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Do you often catch yourself struggling to leave your work at work? When we’re supposed to be relaxing, it’s all too easy to let job stress and work-related worries seep in and take over… Before you know it, your non-working time has suddenly been hijacked by your job and all the anxieties that can come with it. This is a big problem: being unable to stop thinking about work or doing work when you’re meant to be at home relaxing can quickly cause chronic stress, burnout, and mental ill-health.

Furthermore, with hybrid working and working from home commonplace in today’s working world, in many cases, the physical distinction between home and the workplace has disappeared, making it even harder to separate our work lives from our personal ones.

Not only this, but we’re all constantly connected, with work contacts just a tempting click away. All this means that knowing how to de-stress and switch off after work has never been more critical in maintaining a healthy work-life balance and feeling physically and mentally well.

Self-Care Month

The 24th of June marked the beginning of Self-Care Month, which culminates with International Self-Care Day on the 24th of July. The date that marks the end of this month of awareness – 24/7 – emphasises the importance of self-care being practised 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Set up by the World Health Organization (WHO), the aim of Self-Care Month is to:

  • Raise awareness and increase understanding surrounding self-care and self-care intervention tools.
  • Celebrate the benefits that self-care brings to people’s lives.
  • Call for commitment and action in expanding health systems to include self-care.

This month, on our blog, we want to reiterate the importance of practising self-care every day for better physical and mental health. A vital form of this self-care is knowing how to switch off from work and wind down, particularly on weekday evenings. Being able to stop ourselves from focusing on work when we should be relaxing is a skill we should all be prioritising and practising every single time we leave work or sign out for the day.

What is Self-Care?

According to the WHO, self-care is the ability to promote and maintain health, prevent disease, and cope with illness and disability, with or without the support of a healthcare provider.

Self-care interventions help us build a holistic approach to physical and mental health care, contributing to better universal health coverage.

“Long hours means you may be working harder, but not better – and they can quickly take their toll on your concentration, productiveness and health.” Mind.

Stuck in Work Mode 24/7?

Do you recognise any of these symptoms in your everyday life?

  • Thinking about work during your commute. Suppose you’re using your commute home to ruminate on all the stresses and frustrations of your day. In that case, you’re giving your brain permission to think about work after work (or before), turning this supposedly freeing time into something much more stressful. This makes it even harder to switch off once you get home and can only magnify your stress levels, perhaps making them even higher than they were during your workday.
  • Venting about your job to your loved ones. Sometimes, it feels good to rant in the moment, and it is important to talk about the things that worry us instead of bottling them up. However, regularly venting to those around you can have the opposite effect, amplifying your stress levels (and those of the people listening to you) as you talk yourself into a web of worry that only gives your anxieties room to escalate.
  • Worrying about work instead of relaxation. If you have a very stressful job or work from home it can be especially difficult to shut off your work brain after you finish for the day. This inability to leave work behind sacrifices time to rest and relax, as you might find yourself constantly trying to fix problems that need to be left at work. Often, viewing issues from a fresh perspective the next day (once you’ve had an evening to relax) can make it easier to work out a solution.

“Common reasons for being stressed at work include poor work-life balance, taking work home, inadequate social support, poor time management, unmanageable goals, inability to delegate home duties/responsibilities, not setting boundaries, and work overload.” Talkspace therapist Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC

Winding Down to Create Healthy Work-Life Boundaries

It can be really frustrating if you struggle to wind down and turn off any work-related thoughts at the end of the day or over the weekend. So, here are a few ideas that can make this de-stressing process second nature:

