- As much as work commutes of the past were dreaded, some people are missing them.
- Adding a “fake commute” to your day can help improve mental health.
- In addition to reenacting your commute, there are other ways to give yourself what a commute once did.
Every weekday, Hannah Jade Coorg gets up, takes a shower, gets dressed, applies makeup, packs her work bag, puts on her shoes, grabs a coffee, and heads out her front door for work.
But she’s not actually going anywhere to do her job.
As a Londoner, Coorg’s been working from home since March.
“I didn’t miss my commute at first, as I guess [work from home] was a bit of a novelty when it first started. I think it was only until about 2 months into the pandemic… did I start to miss the daily routine of going into the office and seeing my friends and colleagues,” Coorg told Healthline.
Before the pandemic, she took a 30-minute ride on the Tube, London’s underground electric train system, to work. While she admits the Tube could be crowded, hot, and packed with people not happy to be going to work, she still enjoyed the commute.
“Having that 30 minutes in the morning to myself, listening to a new playlist I’d created or delve into a podcast, allowed me to settle my mind before I entered the bustling office… I knew I was always going to see something different, lock eyes with someone else, or exchange a smile with a stranger. It just added difference to the start of my day,” she said.
As she began missing this part of the day more and more, Coorg came up with the idea to “fake commute.”
Once she’s dressed and ready to go, she walks for about 45 minutes. Her path leads her back to her flat and home workspace.
Before the pandemic, many people’s days were filled with transitions.
Jamie Goldstein, PsyD, therapy experience lead at Coa, says the psychology world refers to natural boundaries between ourselves and work as “segmentation.”
“Before quarantine, we’d have time to go to and from our offices. We built in time for lunch hours and even travel time to go from one meeting or appointment to the next. These moments of physical transition allowed us to move between our roles as parents, project managers, partners, and more,” Goldstein told Healthline.
Dr. Nicole B. Washington agrees, noting that people have gone from working from home to living at work. This, Washington says, is affecting our mental health.
“As painful as the commute can be for some, it gave us time to decompress from the workday and prepared us to be present for our loved ones when we got home. Without it, some people are really struggling with turning off work, and they are working into the evening, often very late,” she told Healthline.
Coorg relates to this firsthand. A few months into working from home, she says she felt like she was going in circles around her house.
“There was literally no break between getting up from my bed and sitting down at my desk to start the day. I’m very much a people person, so not being able to make any daily contact with multiple people made me feel quite empty, I guess,” she said.
Lack of transition time is a fast track to burning out.
According to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, after stay-at-home orders and lockdowns took place, the average workday extended by more than 48 minutes. Additionally, the number of meetings increased by 13 percent.
“People are struggling with overworking and separating themselves emotionally from work,” Goldstein said.
Even as some people and businesses adapt to the new way of remote working, Coorg says it takes effort to navigate work-life balance in this environment.
“Work is important, sure, but your mental health is key. Taking some time in the morning can create a fresh headspace before the day of work starts, as well as [offer] time in the evening to decompress from a busy day and make more time for living. We all need that right now,” she said.
In addition to reenacting your work commute, taking the following seven steps can help give you what a commute once did.
1. Get dressed and walk out the door
Getting dressed and ready for work like you did before the pandemic is a good way to start the day.
“I do recommend that people get dressed for work in the morning, so then changing clothes from work clothes to evening clothes can also be a way to symbolize the end of the workday,” Washington said.
She also recommends walking out of the same entrance you typically used when you come home from work.
“Go check [your] mail or take a brief walk outside to symbolize the ending of [your] workday and coming home for the evening,” Washington said.
2. Follow same commute time
Think about how long you used to put toward commuting or moving from one meeting to another, and block that time on your calendar to take a walk, grab tea from the kitchen, or take a restful break.
If you used to walk from the office to your favorite lunch spot, try incorporating a 10-minute walk before and after lunch.
“This allows your body the space it needs to come back down to neutral after being in action mode at work,” Goldstein said.
3. Play a song
If you struggle with stopping yourself from jumping from home life to work life, consider picking a transition song.
“The same way baseball players get a walk-up song as they’re coming to the plate to bat, give yourself the length of a song to help move into the next thing,” Goldstein said.
Try playing the song when you move from work to lunch, or from work to helping kids while they do schoolwork, for example.
4. Turn your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’
When you’re stressed “at work,” turn off your phone notifications.
“Oftentimes, we use our phones during a commute because our phone can offer us music, audiobooks, meditations, journaling prompts, and more. Yet, when the dings, bings, and buzzes continue on, it pulls our attention away from the moment we are actively in. This draw can diminish the decompression and stress response cycle closing we are working to create,” Goldstein said.
5. Shut down your workspace
Symbolizing the end of the workday is crucial, says Washington.
“I highly recommend avoiding the space that is used for work during the day. For those in smaller dwellings without dedicated office space, I recommend putting away as much of work as possible at the end of the work time to signify that you are moving away from work and into your personal time,” she said.
6. Keep your physical routine
If you had an exercise routine before working from home, Goldstein says to keep it.
“Some folks moved their bodies before work, some after, some on their lunch break. Bringing this flow back into the picture not only offers some normalcy and familiarity, but also all of the mental, emotional benefits that come as a direct result of the mind-body connection,” she said.
Coorg says it took her effort to make this happen.
“I’m a runner, so I’m already pretty active, but when the pandemic started, I did feel a lot more lazy. I’d say just do it. It doesn’t cost much (if you walk or cycle, of course), and it’ll do wonders to your headspace,” she said.
7. Block time for mental fitness
In addition to establishing a routine for physical fitness, Goldstein says to add one for emotional fitness.
She suggests self-care acts like meditating, stretching, or yoga, as well as therapy, if needed.
“Not only does [therapy] give you nearly an hour that is meant only for you, it is also one of the greatest resources to engage in a self-reflection practice,” she said.
“When we increase our awareness of biases, triggers, and how we show up in the world, it lays a foundation for us to build our most resilient selves upon. And who couldn’t use a boost in resiliency right now?” Goldstein said.