While it can be challenging to let go of stress when you clock out of the office, there are many techniques that can help you release worrisome thoughts and feelings.
If you think about how many hours of the day you spend focused on work, chances are it’s more than the 8-hour workday. Caught up in our fast-paced lives and busy schedules, work-life balance is something many of us grapple with.
Let’s be honest: Shutting off our work brains and shifting into relaxation mode is easier said than done. On top of the pressure to perform, it can be hard to juggle all of your daily responsibilities — not to mention being present for your friends and family and enjoying yourself when you’re outside of the office.
Even if you love what you do, your job can still be a source of stress. At the end of the day, it can be hard to leave stress at the door, and for many people, it can negatively affect their downtime.
You might try these five approaches:
Practicing breathing exercises or meditation can help you relax when you get home after work.
“Mindful breathing can help you focus on the moment, the here and now, which should help alleviate some of the stress from work,” says Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist in Connecticut and New York.
What happens at work can seep into our personal lives, from dinner time to relaxing in front of the television. When you find yourself ruminating over work issues, consider a verbal and mental strategy.
You might try this exercise
- Observe your thoughts with compassion as they arise and tell yourself “Here come the story [or the thoughts] about work.”
- For 60 seconds, close your eyes and practice mindful breathing and listening.
- Observe if any deeper emotions rise to the surface. Perhaps you’re feeling sad, exhilarated, or enraged.
- Label these feelings and sit with them as you continue to practice mindful breathing and listening.
- As you label each feeling, speak compassionately to it. For example, you could say, “I choose to let you go.”
- Complete this exercise by placing your attention on your breath or surrounding sounds. Gently open your eyes.
If you find unwinding at the end of the day to be challenging, try this visualization.
You might try this exercise
- Become aware of your breath for 60 seconds and bring your attention to the present.
- Imagine you’re a spool of thread that unravels from the barrel that represents job-related stress.
- With the first rotation of your spool of thread, picture unwinding any worries and concerns you may have. You’re liberating yourself from their hold on you.
- On the second spin of the spool, picture unraveling these thoughts and what you didn’t finish at work. Tomorrow you’ll have the opportunity, but at this moment, you’re letting go of any work-related angst.
- As the spool continues to unravel, you’re freeing yourself from your thoughts and finding inner peace.
One of the best antidotes for stress is humor. We’ve all heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine” because nothing lifts the spirits like laughter.
Whether it’s watching a funny cat video on your train ride home or calling a friend who always makes you smile, try to find simple ways every day to brighten your mood.
In fact, research shows the effectiveness of humor in reducing stress at work.
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Pretend to be a tourist on your way home from work.
(If you work from home, you can take a brief stroll. As you walk, act like a tourist, observing your environment with a renewed sense of excitement and enthusiasm.)
Here are a few simple techniques to help you get started:
You might try this exercise
- Before you finish work, practice mindful breathing.
- Think of an intention, such as “I now release my stress of the day.”
- Pretend to be a tourist who has just arrived at this place — or visiting after being away for a long time.
- On your way home, take everything in. You can try using the 5-4-3-2-1 method of grounding.
“See how many new and interesting things or people you can notice.” The point is to be curious and open your mind to new possibilities.
You are more than your job.
Many people tie their identities to their careers, but there is so much more to life: your relationships with others and your hobbies and passions, for example. It’s crucial not to lose sight of that.
“It’s important to leave work at work because it actually helps you perform better both professionally and personally,” Schiff states.
“When you have a good work-life balance, it helps you be more present in your personal life as well as attentive and productive professionally during your work hours. Leave work at work where it belongs for your own mental peace and well-being.”
It’s wise to set work boundaries, so others know when you’re not available. You shouldn’t be accessible all of the time, so you can make sure you unplug after a certain hour.
For white-collar positions, Schiff recommends:
- logging out of all work programs at the end of your day
- shutting down your computer
- turning off notifications for your email app
- turning on do not disturb
For blue-collar positions, you might make a habit of:
- taking off your apron, and removing your badge or uniform as soon as your shift ends
- eating lunch outside of work so co-workers and patrons don’t interrupt your personal time
- encouraging colleagues to send — or schedule — work intel messages no more than 1 hour before work and not after your shift ends.
“It is important to strike this balance since with technology today, it’s so easy for people to contact or access you at all hours (especially after-work hours) and it is tempting to reply immediately,” Schiff says.
Create a transition strategy
It’s helpful to begin the transition from work life to home life on the way home.
This will signal to your brain that you’re leaving work and now entering your home life and relaxing mode.
The transition can be something like taking a relaxing shower or bath — where you can even symbolize you’re washing away the work worries and stress, Schiff explains.
You might even change out of your work clothes into something comfortable and do something soothing/relaxing for yourself.
Or you can choose something fun! Dr. Natalie Bernstein, a licensed psychologist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recommends an audiobook, a special playlist, or a podcast to help shift your thoughts away from work.
You could crack your window and visualize all the irritating moments from your workday flying out the opening. You can ake a few minutes and take a few deep breaths before entering your living space.
Learn to separate your identity of who you are from what you do.
“We can get sucked into the idea that we need to always be available and that we’re the only ones who can solve work-related issues, but for the most part, issues can wait until the next work day,” says Bernstein.
Remember the goal of anything in life is balance
You can’t work if you’re too exhausted or burned out so try to implement some changes. If you’re in a job that requires you to be available, try to choose one or two days a week where you can really unplug, Bernstein explains.
Starting slow and making small changes can still have big effects on a personal and emotional level.
Invest in you each pay period, just like you invest in benefits and 401K
Schiff encourages folks to “know that you’re investing in yourself when you’re detaching from your work stress and creating that all-important work-life balance. View it as an investment and that you’re recovering, so this way you can be on your game both at home and at work.”
Although it isn’t always easy to let go of work-related worry, there are many tools and techniques to help you redirect your focus and become more present.
This can include:
- mindful breathing
- setting boundaries with co-workers
- creating a transition from work to home that becomes part of your daily routine
Work-life balance can be achieved by making a few simple lifestyle shifts.