago, who found herself on a list for charities to target. 

    According to consumer group Which?, cold callers are targeting the elderly and tricking them into buying fake or unnecessary cover for their appliances

    According to consumer group Which?, cold callers are targeting the elderly and tricking them into buying fake or unnecessary cover for their appliances

    After I happened to overhear her getting upset on the phone, asking someone to leave her alone, before then handing over her bank details, I found she was paying vast amounts from her pension to charities simply for peace and quiet. Utterly appalling! 

    If you find yourself on the receiving end of any unsolicited attempts to sell you things over the phone or donate to charities, then either hang up or walk away for five minutes before replacing the receiver. 

    You can also register your number with the Telephone Preference Service, which is the UK’s official ‘do not call’ register (tpsonline.org.uk). 

    DR MAX PRESCRIBES: CHINESE YOGA

    Online fitness platform Hayo’u Fit (hayoufit.com) is the first to offer Qigong virtually. 

    Qigong, or Chinese yoga, reduces cortisol, stress hormones and blood pressure. 

    We used to teach it to patients with eating disorders to reduce stress after meal times. Now anyone can try it from their own home.

    Dr Max recommends trying out online fitness  platform Hayo'u Fit which teaches Chinese yoga which can reduce cortisol, stress hormones and blood pressure

    Dr Max recommends trying out online fitness  platform Hayo’u Fit which teaches Chinese yoga which can reduce cortisol, stress hormones and blood pressure

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