Now that we’re on week six of social distancing and working from home, it’s getting harder to recognize the distinction between weekdays and weekends. Between working, parenting, homeschooling your children, reading the news to stay informed, cooking three meals a day, and trying to keep everyone in your family healthy, the mental load can get overwhelming. In a recent article published in The Atlantic, author Helen Lewis brings up a valid consideration: “one of the most striking effects of the coronavirus will be to send many couples back to the 1950s. Across the world, women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic.”
With school closures and social distancing, the work of childcare is moving from nannies, daycares, and schools back to parents. In many cases, the responsibility will fall on mothers. Every family manages child care differently. Whether working parents alternate work and child care “shifts” or if they make the difficult decision of having the majority of one task fall on one parent, it can often feel impossible managing work and family responsibilities. This pandemic will pass, although with long-lasting consequences. In the meantime, how do we approach our mental health and manage the new structure of our everyday lives while still achieving our goals?
As a mother of two toddlers and a month- old newborn and a small business owner, I have found that doing four particular things on Sunday helps me mentally prepare for the week ahead and infuse a sense of normalcy into my days. Of course, it will take more than a Sunday ritual to handle the emotional effects of a global pandemic. But this is where I’m starting.
Step 1: Clean up your space, including your work area
Since many of us are working from home now, your desk could be anything from your couch to your dining room table. Wherever you decide to work, take a half hour to clean up the area. If I’m surrounded by stacks of random papers, unopened mail, or Legos that seem to permeate every corner of my house, it’s really hard for me to focus and start working with a clear mind. I still don’t quite understand how these piles of clutter show up consistently despite constantly tidying up. Nonetheless, I am determined to eliminate them.
Clutter isn’t just aesthetically displeasing. It can also affect your productivity. A study at Princeton University observed that clutter can lead to more difficulty focusing on a single task because various stimuli compete for neural representation. This ultimately makes it harder to pay attention and focus on completing tasks.
While you’re tidying up, do a once-over of your home and see what else you can put away in the time you allot for cleaning. Put away folded laundry, empty the dishwasher, wipe down kitchen counters and anything else you have been putting off. Although minor changes, your future self will thank you come Monday morning when you can sit at your desk and start working in a peaceful environment.
Step 2: Take half an hour to sit down and think about how you want the next five days to go.
Mentally preparing for the week ahead starts with taking care of yourself. Take five minutes to write down all the tasks floating through your mind in a notebook or planner. Relieve your mind of the burden of keeping it all in your head. That includes ordering produce, finding another pair of sneakers for your daughter, breaking down major work projects into manageable tasks, or anything else on your mind. Schedule your virtual barre class now. Plan to connect with one to two people from your network just to check in.
Also, consider blocking out work time. If you have a project deadline coming up on Friday, block out time on Tuesday to complete it. Physically create a calendar meeting and invite yourself. This will give you a sense of fulfillment and plenty of time to edit/submit it in advance without the stress of procrastinating and being up all night.
Look at your calendar and observe your schedule as a whole. Do you have seven Zoom meetings scheduled on Monday back to back? Think about what you can adjust or move around so your week is more evenly distributed. Can any of your meetings be converted to an email? The answer is usually yes. One Zoom meeting you may want to keep on your calendar—virtual wine night with a friend. That one feels essential to me.
Step 3: Take a long hot shower and go through your skincare routine
With a newborn and two small children at home, long showers and drawn out skincare routines are a luxury that I do not take for granted. I know the week will be packed with activities, deadlines, zoom calls and I will not have the time to go through a multi-step skincare process. On Sunday evenings after my kids are sleeping, a long hot shower is the metaphorical reset button I need to start fresh and enter the new week with an open mind and positive intentions.
It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s time I carve out in the day to prioritize my well-being. This is a good time to deep condition your hair, do a scalp treatment, put on a face mask and truly take your time. Take a selfie and send it to a friend to encourage her to do the same. With everything going on, I haven’t found much time to do my makeup or style my hair but taking this time to take care of myself has become a positive part of my quarantine routine.
End your moment of solitude with a look through your closet to plan out your outfit for Monday morning. Whether it’s sweatpants or a spring dress you can wear around the house, laying out your clothes the night before will help you feel prepared for the week ahead by eliminating morning tasks that take up decision-making energy. Planning what I can on Sunday night lets me get in some extra sleep time the next morning and gets things started on a calm note, even if getting dressed involves changing from one pair of sweatpants to another.
Step 4: End your Sunday with an activity that brings you peace
For me, that activity is reading. I try to have everything done by 10 pm so I can go to bed and relax with my favorite book. It doesn’t always happen but when it does, I feel the effects both physically and mentally. One of my favorite joys in life is climbing into a bed with fresh sheets, ready to read and subsequently fall asleep on my book.
Going to bed early will also help you avoid pressing the snooze button incessantly in the morning. All these things together will help create a situation in which you are set up for success at the beginning of a busy week. Staying up late and constantly pressing the snooze button is problematic because it starts the day with an innate sense of failure. You knew you should have gotten up earlier but you didn’t, creating a negative feeling in the morning and a downstream effect for the remainder of the day.
Another activity that can help bring a sense of peace? Lying in bed and doing nothing. Taking the time to simply think about your day (without a screen), is not something we do often but the benefits are long-lasting. Think about what you would really like to accomplish during the upcoming week. What will give you a sense of satisfaction amongst uncertain times? What went really well last week? What do you want to do differently this week? As you’re taking care of everyone around you, what can you do to prioritize your own mental well-being?
About The Author: Tanya Kertsman is a freelance writer covering clean beauty, fashion, and wellness. She has an affinity for slip dresses, a fresh magazine, and booking last minute travel adventures, all equally enticing. Until recently, she worked as a Pharmacist in the Pharmaceutical Industry in Medical Affairs Strategy. Tanya lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three kids under five. When not in front of a computer, you can find her enjoying board games significantly more than her kids do, reading one of many half-read books scattered around her home and scoping out concerts in Philadelphia. You can find her at littleblankdiaries.com or on Instagram @littleblankdiaries.
What do you do on Sunday night to mentally prepare for the week? Add to the list in the comments!