Fresh from another long-weekend vacation. 8-hour Causeway jams notwithstanding, you should, by all accounts, feel sufficiently well-rested and powered-up for work by the time the long weekend is over. Yet you don’t.
You aren’t alone. According to a 2016 survey by Holiday Inn Resorts, 90% of Singaporeans can’t seem to fully relax even while on vacations, with many still compulsively checking work-related notifications while overseas.
No matter how far-flung our vacation destinations are or how long we’re out of the office, it makes little difference if you’re packing the additional baggage of work stress with you. Walking around feeling as though you can’t fully disconnect from the pressures and stress of work is enough to make anyone feel chronically stressed. Eventually, burnout sets in, and by that time, you find yourself in a rut that’s hard to pull yourself out of.
The key is to learn how to stop bringing home your work stress with you. Easier said than done; technology and hyper-connectivity seems to have made it near impossible to have a neat distinction between work and life.
Not all is lost, though; here are some ways you can leave your work stress at work and stop growing so many white hairs.
P.S. Learn how to work with your stress instead of against it; pick up SSA Academy’s WSQ course on applying emotional competence to manage oneself in the workplace today!
One of the biggest reasons why we end up taking the office home with us is that we’re still virtually plugged into work emails and messages even when we’re not physically present at our desks. The same technological advancements that have brought about fundamental improvements in efficiency and performance are also responsible for what makes it so hard to stop bringing work home.
Even when there are little to no work-related messages to be read or sent, our obsessive phone-checking habits get in the way of being able to draw the line between work and life.
Once you leave the office, either turn off your push notifications, or be strict with yourself about how often you check your emails and messages. Just as your productivity at work benefits from limiting your email-checking to pre-scheduled blocs of time, your stress levels greatly benefit from it as well.
When you’ve been so accustomed to bringing your work stress home with you, prepping your mind to switch off after you leave the office is essential. You need to have a specific routine to signal to yourself that it’s time to let go of work.
This routine has two functions: the first is to turn off work-related thoughts. It’s part of human psychology to keep bringing incomplete work to the forefront of one’s attention–the exact term for it is the “Ziegarnik effect.” As with so many of us, when you leave the office knowing that there are still things you still need to get done, your brain naturally keeps reminding you of it over the course of the evening and night, until the next morning when you’re back at work.
According to bestselling author Cal Newport, the only way to get around this is to:
Spending 10 to 15 minutes at the end of every workday to do this really helps your brain to stop obsessing over all the things you have yet to do.
The second function of the post-work ritual is to help your mind transition into the post-work mode. Once you’ve stopped thinking about work, you need to direct your mind towards thinking of other, non-work related aspects of your life.
This is largely subjective; it depends on what your priorities and responsibilities are outside of work. If you have a family, for example, it could be finding a way to help yourself focus on how to be there for your children. Alternatively, if you are pursuing a passion project, it could just be a way to direct your attentional resources to focus on personal growth, creativity, or recreation.
Most of us probably don’t give enough thought to the importance of being able to focus on the present. Undoubtedly, though, how well (or how badly) we can do this has a significant effect on our ability to leave work stress at the office.
When you give too much mental space to unproductive worries about the future and futile ruminations of the past, you condition yourself to be mentally absent from the “now.” More often than not, the inability to leave work stress at work stems from this inability to control your thoughts effectively.
Training your brain to focus on the now, though, is harder than it sounds. It requires, first, that you recognise that a significant portion of your stress levels arises from being unable to let go of the future, the past, or both.
This doesn’t mean that you should completely neglect planning or learning from your mistakes; both of these are necessary for growth and progress. At the same time, you should not allow them to reign over your mind and exacerbate your stress unnecessarily.