Since the nationwide lockdown started nearly a year ago, I have been working from home. At first, I thought this would be horrible. I’d be distracted and unable to work, or I’d feel like I would have to be at work 24/7 since work was home.

Things have played out very differently from that. I have found that, by and large, I really enjoy working from home and the benefits that it brings. And, as a result, my mental health has largely improved over the past year. There have been some bumps — my job became very important and very busy at the start of the pandemic, leading me to burn out in June — but the general trajectory has been up.

While I’ve had some vague feelings as to why an article I read today by Laura Vanderkam crystalized my understanding of it. It talked about the perks of working from home that people tend to overlook, and I encourage you to read it — it’s only a few minutes, but it’s worth it.

So, I want to examine some of the points of that article from a mental health lens, plus add a few points of my own to expand further. To put it simply, working from home has many benefits for mental health that working from an office can’t provide.

Flexible hours means better breaks

I work in a salaried position, and my bosses have expressed to me that, as long as my work gets done, the particular hours I work during the day don’t matter. I know that many workers are in a similar position. So, I encourage you to take advantage of that fact.

Are you stressed out about something at work? Take two hours for lunch and work a bit late. Because you’re at home, you can do things you couldn’t otherwise — play a video game to decompress, watch an episode of your favorite show, cuddle with your partner or pets, or just take a nap. I promise that your work won’t fall apart while you take a bit of extra time to yourself.

It can be hard to separate from your work when your work is at home, so make an effort to physically distance yourself from your computer during breaks. Just as leaving your desk to eat helps clear your head while in the office, so too does taking lunch and breaks in a different room as your work computer. Don’t be afraid to unplug for a bit while at work — it will probably help you tackle the job better when you get back.

Run errands at more ideal times

To put it simply, I hate people. I like to think of myself as an optimistic misanthrope: I believe in the general goodness of the human race, even while I want nothing to do with most of them. As such, everyday tasks like shopping make me nervous. Having to face a bunch of people to buy groceries is nerve-wracking during normal times, never mind a pandemic.

To combat this, I have started running errands like this after lunch. I find that doing the household shopping between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon causes me to encounter fewer people and smaller crowds than shopping in the evening like I used to. While I’ve taken advantage of online ordering on occasion, I prefer the option to make substitutions and grab impulse purchases as needed. This helps deal with the anxiety of shopping in person.

Similarly, I tend to pick up my prescriptions first thing in the morning. My pharmacy is 24 hours, so strolling in at 7:15 means there’s usually nobody there. It’s nice to get in and out in five minutes and it definitely reduces my stress levels.

Rethink your commute

Not spending money on gas every week is a nice perk of no longer having to commute to the office, but it leaves me with 20–30 minutes that are unaccounted for during the morning. While it is tempting to start work immediately upon coming downstairs, it is much better to do something else during that time to gear up for the day.

Take a ten-minute walk to get your body going for the day. Do yoga. Watch funny videos on YouTube. Make yourself a good breakfast. Play a game on your phone. Listen to music. Do something that you enjoy to get yourself ready for work.

These things can help your mood as you start your day. What’s better, some exercise can help your body as well, and since physical health and mental health are linked, you can get a two-for-one with a morning stroll. Getting some movement and gearing up my brain before work have both helped me work and feel better.

Change your work hours (and sleep patterns)

If your commute used to be 90 minutes and is now the 30 seconds it takes to walk to your home office, you’ve found some free time in the morning. If you’re a morning person, see if you can start work earlier and end it earlier. If you’re not, then you can change your schedule to get an extra hour of sleep (or stay up an hour later).

Do you work better in the evening? Change your schedule to accommodate that. Do you enjoy taking a three-hour break for lunch? You can do that if you want to. Need a midday nap? Take one. Having flexibility with your time means you can take breaks and work when you want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your productivity.

Being able to get more sleep when my body wants to sleep has been a boon to my mood. I work better early but like to stay up late, so being able to cut my commute out and stay up later while still getting up at a decent hour helps me feel better overall.

Enjoy the comforts of home and beyond

I do better with a routine, and for a long time, part of that routine was going into the office. I thought I’d die working from home. Turns out, I just re-tooled my routine around home life, and it’s much more comfortable that way.

First off, not putting on business clothes every day is a plus. I don’t have a people-facing job, so the only interactions I have are with coworkers who don’t care what I’m wearing. As such, my uniform has become cargo pants and a comfy flannel shirt.

Then there’s the food. At my office, there is a microwave and a sink, and if you can’t make a meal using those things, you’re out of luck. At home, I have access to my kitchen and pantry. Lunches have gone from microwaved soup to homemade meals for my partner and me.

I also have the joy of being able to interact with the people and animals in my home. Getting to spend the day with my wife is a joy, and having the opportunity to pet and play with my cats when I’m stressed or anxious is quite a nice perk.

Additionally, my workspace isn’t limited to a desk. I’ve been found working from the couch, and sometimes I’ll drag my laptop upstairs to the bedroom or my wife’s craft room if I really need to focus. Once things open up, I’ll be able to go to the coffee shop or library if I want to.

Having access to these comforts helps me keep my mood up. Getting a hug when I’m stressed and wearing comfortable clothes helps me deal with depression and burnout, and being able to eat fresh meals helps keep me healthier overall.

Figure out what helps you and do it

Not every home office worker can do all of these things. Some don’t have the flexible hours necessary to take three-hour breaks. Others need to be at their computers at all times during their working hours. Still, I think that there are options here for every home-office worker.

In addition, there are probably more perks than these. I just wrote out the ones that help me the most. Anyone working from home has probably found their rhythm at this point, and we all find our perks where and when we can.

That said, if it doesn’t hurt your work and helps your mood, go for it. Take ten minutes to play with your dog. Hug your partner. Sneak in a 30-minute nap. Your job will survive without you for a little while.

Even as we are starting to come out of this pandemic, working from home is likely the new normal. This is the time to work out your routine and figure out what helps you care for your mental health. Take these tips (or figure out your own!) and use them to take care of yourself. Your mental health is important, and the right to self-care should not be denied. Take advantage of these opportunities and do your best!