Working from home isn’t all bad–think of all the time you’re saving by skipping the schlep on public transportation or by car, the decrease in dry cleaning bills, the increase in everyday foot comfort. In different times, I might write a blog about how to make the most of your commute- -catching up on morning emails, listening to your favorite music, or simply decompressing after a long day.
Early in the pandemic, I noticed that many of my clients were having difficulty sleeping through the night. While I frequently treat people with insomnia, the sleep distress that my clients were describing seemed due to other factors. As I examined the correlates, there was one glaring similarity: the people with the most difficulty sleeping were those who had a more drastic change in their commute. That is, these were people who went from having a lengthy train or subway ride to/from the office, and now were “commuting” from the bed to the couch.
As the weeks progressed, more and more of my clients began to experience restlessness, irritation, anxiety, and depression–particularly in the hours after work each day. I began encouraging all of my clients–not just those with sleep impairment–to start “commuting” to and from the “office.”
So how does one commute while working from home?
Each morning, do your usual routine as though you were going into the office: wake up, shower, get dressed, grab your keys, and go! In this case, “go” means to leave the house or apartment. If you typically walk to work or the train, take a few laps around the block before returning to your abode. If you typically drive to work, start the engine and drive for a few minutes. Your “commute” does not have to be as long as your typical commute–ten or fifteen minutes will do. When you get to the “office,” turn on your computer, grab your coffee, and get to work.
At the end of the day, do the same thing. Shut down your computer, clean up your work station, and leave the house for another commute. When you return home, change out of your work clothes and transition into “home mode.”
What is the purpose of this commute?
Rituals and routine provide clues and cues to our brain. We make associations between certain activities/spaces/people and particular feelings/actions. You might, for example, associate your living room with watching television. You might associate the setting sun with dinner time. Ideally, you associate your bed with sleep. By marking your day with a commute in the morning and evening, you are signaling to your brain the difference between non-work mode and work mode. When most of us are spending more than 20 hours per day at home, anything we can do to help distinguish between work and play is valuable.
If you’re feeling restless, sluggish, or generally ill-at-ease at home, try incorporating a morning and evening commute into your daily routine.