The ‘Third Space’ Is One of Our Biggest Pandemic Losses—Here’s How to Get It Back

the third space cat

Before the pandemic, for so many of us, the tens of minutes—and, in some cases, hours—spent commuting was the least pleasurable part of the day.

In my case, my commute took place on the A train, a subway line that whisked me from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then back home again. It was late. It was crowded, and it made me cranky. But, a year later and following my last rush hour ride way back in March 2020, I have a new perspective on my hellish, but surprisingly beneficial commute. It turns out it was the transitional space I needed in order to pivot seamlessly between my work and family life.

Here’s why: When COVID-19 hit, so many office workers—myself included—were left with no other option except to carry our laptops home and work remotely for what has now lasted for more than a year. A privileged position? Yes. But something valuable was lost in the process: The ability to put physical (and more importantly) emotional space between home and work.

In a TED Talk, peak performance researcher, Adam Fraser, has a name for this passageway. He calls it the “third space.” In other words, it’s the place we go to decompress and process our day, but also gear up for whatever comes next. The loss of it has led work to seep into home and home to seep into work and it not only saps our ability to de-stress, but also to be present in our lives. (If you close your laptop and immediately start cooking dinner for your family, you’re likely still ruminating about that email vs. focusing on food prep or conversations taking place around the table.)

So, how do we get the benefits of the “third space” back if our only commute is the distance between our home desk and the couch? According to the geniuses at Shine, a self-help app, there’s actually a lot you can do.

1. First, Identify Natural Places for a Transition

Let’s say you’re working from home. Ask yourself: Is there a place where you can naturally insert a third space into your routine? Maybe there’s still a gap between childcare drop-off and work; or maybe it’s something quicker like a morning and evening routine where you jet outside solo to walk the dog. Pinpointing these modes of transition can help you create a routine around them—and one where you can maximize the emotional benefits of that time.

2. Script Exactly What Your ‘Third Space’ Will Look Like

In a pandemic, the options are certainly more limited, but there are still ways to physically and mentally create a third space for yourself. You could make the effort to light candles or do a few yoga moves at the end of your workday, a cue to yourself (and anyone that you live with) that you’re logging off. Another idea: Put your phone on airplane mode, even just for an hour, to give your brain a chance to disconnect instead of juggling end of day pings and home demands all at once. You could even set a calendar reminder for the first or last 15 minutes of your workday to open a notebook and jot down a few priorities or lingering thoughts that you want to put a pin in and address when you re-enter your personal or professional headspace later that night or the next day.

3. Practice It

It takes at least a week for a new routine to take shape. But acknowledging it and building into your day is the starting point. Also, it’s worth noting that, right now, time is limited for so many of us. Even if you only have a few minutes to do downward dog or child’s pose between your home and work life, that can create a separation—and often times feel like enough.

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Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
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