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  • Kaitlyn Kokoska

The 3 Changes I Made for My Mental Health During Quarantine

We've been doing the work-from-home thing for a while now! Can you believe it?

Thinking back to the first few weeks in March when we were told quarantine would only last for two weeks seems crazy to us now. Work from home is the "new normal" for many of us, and yet I found myself still struggling to balance my work/home/self-care life. It may have taken me months, but I've finally figured out what I needed to do to create a new work-from-home version of myself—the version of myself who wears sweatsuits instead of suit jackets, but still gets stuff done! Here are three lifestyle changes I made to keep myself sane and productive:

1. Creating a schedule

Because our workspace has integrated itself into our space for relaxing, it's easy for work tasks and thinking about work to bleed into our R&R time. Gone are the days where we could use our commute to pack away work problems into the "work compartment" part of our brains.

When we first started our W-F-M journey, I found myself logged in past my contracted work hours and constantly thinking about client files while folding laundry on my lunch break.

I know myself pretty well and in order to stop working 24/7, I had to set myself boundaries. When the whistle blew at 4 p.m. that meant it was time to shut down my computer and "go home" like I would if I was at the office. There had to be a clear cut off where I could use the time after 4 p.m. to focus on my home life and not "just wait 30 minutes for a client to get that document back to me."

While creating an official time when you turn off physical work, it's important to make sure you're turning off your work brain as well. For me, this meant taking 15-30 minutes a day after work to nothing and create a space where no one was asking anything of me. Sometimes this means lying on the couch and scrolling through Tiktoks to relax my brain and other days this means sitting on my deck and listening to music. Dinner can wait, exercising can wait, and most importantly client files can wait until tomorrow when you're back on shift.

2. Feeding my brain

When was going to the office, I was the QUEEN of meal prep. Every Sunday I would peruse Pinterest and portion my lunches out in little tubs. Now it's just a free for all. A handful of pretzels and a banana for lunch? Sure! A can of soup? Why not? KD every day for 2 weeks straight? Of course! No snobby coworkers are around to judge me here (except for my boyfriend). And then there would be dinner to worry about. We're supposed to be supporting small businesses during this time of financial stress, so Skip the Dishes it is!.

This was okay for a while. Just a while. Then I found myself constantly exhausted after every shift. I would be thinking about what next snack concoction I could come up with between client calls.

It was during a time of crisis (hangry illogical frustration) that I decided enough was enough. Time to whip out the cookbooks and start planning again. Having a plan and not having to think of what to cook is HUGE for me. My past-self makes sure my future self is getting all the important vitamins and nutrients through my food and also gives me time to focus on the task at hand.

3. Just say no.

Without the stress of my daily work commute, I found myself with a lot more time and physical energy. It became really easy to say "Of course I'll take on that extra account or work through my lunch--I'm just going to have a PB&J anyways." I found myself piling on the projects, not just at work, but at home too. With no commuting, I could clean the bathroom 2 times a week and task myself with a new creative project every week!

I started to burn out. Getting out of bed and dragging myself 25 feet to my office seemed impossible in the morning. I felt constantly behind because I wasn't meeting all the unreasonable expectations I had put on myself.

So, I started saying no.

Just because you physically can do something, doesn't mean you should or it's healthy for you to take on. If you make it clear to your peers and bosses why you have to say no, they may be disappointed in the short term, but they should understand that your time is valuable too (and if they don't, you may need to find yourself a new environment).

The bottom line? Just take care of yourself. Just because you're at home in your safe space, does not mean you're automatically taking care of yourself. So check-in. Take time for yourself. A burnt-out bulb cannot shed light on anything.

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