  • Tie up loose ends before you leave. Take some time to prepare yourself and your work schedule before you go home/sign out. Write a to-do list for the next day, tidy up your workspace, and, if possible, finish any tasks you’re halfway through. Reflect on all that you’ve achieved that day. Having a sense of preparedness and accomplishment will ease your mind when it’s time to clock off.
  • Create an after-work routine. Having a ritual is a great way to slide into relaxation mode after work; it creates a habit that tells your mind to switch off. Ask yourself what the first thing is post-work that you’re going to do every day to signal to your brain that it’s time to step out of work and into home-mode. It might be:
    • Putting in your earphones as you leave the office and listening to your favourite mood-boosting song
    • Singing along to the radio in the car
    • Mentally planning out your evening and thinking of something nice you can do when you get home
    • Texting a loved one
    • Planning out your dinner
    • Turning off any email or work notifications
    • Making a cup of tea
    • Putting your trainers on and going for a walk or run
  • Separate your space. If you work from home every day or in a hybrid routine, having a physical distinction between a work space and a relaxing home space is very important. If you have one, you could consider converting a spare room into an at-home office. On the other hand, you could simply keep your work stuff to one end of a room, make a pact with yourself not to work from bed or on the sofa, and pack your work things away every evening (out of sight; out of mind!).
  • Enjoy your commute. Viewing your commute as a ‘transition period’ helps you reset and refocus. Choose to make your commute into an enjoyable time by doing things that excite you: read or listen to an audio book or podcast, put on your favourite album, or list 3 things you’re grateful for today.
  • Create a soothing environment at home. Coming home to a stressful and messy environment is not in the least bit relaxing. Try to keep your living space clean and tidy so you can come home to a relaxing space, but if this is out of your control, spend a few minutes when you get home doing a quick tidy so you can enjoy the rest of your evening feeling relaxed.
  • Treat yourself! Sneak in more of the little things that make you smile into your everyday life. The key is to make these choices small and enjoyable: brew a cup of your favourite tea, take a soothing bath, plan a new recipe, catch up with a friend or family member, go for a walk in a place you don’t usually explore, or watch an episode or two of your favourite TV series.
  • Practise mindfulness. Research shows that those with a more mindful perspective are better able to focus on the present moment, turning away from stressing about the past or worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future.
  • Make a list. Planning and list-making can help organise an overwhelmed brain. If you don’t have time at work, make some time each evening to make a list of the things you need to do tomorrow, and things you’d like to do tomorrow. Doing this will get all of your thoughts down on paper while preparing you for a successful day ahead.
  • Ask for help when you need it. If you need to talk about the stresses of work before you can let go of them, open up to a loved one or therapist. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by job stress, talk to someone who will help you work through it.

10 Practical Ways to De-Stress

We all experience stress sometimes, but it’s essential to know how to beat it:

  1. Exercise: working out will release endorphins, improve your mood, regulate blood pressure, and reduce your stress levels.
  2. Talking to and spending time with loved ones: A robust support system can do wonders for your mental health.
  3. Journaling: getting out anything that’s bothering you onto a page can help promote good mental health and relieve stress.
  4. Meditation: De-stressing through meditation has been proven to reduce stress, increase focus, and support mental well-being.
  5. Get creative: Creative activities like drawing or painting have been proven to be anxiety-reducing.
  6. Light candles, wax melts, or use essential oils: these soothing fragrances can help generate a calming environment.
  7. Think nutrition: Make sure you eat well, as balanced diets improve mood and energy levels.
  8. Prioritise sleep: Research shows that getting just 60 – 90 minutes of extra sleep per night could make you happier and healthier.
  9. Switch off by doing a fun activity: Try playing a video or board game, going on a walk, or watching a film.
  10. Recharge and reduce your stress levels by taking regular breaks throughout your working day: Set a timer every hour to stretch, walk around, and maybe get a glass of water.

It’s much better to focus on how you can prevent experiencing issues like chronic stress and burnout than working out how to recover from them once they’ve had an impact on your mental and physical health. Self-Care Month is about putting yourself and your needs first, so try to use this time to value and prioritise your time outside of work more. Take some time to learn what calms you down after work, and make a habit of implementing it year-round. It’ll help you stay on track and feel like yourself!

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