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More Americans Are Working From Home — And It's Messing With Work-Life Balance

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Boundaries between work and home life can be key to managing stress, but during stay-at-home orders, those boundaries can be difficult to find.

For many, work is already pretty stressful. But during the coronavirus pandemic — whether you’re still employed or not — the stress has multiplied. 

This pandemic has revealed some of the harmful aspects of work-life balance that have been around for years. For example: why does our isolated-at-home social life feel so much like work?

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Celeste Headlee is likely a familiar name to many public radio listeners. She’s the host of many podcasts and shows, and she’s written two books on preventing burnout and building meaningful social connections.

"Belonging is the number one need we all have after survival," says Headlee. 

That belonging can be harder than ever to find during stay-at-home orders and record numbers of people working from home or going without work. This has created a boom of Zoom happy hours, Facetime birthdays, and even digital prayer sessions to celebrate holidays like Easter, Passover, and the upcoming Ramadan. 

But having all these interactions in the same space where you work can have a real effect on mental health. "Having some kind of boundary between work and home life can be a huge relief to the brain," says Headlee. That boundary can be hard to find when your workspace is your home. 

This issue isn't new. Headlee says these boundaries have been colliding for years. Taking work home and responding to emails after hours can be commonplace. And that means people never actually get a break from work, which can lead to burnout. 

Headlee has studied the effects of this burnout and says it's actually killing people. "In the United States, the life expectancy has fallen for three years in a row. When they asked a doctor in a recent report 'why are people dying earlier?' he said 'despair'," says Headlee. 

While this can all be overwhelming, Headlee recommends setting aside a dedicated space for work "because you don't want your brain associating every corner of the home with work." 

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.