COVID-19 has blurred the lines between work and home, but these easy-to-implement strategies can help you restore structure and create a healthier, happier home.

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Even before the COVID-19 crisis, keeping our work lives and personal lives separate was growing increasingly difficult. But now, as so many of us are semi-permanently working from home, it’s infinitely harder.

Without some intentional changes, this “new normal” can mean that the days, nights, and weekends all merge together, which can lead to some really irregular life patterns.

I’ve seen it happen for plenty of my patients — and even in my own household.

As both an integrative physician and a mother of two, I know that disrupting our lifestyle patterns can have serious consequences on our health. To help you create a better sense of structure and a healthier, happier home, I’ve put together 6 easy-to-implement tips for you and your family.

Because remote work makes it possible to work all the time, we often don’t have good boundaries to delineate between “work time” and “fun time.” Break it up with a “6 p.m. means we’re off work!” dance party for the whole family.

We can gain incredible benefits from dance — it’s a form of physical activity that benefits both our body and brain health, and has even been shown to be a good leisure activity for reducing dementia risk and memory decline.

Researchers have discovered that dancing may even decrease stress hormones… so it’s basically the antidote to the quarantine blues, too.

While our fancy, efficient devices have made it easier for us to work well into the wee hours of the morning, they also expose us to the damaging effects of blue light wavelengths.

Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and is important for us during the daytime (yup, the original source of blue light is the sun!). However, artificial sources of blue light, including TVs, laptops, tablets, and gaming systems, can be harmful to our health.

Researchers found that exposure to blue light at night reduces our production of melatonin and therefore disrupts our circadian rhythm, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and psychiatric disorders.

Another study even linked artificial light at night with cancer. And researchers also found that children may be at greater risk for the long-term impacts of excessive blue light exposure.

To avoid these negative health effects, make it a habit to cut off your electronic use a couple of hours before bedtime. Instead, enjoy some family puzzle time, get involved in a book club, and pick up some crafting hobbies — you won’t miss the screens at all.

It doesn’t need to be super formal, but finding regular times to eat meals together at the table creates a sense of community, structure, and connectedness.

Studies have shown that this is an important aspect of a child’s development, and reducing the number of meals together can even increase risk of anxiety, depression, and mental health issues.

So on nights when it’s possible, have regular family dinners that are device- and work-free affairs. This can create a set time for you to bond and reflect on the day together.

On days that you have a little extra time, try getting the kids involved in the whole meal process.

My family gets my daughters involved in everything from the food prep to setting the table to — yup — the dreaded dish-washing routine.

I won’t lie, there can be a few quarrels over who’s going to wash and who’s going to dry the dishes, but I’m often pleasantly surprised when the kids end up laughing together at the sink, too. (And besides, it means my husband and I get the night off!)

By creating a sleep ritual before bed, you’re helping your kids form positive, consistent behaviors that can help encourage good sleep quality. You’re also blocking off a consistent hour on your calendar, so your boss knows you’re just not available to finish that all-important project right then.

Bedtime is also a great opportunity for bonding activities like singing lullabies, massaging, and reading, which have all been shown to deeply impact child development, helping everything from language and literacy skills to boosting kids’ moods.

Aim to set aside a little QT before bedtime with your little ones — the physical and mental benefits can last a lifetime.

According to CDC guidelines, staying physically active during the pandemic is a key way to keep your mind and body healthy.

A great way to stay active is by spending time outdoors — as long as you’re following proper social distancing guidelines, wearing a mask, and avoiding anywhere that’s too crowded.

So let your work know that you’ll be taking the occasional vacation day to hit the beach, go hiking in the forest, or just go to the local park to blow some bubbles and have a picnic.

Researchers have suggested that group nature walks can reduce the negative impacts on our mental health that come with stressful life events, such as serious illness, a relationship breakup, the death of a loved one, and unemployment (so… maybe even a pandemic?).

There’s also tons of evidence that spending time solo in nature can give you time for self-reflection and be a great form of self-care.

Personally, I like to mix it up. During the week, I’ll opt for more rigorous walks and hikes on my own, and then on the weekend, the family joins me on more leisurely walks or picnics at the beach.

Having a consistent bedtime every day of the week (and yes, that includes weekends) is important for optimal circadian rhythms.

The more consistent you are with the time you go to sleep each night, the better chance you have of warding off things like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Scientists studying social jet lag — a term used to describe the differences between our sleep timing on our work weekdays and free weekends — have shown that bigger discrepancies between your weekday and weekend sleep-wake times may lead to a higher risk of:

  • greater body fat and waist circumference
  • weight gain
  • diabetes
  • inflammation
  • stress

Of course there are times when it’s impossible to be regular in your sleep schedule (sometimes your work has to come first, I get it). But keep in mind that the more consistent you can be, the better it will be for you.

Though COVID-19 has blurred the lines between work and play, there are ways for you to break up your day to restore structure and balance into your family’s life.

These changes are easy enough to make right away, but be patient if it takes time to really start feeling the benefits. Like any routine, it’ll take time to settle in and get used to your new normal. You’ve got this!

Shadi Vahdat, M.D., is the Medical Director of the LiveWell Center For Integrative Medicine. Specializing in both integrative health care and hospital medicine, Dr. Vahdat works with patients who are intrigued by holistic medicine and are ready to make serious changes in their lifestyle and reach their optimal healthy lifestyles. If it’s time for you to start being proactive about your health care, schedule a free phone consultation with Dr. Vahdat today.