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Any sense of normalcy is often welcome these days during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.
But these days have the tendency to blend together, if we let them.
Experts say keeping your routine — whether a new one or the one before COVID-19 — is an important part in helping maintain your mental and physical health, provided those routines are healthy ones.
Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, a public speaker and author of “Cruising Through Caregiving,” says some people may view quarantine and isolation as a sabbatical or retreat.
Others might see it as an opportunity to learn a new skill, get organized, or get ahead at work.
“It’s important for us to be intentional about how we’d like to spend our time during this temporary situation,” FitzPatrick told Healthline. “We should all ask ourselves, ‘When we return to the new normal, what do we want to have accomplished? Or what would we want to have experienced?’ Then build your routine around that.”
FitzPatrick says a routine doesn’t necessarily mean waking up at exactly the same time every day and doing everything in the same order.
“While that helps some people, others will do better having a checklist of tasks they want to do instead, and including downtime on that list is absolutely a good idea,” she said.
But our daily rituals can help offer something that’s not easily found right now: certainty.
Tonya Dalton, a productivity expert, says routines and rituals are important in times of crisis because they help us feel more in control and centered, while helping us gain a sense of ownership over our time.
“Think of rituals as actions with meaning or emotion attached to them,” Dalton told Healthline. “Rituals keep our day moving along but are infused with joy, pleasure, or a positive emotion.”
Creating a daily routine
One of the first issues with working from home is making a home office.
Experts say your office shouldn’t be your bedroom, if possible. If your space won’t allow that, packing up the day’s workstation — like you would pack up your stuff at the end of the day at the office — can help your brain distinguish between work time and off time.
Racheal Cook, a business strategist and productivity expert, has been working from home for the past decade.
She suggests setting up a dedicated workspace, even if it’s just the corner of your kitchen table and using the Pomodoro Technique: Stay focused and work for about 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break to get water, stretch, or take a walk down the street.
“Start every day by writing out your to-do list for all the projects or work-related tasks you need to do, then prioritize that list,” Cook told Healthline. “The more you can plan your day — even better, your week — the more proactive you can be.”
The same goes for children.
Parents should help their children create a schedule, which will most likely include at-home schoolwork. Creating a dedicated space for children to complete their own work can help them compartmentalize their day, even if just for minutes at a time.
Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC, is a clinical psychotherapist and executive director of The Willow Center, a counseling practice, who also sees couples from her home office in Toledo, Ohio.
She says getting dressed and ready for working from home still involves dressing like she was on her way to the office.
“Choosing earrings or putting on a spritz of perfume are cues to my brain that it is time to focus and get to work,” Wiley told Healthline.
That routine is even more important during times of distress or chaos.
“In order for our minds to function at maximum efficiency, we must have order and stability, and right now it’s harder than ever to have either,” Wiley said. “Simple habits that we may have previously done — making the bed, blow drying our hair — are simple activities we can do to remind our brain that life is still going on despite the interruptions we are facing.”
Building a weekly routine
Brian Coughlin, author and founder of Hear It, which tells stories in various formats, has been working from home full-time for about a year.
He says he’s had to work on his routine to both be productive and to fight loneliness and isolation.
That includes maintaining consistent aspects of his daily and weekly schedule so days don’t blend together.
For him, workout days are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it’s his turn to cook dinner.
“Making each day different, while also consistent, has helped me stay productive without getting bored,” Coughlin told Healthline. “Meditation and yoga have also become far more important parts of my day, and working remotely has allowed me to better fit self-care into my daily routine.”
Other weekly habits could be virtual happy hours with co-workers or friends as well as regular phone call times with family members, especially on days you’d otherwise be together such as birthdays and holidays.
Dr. Tania Elliott, FAAAAI, FACAAI, an expert in telemedicine, says gyms are offering online courses and group video chats for people to have virtual dinner parties.
Elliott says it’s also important that couples keep going on date nights, even if that means continuing to stay at home.
“Order in,” she said. “Open a bottle of fine wine, dim the lights, and play some music.”
But it’s also important to keep the days of the week separate, particularly by getting a good night’s sleep every night.
Ideally we should be converting our time spent commuting to work to remaining asleep, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Liz Brown, founder of Sleeping Lucid, says it isn’t far-fetched to say that most people are probably on their phones and laptops all day with no clear sense of time.
That, she says, can disrupt a person’s sleeping schedule and harm their overall health.
“During this difficult time, it’s more important for people to practice good sleep habits and maintain adequate sleep hours so their bodies can recuperate and boost their immune systems,” Brown told Healthline. “This small routine not only helps one relax but also helps one in fighting against the virus.”
In other words, put down your phone, turn off your TV, and get some rest.
Tomorrow will be another day.
Originally published on Healthline.
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