Three ways I’m staying grounded during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders

Routines and boundaries are how I’m keeping my time ordered during a crisis

By Matt Comer (he/him/his) | Charlotte Pride Communications Director

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It’s now been one week since Charlotte and Mecklenburg County issued their stay-at-home orders. And it’s been about two weeks since my partner and I made the voluntary decision to do just that, with both of us hunkering down at home and desperately trying to find a balance between the work that must be done and what to do with all the extra time that’s suddenly been made available to us.

Admission: I have never liked working from home. Ever. I tried it once a few years back and drove myself up a wall, unable to put into place the kind of mental and emotional boundaries I needed to keep time with myself ordered and the days straight in my head. So, these past two weeks have quickly taught me new lessons.

Like many of you, I’ve had to experiment here and there and find new routines and boundaries that work not only for myself, but also blend in with the needs and boundaries of my partner, too. I’m sure by now you’ve found your own set of new routines, but I thought I’d share just a few of the things I’m doing to keep myself grounded and to keep the days from all grinding up into an endless, stressful cycle of either all-work or all-play.

1. Keeping my usual work routine

Far above and beyond any other coping mechanism I’ve found successful thus far has been a simple one — keeping my usual work routine. Weekdays are weekdays and weekends are weekends, and I was insistent that I’d keep them separated.

Before our self-imposed isolation, I had been lucky enough to continue to go into the office, as my co-workers had already started working from home. That meant I was pretty much self-isolated anyway, all alone in our office with my only daily interaction with people being the couple times I might stop for gas or some necessity on the way to or from work.

Staying at home changed that. No need to leave the house each morning for my usual commute to a place that was decidedly made for purpose of doing and completing work.

So, I very intentionally made a decision: Whether working from home or not, I would wake up when I normally do, fix my coffee as I normally do, shower and dress how (mostly) and when I normally do, listen to the same Morning Edition broadcasts on NPR as I usually do — and then get to work as I normally do.

It’s been really helpful to realize through these past two weeks that I’ve found even more enjoyment and comfort in my non-working times, be they evenings or the weekends.

Just making that simple decision to keep a normal routine has been the best decision I’ve made so far.

2. Setting boundaries to structure the day

My partner and I were lucky to find an apartment in Charlotte with a second bedroom. We moved in only recently, so we’re still working to get that second bedroom all set up as a blended office and den.

Our office doesn’t yet have all the comforts I’d like for a home office, but I’m still incredibly grateful and blessed that this space exists. I can retreat into my office when it is time to work and then leave it all behind and shut the door when it is time to return to my home life.

Our bedroom, our living room, our kitchen — they’re all made for the living part of life, not the work. And I intend to keep it that way. This incredibly important boundary means I can, for the most part, keep the work stuffs in the work space and the home stuffs in the home place.

Additionally, I’ve started to rely on new ways to help make that separation from work and home and to help structure my day.

My regular morning and evening commutes, however short they may be, have always been something I’ve cherished; small, quiet moments to myself or with NPR. But those are gone now, and I’ve found that a short walk around the apartment complex in the morning and perhaps a longer walk around the neighborhood in the evening act as great bookends to my working day.

This kind of structure works for me in the middle of the work day, too. It is easy, tempting even, when working from to simply run into the kitchen and grab a snack or meal whenever the thought crosses your mind. If you’re like me, that kind of spontaneous thought can often come from boredom or a simple need to break up a daunting or tedious work task. But in this, too, I’ve found that intentionally refraining from snacks and keeping my lunchtime special and separated from work has helped to keep the day flowing nicely.

3. Finding new routines — or leaning into existing ones that give you comfort

Long before the COVID-19 crisis, my partner and I had already developed our own evening routines. For us, that consisted of watching the nightly news at 6:30pm each evening, followed by “Jeopardy.”

There’s nothing really mind-blowing or life-altering about doing either of those things, really. We’re just two among millions of people who do it each day. But in the midst of this crisis, I’ve come to longingly look forward to our humble evening time together.

Knowing that I’ll be watching the evening news each day has allowed me the freedom to do what mental health professionals have urged all of us to do — turn off the news. Instead of an all-day deluge of news through Twitter or Facebook, I can opt to focus on what needs to be done now, knowing that I’ll have a nice, concise 30-minute recap of the day’s important events in the evening — quickly followed by a fun and admittedly nerdy gameshow that keeps our minds stimulated on new and interesting facts that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

My partner and I have also started to find renewed strength and comfort in the simplest of things — spending quality time together as we prepare and cook meals or sit outside on a sunny evening. Of all the times this crisis could have happened, I remind myself that we’re lucky to now be in spring, as the days get longer, sunnier, brighter, and warmer.

The changing seasons remind me that this crisis — like all other things in life — will shift and change and eventually pass, bringing with it new lessons, new opportunities, and new ways of living in this world and with each other.

Stay safe, friends.

How are you coping? What are you learning? Let us know about it!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a personal commentary like this. Even this small act has been a coping mechanism in and of itself.

But I’m curious: What are you doing to cope and make sense of this crisis? What are new things you are learning? Are you reinvesting time into old skills or hobbies? Have you been able to reconnect with old pals, even if digitally?

I’d love to hear your own stories, and we’re opening up Charlotte Pride’s blog for you to share! If you’d like to submit a commentary of your own, feel free to send an email to me at matt@charlottepride.org. Pitch us your idea or just go ahead and send in a full-length commentary and we’ll see if it’s a good fit to share!


ABOUT THE WRITER

Matt Comer (he/him/his) is the communications director of Charlotte Pride, where he has worked or volunteered since 2008. Matt previously worked as editor of a local LGBTQ news publication from 2007-2015.


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