As days blend together, many turn to ‘fake commutes’ for a sense of routine
A 'fake commute' can act as a boundary between work and home.
File photo, edited by We Rep STEM.
It’s been nearly a year since North American workers were sent home en masse to curb the spread of COVID-19. While some of us have since returned to traditional offices and labs, around 30 to 40 per cent of the U.S. workforce and an estimated 59 per cent of the Canadian continue to work remotely.
In light of this, a new trend has emerged.
Some are getting up and going for a walk or jog around the block before logging in. Others are hopping in the car and grabbing a drive-thru coffee, only to turn around and head home again.
Before COVID-19 brought the world as we knew it to a screeching halt, numerous surveys and studies suggested the daily commute was one of the most stressful parts of the workweek — but now that it’s been taken away, experts are starting to understand it also carried some psychological benefits.
To be clear: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would choose to spend hours stuck in traffic or stand at a bus stop during a snowstorm. But the commute acts as a “buffer” between work and home, and that divide can be beneficial for your mental health.
Brianna Baker, a first-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at Columbia University who researches in the Stigma, Identity, and Intersectionality Research Lab, tells We Rep STEM a ‘fake commute’ sets up a “very real” work-life boundary, allowing for mental and cognitive shifts to occur.
“Before the pandemic, our minds were used to experiencing multiple mental shifts throughout the day. Every time we changed meeting rooms, switched classes, or left for lunch, we participated in sort of a ‘psychological reset’ that allowed us to decompress and centre ourselves,” she says.
“Without these, our days would be monotonous, leaving little room for spontaneity and creativity, which many people experience working from home. When our desk chair is in the same vicinity as our beds, children’s playsets, and family television, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between work and personal life.”
Brianna says for many, the commute provides an opportunity to transition into other phases of the day.
“We learn in career counseling that whether your work is personally fulfilling or merely a means for compensation, it often serves as a particular facet of our self-concept and life experience. As we commute, we are engaging in a soft transition from different components of our life experience.”
And then there’s the self-care aspect of the commute, a time many use to call friends, engage in religious activities, read, listen to podcasts, or enjoy a playlist.
“These activities are vital to our ability to function optimally in each of the different roles we occupy in our lives,” she says.
“By implementing a fake commute, a person permits themselves to 1) create that boundary between work and home, 2) provide space and time for decompressing and preparation for often competing life roles and responsibilities, and 3) engage in self-care practices that soothe the mind and exercise self-compassion in the most demanding times of our days.”
Health experts don’t know when lockdown restrictions will ease, but estimates suggest we could be living this way well into 2021.
If you’re struggling, there are ways to protect your mental health.
“My most significant piece of advice is to create a physical separation as much as possible between family, work, and play,” Brianna says.
“The pandemic interrupted my plans to start a new life in New York City, and I had to begin my Ph.D. studies from my family home, which was a massive transition from being on my own. Navigating graduate school and a part-time job from home made me realize the importance of physical boundaries, no matter how subtle.”
She suggests the following tricks:
Other ways to deal with pandemic-related anxiety, according to the CDC, include: