The Mental and Physical Importance of Separation of Space

A few years into college I learned the importance of separation of space. Separation of space is when you only do specific “tasks” in a given space or setting, such as sleeping in a bedroom or studying at a desk. In my college apartment I was terrible at this, although I didn’t know separation of space was a thing until my therapist asked me about my routine.

I was going through a rough time and confined myself to my room instead of moving about the entire apartment. Unknowingly, I was making things worse for myself. I was sleeping, studying, relaxing, all in the same space, all from the convenience of my bed (don’t worry I wasn’t bedridden, just had a very small room). Except I was confusing my brain. Until that point, my bedroom was only used for sleeping and was programmed to go into rest and relaxation mode upon entering. But now, I was using this space for more critical tasks, which meant sometimes I couldn’t properly focus because my brain was trying to get me to sleep, and other times I couldn’t sleep because my brain started to associate this as a place where I do intense work and thought I needed to be alert.

I had no separation of space. By changing my routine and spending more time outside of my room, I was able to create a balance that allowed me to better function. Ever since then, this separation of space is something I’m always mindful of and consider when making task-oriented decisions.

For me, when this separation of space (which closely aligns with my routines) is broken, things don’t go as smoothly as they could. For three weeks I visited Philadelphia for Christmas, once again gratefully living in my grandparents’ basement (I’m hoping I can always have a bedroom there since that’s the most stability I seem to have in my life–we can discuss that more in another post). Even though I lived with my grandparents for four years before moving to France, I discovered the space no longer worked for me in a productive way.

When I first moved in with my grandparents, I segmented out the basement as best I could: bed is for sleeping and late night relaxing; couch is for reading and watching TV; and desk is for studying and any work that requires focus. Did it work? Until a certain point. When that happened, I took over the kitchen as my place to study and focus on bigger tasks. That was a game changer. And it worked!

Except my current routine is a bit more complicated than when I was 20. For those three weeks, the only constant in my “routine” was work. I didn’t do much else that I typically do, like read, study French, or practice coding. Of course my schedule was much busier being with friends and family, but I still found time to watch almost all of Gotham’s third season (regrettably).

This isn’t about why or how I lost my routine, it’s about expressing the importance of separation of space and the effects it can have on your routine if it has become space dependent–something you may not have even realized.

The day after I landed back in Paris, I was right back into the swing of things. I miraculously woke up on time with my alarm, spent my morning meal prepping armed with new cook books, did some reading, glanced at a few French words in a study guide, and even started a new coding course. All within the same routine I had before the holidays. I was honestly pretty impressed that I was able to glide back into this routine so easily, but with the right environment and mindset, it should be!

Take notice of how you use your own space and the activities in those spaces. It could help improve your routine, or at the very least make you more mindful of your habits. For me, I’m going to work on a better separation of space on my next visit to Philadelphia, to make the space work better for me so that I don’t lose my routine for such an extended period of time.

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