This is How to (Actually) Leave Work at Work

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:

1. Mindful breathing

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.

2. Doing something symbolic to release nagging thoughts

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:

  1. Observe your thoughts with compassion as they arise and tell yourself “Here come the story [or the thoughts] about work.”
  2. For 60 seconds, close your eyes and practice mindful breathing and listening.
  3. Observe if any deeper emotions rise to the surface. Perhaps you’re feeling sad, exhilarated, or enraged.
  4. Label these feelings and sit with them as you continue to practice mindful breathing and listening.
  5. As you label each feeling, speak compassionately to it. For example, you could say, “I choose to let you go.”
  6. Complete this exercise by placing your attention on your breath or surrounding sounds. Gently open your eyes.

3. Visualize your ‘exit’

If you find unwinding at the end of the day to be challenging, try this visualization.

You might try this exercise:

  1. Become aware of your breath for 60 seconds and bring your attention to the present.
  2. Imagine you’re a spool of thread that unravels from the barrel that represents job-related stress.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. As the spool continues to unravel, you’re freeing yourself from your thoughts and finding inner peace.

4. A daily dose of levity or humor

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.

According to a 2021 study that looked at the effectiveness of a humor-based training program in managing workplace stress, researchers found humor promoted greater psychological well-being among emergency healthcare workers.

5. Turn off autopilot, be present in your transition

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.)

You might try this exercise:

  1. Before you finish work, practice mindful breathing.
  2. Think of an intention, such as “I now release my stress of the day.”
  3. Pretend to be a tourist who has just arrived at this place — or visiting after being away for a long time.
  4. 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.

Why it’s important to leave work at work

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.”

This article originally appeared on Psych Central.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s