Many of us take our jobs home with us without realizing it. Work may be stressful, but when we’re supposed to be relaxing—from the minute we walk out of the office until the next morning when we come back—we often let job stress seep in instead of making the most of our non-work lives. There are many reasons we do this, but there are more important reasons why we can and should learn to stop. Read on to gain a greater understanding of how smart people unwittingly magnify job stress, and how you can leave work at work as much as you possibly can. This can decrease your stress levels and increase your overall happiness.
How We Take Work Home
We Think About It During Our Commute: The drive home from work could be a time to enjoy the freedom of being off the clock, or it can be a time to ruminate about the stresses of the day, replay frustrations in your mind, and think about everything that’s weighing on your shoulders as you battle road rage until you reach home. All too often, people choose the latter option when the former—letting the drive home be a freeing experience—is so much more beneficial.
The problem is that this can magnify stress levels so that they are even higher after the commute home than they were at the end of the workday. If this sounds like you, now is the time to take the reigns and make your commute a time to shrug off the stress of the day. In the coming week, try to really notice your thoughts and habits as you drive home if you’re not already aware of them.
We Vent About Job Stress to Our Loved Ones: Complaining about work to a loved one is a common pastime of people with stressful jobs. It feels good at the moment but may take a toll over time. While keeping feelings bottled up isn’t an optimal answer, when we spend what could be quality time with loved ones focused on all the stresses of the day, we lose more of our day to job stress. Clearly, the less time we can spend complaining about work, the more time we’ll have focused on things that make us happy. This week, try to notice how much time you spend complaining about work and see if this is the right amount of time for you.
We Ruminate About Difficult Co-Workers: It’s very natural to seek emotional support when dealing with difficult co-workers. However, as with job stress venting in general, focusing too much on the stress created by difficult co-workers can rob us of the joy of our non-work lives. If you find yourself spending non-work hours obsessing over, replaying, or even thinking about the stress that your co-workers bring to your work life, it’s time to assess if this is the best way to spend your time and decide how to stop if you need to.
We Worry About Work Instead of Relaxing: If you face a heavy load of stress on the job or have the kind of job that requires significant troubleshooting, it can be difficult to shut off the brainstorming part of your brain when you leave work. (This is particularly true for those who work from home.) And if finding solutions is fun for you and it doesn’t cut into your personal life too much, it may not be a problem; it may be more of a hobby to think of new ideas for your work, especially if your work feels more like a “calling” to you, and not just a job. However, if you find yourself stressing or ruminating over problems at work, it’s best to leave that burden at work. (Don’t worry, it’ll be there when you get back.)
We Beat Ourselves Up Over This
If all of this is sounding a little too familiar, don’t let it stress you. It’s fairly common to stress about work when you’re not at work, so don’t blame yourself. Focus instead on how to shrug off stress and enjoy your life when you’re not at work.
How To Leave Job Stress At Work
Tie Up Loose Ends Before You Leave: One of the first and best ways you can leave job stress on the job is to prepare yourself before you leave. To cut down on after-hours troubleshooting, prepare a to-do list for yourself when you get back the next day. This can allow you to come in and feel focused, and it can allow you to leave and feel that things are taken care of as much as they can be until tomorrow.
If you are prone to stressing about unsolved problems when you get home, you may even take it a step further and create a list of possible solutions to any issues you think may follow you home; then you can remind yourself you’ve thought about it as much as you can, and now you need to take your mind off of things and sleep on it. Things will be clearer when you get to work again tomorrow. Knowing this can help you to leave things there.
Create a Post-Work Ritual: Just as it helps children relax and go to sleep when they have a bedtime ritual, having a post-work ritual is a great way to help yourself unwind after a stressful day of work. Even better, it can be a way to create a mental habit of relaxing your mind and letting go of job stress after a long day of work.
Your routine may consist of something simple like taking a deep, cleansing breath as you walk out and intentionally reminding yourself that you have now left work both physically and mentally. (One martial arts master recommends taking a deep cleansing breath, shaking out your limbs, and mentally leaving your burdens at the door.) It can involve mentally going over what you’re looking forward to in the rest of your evening, or texting a loved one and refocusing your attention to your life. Experiment and see what suits you best. Whatever works for you, make it a habit and keep doing it.
Enjoy Your Commute Home: The ride home from work can be stressful if you keep replaying the stresses of the day, or letting traffic stress you out even more. With some planning, you can make your commute home into an experience you look forward to rather than another obstacle to overcome before you can relax. One way to maximize your commute time is to listen to audiobooks, either fiction (for fun) or nonfiction in an area where you’d like to grow.
Listening to music is also a known strategy for stress relief, and a simple one to do while sitting in an enclosed space. Mentally counting everything you have to be grateful for can not only make the time pass but can get you into a more positive frame of mind, and prime you to appreciate your loved ones more when you get home to them.
What to Do When You Get Home
Create a Soothing Home Environment for Yourself: Because we spend so much of our non-work hours at home, it’s important to have a home environment that soothes your stress rather than one that leaves you feeling more stressed and tired than it should. Because clutter has a subtle but very real effect on our stress levels, it pays to declutter as regularly as possible. Here are some other important strategies for creating a relaxing home environment. If your home is a haven from stress, it’s easier to let job stress melt away once you get there.
Treat Yourself: Think about those little treats in life that put a smile on your face, and get more of them into your day. These little happiness-boosters, known as “pleasures” by psychologists, can lift your mood in a measurable way and reduce stress in the process. It can be a cup of tea, or a refreshing drink of flavoured water your favorite comedy, a long walk with a loved one, a soothing bath, or anything else that brings you a bit of joy. Try to mix them up so they have a bit of “newness” to them and you’ll enjoy them even more. You deserve it.
Cultivate Mindfulness: Research shows that those who have a mindful perspective are more able to focus on the present moment and turn their focus away from the stress of the past or anxiety over the future. This translates into a greater ability to let job stress stay at work and enjoy the time you have each evening and weekend to simply enjoy life. Practicing mindfulness exercises can increase your ability to maintain this present moment perspective, so they are highly recommended for relieving post-job stress as well as for building resilience to stress in general.
Enlist Support: If you need to talk about the things that stress you at work before you can let go of them, it helps to have a supportive person who will listen and help you to let go of the stress. (Depending on what helps you the most, this could be someone who validates your feelings and helps you to refocus, who helps you to brainstorm and troubleshoot, or who lets you vent and turn your frustrations into laughter.)
Enlisting support can also entail having someone to gently remind you to refocus your thoughts and energy if you start getting bogged down by stressful thoughts of work. Ultimately, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by job stress, enlisting help can mean talking to your doctor about stress or finding a good therapist who can help you to come up with coping strategies that work or a new plan.
Make Your Non-Work Time Count: Finally, one of the most fun and effective ways to leave job stress on the job is to really focus on making the rest of your life something worthy of your attention and engaging enough to take your mind off of stress if you need it to. This means creating enough balance in your life to include leisure time and hobbies. It means cultivating healthy relationships to help you feel fulfilled and take your mind off of stress. It means creating healthy habits to relieve stress, as well as setting goals that excite you and going for them. Or sometimes it can simply mean enjoying the present moment, whatever you happen to be doing at that moment.