Mental wellbeing: how to stop bringing stress home

Published 29th August 2018 by Investors in People

Contextualise the job: it’s a marathon, not a sprint

That feeling of ‘not having done enough’ or ‘having too much to do’ at the end of the day is a red herring. We all need to learn to live with the uncertainty of ending every day without the finishing line in sight. This is the nature of work.

Why? Work is not a single task: it’s an ongoing commitment to add value. If you had unlimited time in your job, you’d find new ways to add value so that you never ran out of things to do. Work is a marathon, not a sprint, and we must pace ourselves properly.

That’s not to say that prioritisation is not essential in the modern workplace so that we focus on what’s important. But even if we work as efficiently and effectively as possible, there will always be more to do.

Contextualise the job: remember your life priorities

Work can mean an awful lot to us, but what about the people we love, our spiritual endeavours and the efforts we make to improve the world? The more we recognise what’s most important to us, the more we are able to contextualise worries and stresses and keep them from taking up too much headspace.

This can be challenging: because we spend so much of our lives at work and give so much of ourselves to our work, it’s natural for work to consume a significant share of our attention, which can magnify our perception of its importance.

Professor Matt Might from the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that we explicitly state our priorities to constantly remind ourselves of what is most important in our lives.

Remind yourself of what you can and can’t control

We simply don’t have the same control at work as we do in our personal lives. But this perception of a lack of agency can fuel our worries, particularly if we like to exert high levels of control over our environment.

However empowered you are in the workplace, things will happen that are outside of your control or even in spite of your efforts. Sometimes leaders make poor decisions that affect you. Sometimes customers get angry with you. Sometimes things just won’t go your way.

When we bring work stress home, it’s often because we feel that we have done something wrong. On these occasions we need to first ask if this is actually true, or whether we are just frustrated that things haven’t gone right. These feel the same – but are worlds apart.

Create clear physical boundaries

We must show the mind there are hard boundaries between work and home. Working in a different physical location is the obvious one and it’s not surprising that home workers find it harder to ‘switch off,’ particularly if they don’t use a separate office.

Have a shower after work to clean the body and metaphorically clean the mind. You could also change clothes: wearing something that’s nothing like your work uniform is a good plan, especially something linked explicitly to being at home, such as loungewear. Soft lighting and relaxing music also help.

Ultimately this is about creating an environment that is as far removed from your workplace as possible to empower your mind to ‘let go’ of the connection to work until it receives the opposite signals, such as putting on a uniform or arriving at the office.

Set tomorrow’s agenda before you leave

We often finish the day with our heads already thinking about how much there is to do the next day. To help address this, spend some time at the end of the day setting your agenda for the next.

You could write a to-do list or carve out a portion of the day to get a particularly important task done. If your worries are linked to others, you could email the relevant parties and arrange a meeting so that you know tomorrow you’ll address the issues that are bothering you.

What’s important here is to do things that convert the abstract worries and concerns in your mind into tangible actions. Do something concrete that helps address your concerns – ruminating is rarely a good solution.

Use your commute home wisely

Your state of mind dictates whether the commute home makes you feel better or worse. A passive mind will get overrun with worry, such as things you should have done that day, which can lead to feelings of helplessness because you’re less able to take action.

An active mind is more immune to worry because it’s being used. There’s no void for worry to rush in and fill. Think about the things you’re looking forward to at home: the people you want to see, the activities you want to do, the comforts at home that you’re grateful for.

If you do want to focus on work in the car, think about all the things you’ve achieved recently and the lessons you’ve learned that will make you better tomorrow than today. Remind yourself that work is a marathon and a journey.

Take a break from being an employee

Whatever work demands of you, do something different when you get home. This creates boundaries and also gives your body and mind a chance to recuperate before you go back the next day.

if you work in a testosterone-driven, competitive workplace, do something oxytocin-promoting at home, like spending time with your partner. If you sit at a desk and look at a screen at work, go for a walk in the evening rather than watch TV.

This is particularly important when the emotional demands of work are at odds with your natural tendencies. Customer service roles can be emotionally taxing for everyone, but introverts may find they need more quiet time in the evenings to recover.

How else can HR reduce the impact of workplace stress on employees? We’ve listed five core sources of stress created by the modern workplace and what you can do about them.

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