A woman plants flowers in her garden.
Finding time for things that bring you joy creates a physiological response that will help you feel less anxious and be more productive. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

About 33% of women have experienced increased anxiety since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Household Pulse Survey.

As the world continues to rapidly change, surveys like this help us understand how people are feeling right now in the workplace and in their personal lives.

They also show us how we can help.

Unsurprisingly, women are feeling increased stress.

In the U.S., women perform “an average of four hours of unpaid work per day compared to men’s two and a half hours … on top of their full-time jobs,” according to a recent article The New York Times.

After more than a year of living and working in a global pandemic, a year of back-to-back Zoom meetings or living with constant trepidation as a frontline worker, a year of balancing virtual school and everyday household tasks with your own work, it’s more important than ever to slow down and take much-needed time for ourselves.

Mental health is just as important as physical health.

Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” points out: “When you are joyful, happy, and in a positive mood, you are actually more productive and innovative. Creativity triples and your productive energy rises 31%.”

But how do we find joy? Schulte advocates for finding real leisure time.

Don’t take your work along on trips. Don’t buy into the notion that “busyness” buys you status.

“It is in those moments … when you have long, unbroken periods of time … that you can see outside the box and make connections you might not have otherwise,” Schulte writes.

Taking our cue from Schulte, here are some steps we can take to find joy and feel better mentally.

Start a time journal

COVID-19 has disrupted most of our routines. You might have increased child care responsibilities, or you might be caring for a parent. Maybe you’ve changed jobs or moved as a result of the pandemic.

You’ve likely spent a lot of time with only a few people. And you probably feel more tethered to work when it’s always a key stroke away.

To reevaluate work-life balance, add in a time journal. Track when you’re working and when you’re playing. Play and relaxation increases oxytocin—the happiness hormone—and dopamine, which helps you dispel brain fog.

Try to commit to taking time for yourself every day, whether it’s a hot bath or extra time outside with family.

Walk to work

How can I walk to work if I’m working from home? Good question.

Reframing your morning walk as a walk to work helps decrease any guilt you might feel in taking that time in the morning for yourself. A walk, with its dose of fresh air and sunshine, will help you start your day on the right foot.

Learn a new skill

Adding something new into your already-packed life sounds a little ridiculous. We know. But remember when everyone on your social media feed simultaneously learned how to make sourdough during the first lockdown?

Cooking decreases stress levels and contributes to your day—and then dinner is served!

Cooking isn’t your thing? The key is finding something that interests you. Something where you can start small. Just a few minutes a day of reading, gardening or yoga can help improve work-life balance.

The key takeaway? Finding time for the things that bring you joy creates a physiological response that will help you feel less anxious and, ultimately, be more productive.

So sip your coffee on your back porch. You’ve earned it.