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Your space, your work, your mental health

Written by Jake Goldwasser

Being stuck at home can test the patience of introverts and extroverts alike. COVID-19 has disrupted many of our social, personal space, and work-life balance routines.

Here are six science-backed tips about how to stay sane in a homebound crisis by using your space to your advantage.

Get in the zone—and out of it

Science tells us that our mental health improves when we create separate spaces for work and leisure. If you have a designated room to work from, that’s great—but not everyone has that luxury now that kids and partners are home, too.

Set a designated place for your work. For me, that means marking off part of my dining room table with masking tape. Even if you don’t have much space, it’s crucial to allot yourself a place where you can get work done and take a break from your domestic duties. It also is a visual reminder for everyone you live with that you can’t be disturbed.

Likewise, designate a stress-free haven. If you like to read, this could be a chair in your living room. For my roommate, it’s a punching bag in the garage. If you’re really strapped for square-footage, choose a position instead, like lying on your back on the floor. Whatever it is, when you’re there, let yourself feel free from responsibility.

Break up your day

Are you used to having a quiet office and now find yourself struggling to focus in a house of screaming children? Or do you miss the company of your coworkers and feel isolated in the quiet of your empty apartment? 

Any sudden shift in your work environment can be stressful. Switching it up in your own space can help you feel better—and be more productive. If you have a few big chunks of work, schedule times to move around your house. I read email in the kitchen in the morning, work at my makeshift desk after lunch, and take calls from my porch in the afternoon. Bonus: I’ve gotten to know some of the birds that live in my tree.

Perform daily transitions

External cues guide our thinking, and a daily commute can be a helpful mental transition between home life and work life. If you’re suddenly relieved of your commute, you might have to be more intentional about defining a starting line and finish line for your day.

Commit never to work from bed—then go further. Pick a morning and evening ritual to start and end your work day with. Some ideas: a quick yoga session, lighting a candle, or checking in with an accountability buddy. You can even keep your commute time by going for a walk or bike ride (while wearing a mask of course).

These reminders can help you organize your time even if it’s impossible to organize your space.

Switch it up!

Positive psychology tells us that one of the strongest generators of delight is novelty. If staying at home has you doing the same things over and over again, make a point to change something about your weekly routine. Stumped? Here are a few ideas:

1) Swap grocery duties with a friend and do each other’s online shopping. Just remember to remind them of your dietary restrictions. (If this fills you with dread, a recipe swap might be an easier place to start). 2) Change your walking route. A routine change as simple as this can make people measurably happier. 3) Plant something. It’s a great time of year for simple container gardening, and planting fruits and vegetables can help you stay healthy. If you live in an apartment, herbs or microgreens can be grown easily indoors. Growing plants mark the passage of time. 4) Bored to tears on a Saturday night? Move the furniture around. You’ll be surprised how different your new living room feels. (You might even find the remote control you lost in 2013.)

Kiss your phone goodnight

I know, it’s not easy to say goodbye. But taking a break from your phone is healthy for both of you.

In heightened periods of stress, maintaining sleep rhythms is even more important. Keeping your phone out of your room when you go to sleep is an easy win for your sleep hygiene. Just wish it pleasant dreams. There are even some phone sleeping bag options on Etsy

Pardon the interruption

Take a deep breath. As many have noted: we’re not working from home during a pandemic—we’re living through a pandemic and trying to get some work done while we do. 

There have been some amazing displays of empathy during this crisis. It’s what humans do best. So the next time your day gets derailed by a household kerfuffle, try to extend some of that empathy to yourself too. You deserve it.

 

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