Illustration of workers in the office
The Work-Life Issue

Editors' Picks: The Self-Care Strategies We're Holding Onto As We Return to Office

After two years of uncertainty, premature declarations, and fastidious monitoring of local COVID case counts, corporate America is finally working its way back into the office. That includes us—the editors of Verywell Mind.

For many, this will be a welcome reprieve from working at home with whatever set-up could be pieced together in a room with at least some natural light. For others, it may be a disruption to a new and preferred way of working that's free of long commutes, expensive lunches, and hard pants.

Either way, two years is plenty long enough to adapt to a new reality, build new habits, and rethink how you operate on a daily basis. It's long enough that a shift back can be remarkably disruptive and disorienting, even if that shift is back to what we once considered "normalcy." The new hobbies we've taken on, the new self-care practices we've taught ourselves—it's now time to figure out how to keep them incorporated in our daily lives as we return to some semblance of the way things used to be.

Below, Verywell Mind's editorial team shares the self-care strategies that have helped us during the pandemic, and how we plan to carry them with us as we return to the office.

It's important to call out that no matter how we feel about working from home or returning to an office setting, it has been a luxury to have the option—a luxury that retail workers, healthcare workers, trade laborers, and many others have not had even through the worst of this pandemic. The current rush of "back to office" announcements—ours included—applies only to those workers who were able to continue their regular work outside of a traditional workplace setting.

Brave New Wordle

Like most of the world, I’ve taken up the guessing game that is Wordle. It’s become a way to clearly distinguish my work hours from my lunch break. And the perfect way to give my mind a break from my tasks while still offering some form of mental fitness with just the right amount of challenge.

Whether it’s the quick dopamine rush I get when all five blocks on my screen flip over to reveal a satisfying green row of letters (signaling that I’ve unlocked the word) or the family group chats that have become a routine share-out of our scores, it’s become something of a midday ritual that I look forward to as I scarf down my salad for the day.

And while there have been other Wordle spinoffs, the simple nature of the classic version and the anticipation of a new word each day is what keeps the experience novel and separates it from the rest. Unlike baking bread, it’s a pandemic hobby that I can see myself sticking to well beyond these uncertain times.

-Andria Park Huynh

Poetry in Motion

I joined a writer’s retreat workshop and it’s been so uplifting and deeply healing. The classes are small and intimate and everyone is there for the same purpose: working on your craft, self-expression, and fostering a sense of community. I’ve always had lots of poems saved on my phone, but I never shared them with anyone (except for a few select loved ones).

And, recently, I’ve decided to take my poetry to the stage—and actually perform it! As someone who doesn’t enjoy having all eyes on them, I didn’t think I’d find the courage to get on stage and read my poetry aloud. But, it really boosted my confidence and I oddly felt at home in front of a group of strangers.

I don’t plan to perform every piece that I write, but I like knowing that I faced a fear of mine and crushed it! I don’t write every day or even every week, but I’m glad that I can rely on poetry as both a creative outlet and therapeutic tool whenever I might need it.

-Ayana Underwood

Books, Bath, & Beyond

One of my new year’s resolutions was to break habits and attempt to gain some fresh perspective by doing things differently, and for me it came down to timing. Self-care is a tough practice to make time for no matter what, but the “when” of it all made a surprisingly big difference when it came to the impact it actually had on my mental health. 

Taking baths and reading books are bedtime things and everybody knows it. But what if my brain and body don’t work that way?

Let’s start with books. Every time I try to read before bed I become acutely aware of the end-of-day ADHD chaos in my head. I’ve been trying to be a better reader for years but it feels like I’m constantly reading and re-reading paragraphs struggling to remember characters or grasp narrative nuance—all while that solo from a song I heard in the grocery store plays on a loop.

Sure, sometimes reading would help me fall asleep, but that felt detrimental to my overall goal of being present with a good book. And thus I’d berate myself for my inability to pay attention, negating any and all benefit of bedtime reading.

But when I read in the morning, I can read chapter after chapter with no mental roadblocks, no songs playing in my head on repeat, and total clarity around the words on the page. I leave that half hour feeling good about myself, and it even serves as a little brain warm up for the day.

Now onto the bath. Getting into a tub in the morning isn’t really about getting clean, as much as cultivating slowness and the luxurious illusion of extra time in the day. The word intention, or intentionality, is overused in the self-care lexicon, but when it comes to taking a bath at 6:30am it seems appropriate. It's a real shift in behavior where you say, Now wait just one gosh darn minute modern world, this time’s for ME!

Physically, I would not describe myself as a morning person, but spiritually I definitely am. This creates a lot of tension when acknowledging the societal urge to embrace “night owl” or “early bird” labels. I am both and neither. But I do better in the mornings—even if sometimes I hate doing it. I like to think having a little discipline is also a form of self-care, and rallying myself to get dressed and leave my house before 10am to go into the office is about to take some discipline I haven’t had to muster in over two years.

So even though I’m going to have about an hour less time to myself every morning, I am going to keep being the weirdo with the reverse bedtime routine. Maybe less frequently, or maybe the bath only happens once a week and the reading happens every day, or every other day. And that would be perfectly fine. The growth lies in accomplishing the mental feat of maintaining healthy habits in the face of change.

-Kate Nelson

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Chop wood, carry water. I heard this phrase for the first time recently—it is supposedly derived from Zen Buddhism, and is the kind of phrase that could take on any number of meanings depending on who hears it. Some say it refers to the ever-present need to perform mundane tasks no matter how enlightened you may have become.

When I heard it, it spoke to me in a different way. Rather than a message of humility, this phrase has instead become a kind of mantra, or an instruction manual for meditation—a practice which I have never really engaged with in its traditional form. For the last two years of living in a house for the first time, however, I have been meditating—I just didn’t realize it. Every time I picked up my splitting maul (a long-handled ax), I was meditating.

I balance a small log on the chopping block. Muscle memory tells me how far away to stand, where to hold my hands, how to position my legs, when to breathe in and breathe out, how slowly to raise the ax and how hard to swing it down. The sound and sensation of metal striking wood tells me instantly if I’ve split the log or need to repeat the process, possibly many times, before it’s cut down into a stackable size and shape.

That piece is added to the growing stack of wood, carefully puzzled together in an area that I know will catch enough sunlight over the next year or more to be fully seasoned and ready to burn in the fireplace come wintertime. Hours can pass in this manner without me having to engage in a single critical thought. It’s peaceful, orderly, and immensely satisfying.

As life slowly gets back to some semblance of normalcy, including a return to the confines of office life, the thing I hold onto is that meditation doesn’t have to fit a preconceived notion or process. Just keep making the time to do the things that make you feel better and a little more productive, and that let you put your brain in power-saving mode every once in a while. The good news is—like chopping wood (or carrying water)—it doesn’t have to cost much, and it may be something you already love to do.

-Nick Ingalls