How to Leave Work at Work

Catherine Tabuena
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Do you ever worry about your workload after a long day at the office? You’re not alone. According to a recent poll by Ipsos, a whopping 64% of employed Americans feel stressed at work, with a third, or 33%, of them saying that job-related stress is negatively impacting their life. 

This stress results in anger, irritability, nervousness, and anxiousness- all of which are behaviors that cause strain when brought home from work.

If we’re not careful, work problems that become home problems can wreak havoc on our relationships, families, and even our health.

Prevention is better than cure. The best way to minimize the impact of work stress on our personal lives is to leave all work at the office and never take it home with you. Below are ways how to keep work at work.

Treat your commute home as a time to wind down. Change the way you view commuting. Instead of seeing it as a necessary burden, treat it as the start to the process of relaxation. You can listen to music, whistle, or sing to yourself as you drive home. You might as well enjoy the drive, bus or train ride home since you have to do it anyway.

Disconnect from work-related mobile habits at home. It’s important to develop good mobile habits and enforce rules that’ll keep your tablets, phones, and laptops from tethering you to work. Use two separate phones- one for professional use and another for personal use. This way you won’t combine work and personal stuff together. Many people feel overburdened by emails at work. Take a cue from Tim Ferris and try batching your emails and use email autoresponders. Never check your email before bed! Multiple studies have found that using a mobile device prior to bed impacts your ability to sleep, and sleep deprivation is correlated to stress.

Read a book you enjoy. Reading puts you in a satisfying trance-like state, which helps induce sleep. For stress-relief, it’s better to read a novel than a self-help book. Reading fiction is the best way to disengage from work and focus on you time.

Laugh Yourself Silly. Working in a 9-5 job is draining. Nothing lifts your spirits faster than a good laugh. Spend a few minutes to enjoy humor at home. Talk to a friend or family member who has a funny or positive outlook on life; go to a website that publishes comedy content like jokes or funny videos; watch funny movies or comedy series on Netflix.

Mediate or practice breathing techniques. When you feel overwhelmed, you want to distract and distance yourself from the present moment. Take a deep breath and relax. Through meditation and the use of breathing techniques, you will improve your ability to stay in the present moment; ground yourself when things get out of hand; and improve your physical, mental, and emotional capacity.

On a bad day, it’s better to leave early. The worse the day, the more time you will need to relax. If you can, leave work early and stop by a “third space”- a space outside of work and home- before rushing home. Everyone’s “third space” is different; it can be a quaint coffee shop, a quiet library, duck pond at the park, mixed martial arts gym, parochial church, painting class, etc. What is important is to go somewhere that will maintain your sense of peace prior to going home.

Have an end-of-work habit. Think about what helps you unwind and set aside time in your schedule for this habit. For instance, I attend a Krav Maga class at least once a week after work. The class not only gives me a good workout but it also helps me unwind and forget about tensions at work. Use your afternoon commute to unwind- take a more scenic route home or listen to music or an interesting podcast. Others might want to go to the gym, go jogging, meditating, sketching, and other rituals.

Restrict work to a specific time and location. Unless you work in emergency services, you probably don’t need to be ready to work at a moment’s notice. Outside office and work hours, you should be free to enjoy the rest of the day. This also applies to our physical environment. All work-related items should only be in a designated space- your computer, notebooks, and work documents should only be at your desk. If you work at home, it’s ideal to designate a specific room or space to use as an at-home office. Never bring your laptop to bed! This helps you to shut off work whenever you leave the room or space, which helps you to work more efficiently rather than linger over unfinished tasks.

Engage in mastery experiences. In work recovery science, the term “mastery experiences” refer to activities done outside work that allow for skill-building, personal growth, and learning. It is known to be among the best ways to build confidence and alleviate stress. Find a passion and it’ll give you an additional eight hours of happiness per week. It also keeps us in touch with our needs and aligns us with who we are. For example, my personal mastery experiences are in the vocal arts. I wanted to be an opera singer when I was younger. My love for music led me to study classical voice for ten years. My heart flutters with joy every time I sing. Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, skateboarding, or making 3D artwork- mastery experiences are proven to ease stress even in the middle of work, at lunchtime, and at home.

Take part in meaningful activities. Find hobbies that give you a sense of purpose. It can be any activity- writing fanfiction stories, practicing karate, singing at your church’s choir, volunteering at a local homeless shelter, or joining a hiking tour to Mount Kilimanjaro- as long as it provides you a sense of tranquility, affirms your self-worth, and facilitates personal growth and development.

Spend time with people you love. Spending your leisure time with friends, family members, and loved ones boost positive emotions and improve your overall well-being. Many people make the mistake of relying too much on their spouse for emotional support. To ease the burden from your significant other, it’s important to develop a support network of friends and mentors who can help you deal with professional problems.

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