The Mental Health Benefits Of Getting Dressed For Work

All dressed up and nowhere to go? That’s OK — just picking out an outfit and brushing your hair can be good for you.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has become more aware than ever of the importance of hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces and taking care of our immune systems.

But while you’re physically separated from your social support systems and your routines are disrupted, minding your mental health is just as important as caring for your physical health. Major mental health organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommend keeping your “getting ready” routines intact as a way to do just that.

So, why do waking up at your usual time, showering and dressing for work will help you stay mentally well? De’Von Patterson, a psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, said humans like knowing what’s going to happen next and that uncertainty can lead to anxiety.

“A lot of what people are experiencing right now is a disruption of their routine,” he told HuffPost. “When you don’t know what’s coming next, that can be a challenging thing for some people, so a lot of it is about having some semblance of what your day and week looks like. Knowing what’s coming next can be comforting.”

“There’s something called stimulus control where your behaviors are determined by a certain set of cues,” psychologist De’Von Patterson said. “Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity."
“There’s something called stimulus control where your behaviors are determined by a certain set of cues,” psychologist De’Von Patterson said. “Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity."

Whether it’s because of the social isolation, lack of productivity or drop in physical activity, working from home can make you feel anywhere from a little blue to downright depressed. So by waking up at your usual time, getting dressed (in something other than pajamas) and doing your hair and makeup as usual, Patterson explains that you’re actually getting your brain ready for a better workday.

“There’s something called stimulus control where your behaviors are determined by a certain set of cues,” Patterson said. “Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity. If they’re getting dressed, that puts them in the mindset to work or study.”

Ryan G. Beale is a licensed psychotherapist and the CEO of Therapy.Live’s Prepare U mental health curriculum. He explains that getting dressed for different parts of your day is going to help break up the weird time warp that is quarantine.

While you don’t have to wear formal business attire or a work uniform to reap the benefits, it’s important just to get dressed.

“I don’t think it’s critical to put your suit on, but you could go ahead and put on khakis and a polo, something that is different from your lounging clothes,” he said. “It tells your brain something new is about to happen and helps you shift gears. That’s why it’s important to shift throughout the day. The reality is if you don’t, you’re likely going to be in a bit of a Groundhog Day and it can put you in a funk.”

It's not necessary to wear a suit at home, but anything a level above your pajamas can help your brain to better anticipate the day's events.
It's not necessary to wear a suit at home, but anything a level above your pajamas can help your brain to better anticipate the day's events.

Stefanie Schwartz, a psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, recommends figuring out what you enjoy about your current getting-ready routine and planning from there.

“It’s individualized, what makes you feel good,” she said. “If makeup makes me feel good, or doing my hair makes me feel good, I’ll do it. If not doing your makeup feels good right now, instead use that time to do something else. Otherwise, it can become a chore and have the opposite effect.”

“For some people, it’ll be, ‘Look, I get to wear my casual clothes I never get to wear this week. Is that something that’s going to make me feel better right now?’” Schwartz said. “I realized the other day I haven’t worn my engagement ring for the past month I’ve been working from home. Usually, when I wear it and look at it, it reminds me of when he proposed and how grateful I am. I’ve since started wearing it.”

When it comes to salon visits for your hair or nails, Schwartz recommends continuing your beauty routine at home to practice self-care and taking pride in doing it yourself.

“This may sound really silly, but for those of us who go and get our nails done, this may be the first time we’re having to do that ourselves,” Schwartz said. “Anything small you can do to feel empowered and feel that positivity is great. We can’t go to the hairdresser and cover our grays right now, so we’re learning new skills and that can be empowering, rather than feeling like, ‘Oh great, my nails are a mess and I’m a mess.’”

Ultimately, all three experts agree that you should be flexible with your routine right now and not be too critical of yourself. Even so, they say that sometimes, getting up early and slapping on some mascara really can help.

“It can be really easy to get in a slump and get into anxiety and depression,” Schwartz said. “We’re going through something together, but a lot of this depends on our own personal behaviors.”


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