How To Separate Your Workday From Nighttime While Working From Home
Say what you will about commutes, but they do one thing really well, and that's separate your work from your home—literally, of course, but emotionally, too.
Reminiscing (not a word I'd ever apply to the NYC transit system) about my commute home of yesteryear, I remember it as 10 minutes spent in a subway car slowly—sometimes, very slowly—moving away from the demands of the office. Though I may not have enjoyed these moments at the time, they reminded me that there's a whole bustling world outside of my computer screen.
In a way, I think the physical division also helped me tease apart my work. life from my home life and not conflate them to the point of accidentally constructing identity solely from my work. These days, making that distinction takes more effort.
So, in the name of the faux commute, I combed through the mbg archives for ideas on how to mentally "leave" work at the end of every day and get into nighttime mode quicker than a ride on the F train:
Drink a cup of tea.
The logic on this one is interesting: Since the pandemic began, alcohol sales have increased, and drinking a glass or two before bed has become a way for many people to wind down. When I spoke with clinical psychologist Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D., about this behavior, she explained that, in addition to the physiological impact of booze, it could have to do with the fact that more people now affiliate drinking alcohol with chilling out.
In the absence of other wind-down cues, we're more likely to latch onto physical objects that we associate with relaxation. While having a drink after work is certainly one way to mentally check out of the office, if you're abstaining, you could find another beverage that is similarly calming in your mind. Maybe it's a warm cup of tea in a variety that you wouldn't usually drink during the day, like chamomile, hawthorn, or lavender. When done daily, the habit of sipping your brew can become a ritual that signals that the workday has passed.
Light a candle.
This idea came from a conversation I had with intuitive counselor and sacred space designer Elana Kilkenny, who has been doing it as a way to signal to her family that the dining room table is now officially being used as a dinner zone and not a desk. It's a simple, smell-good way to change the function of your space from productivity to relaxation. I'm starting my little nighttime collection with clean-burning candles in calming scents like lavender, jasmine, and sandalwood.
Take a walk.
Think of it as commuting but with no public transport required. The key here is to head out with your phone off or tucked into your pocket so you can give your neighborhood your full attention. Seek out quieter, greener spaces when you can, as research suggests that walking through nature might reduce the brain's tendency to ruminate1, or replay negative thoughts over and over again—as it is wont to do after a busy workday.
A good stretching session is always welcome but especially after a long day of sitting. A recent study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that stretching can also help reduce stiffness in the arteries and keep blood pressure under control ("when you stretch your muscles, you're also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries," lead author Phil Chilibeck, Ph.D., explains) making it a super healthy practice to do daily. Movement of any kind can also help guide the attention out of the mind and into the body, providing a chance to find presence after a hectic day.
Visualize leaving the workday behind.
Energy worker Marci Baron shared this visualization with mbg back in 2019, but it's tailor-made for COVID times. During days when you can't leave your computer behind at the office, this simple little ritual is a way to keep yourself from carrying work in the evening: "First, stand up from your personal workspace—wherever it may be—and take a deep breath. Set the intention to leave the energy of your day there. Select an object, such as a coffee cup, a file, or a computer, where you can store the energy of the day. Imagine all of the events of the day flowing out of your body and into the object where it will stay safe for you until tomorrow."
Take on a tactile hobby.
Tuning into your sense of touch can ground you in the present and remind yourself of things you know to be true. Clinical psychologist Ayanna Abrams, Psy.D., previously told mbg that it's a good strategy to employ when you're struggling with anxious thoughts that may or may not be grounded in reality—you know, the ones that tend to spring up around work.
Consider this another reason to try your hand at a new nightly hobby: cooking, knitting, doing puzzles... All of the quarantine's tried-and-trues have the added benefit of providing tactile feedback that can help us disengage from mental worries.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.