Why It's Important to Disengage From Work When You Go Home


Rusty is a writer, proofreader, editor, and designer living along Lake Michigan's coast with her supportive, nerdy husband.

Get advice on leaving work stress at the office when you go home for the day.

Get advice on leaving work stress at the office when you go home for the day.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t fully stop working (or stressing about work) when you leave for the night. I may not physically take work home with me, but my brain definitely doesn’t stop churning the day's events over and over, like a cartoon on repeat, until I am a ball of frustrations and anxiety. If I’m not worrying about a particularly tricky project, I’m wasting way too much brain power worrying about something awkward I said or did—or worse, something I should have said or done but didn’t.

Stress is a mood killer, and what's worse is that it is an absolute ninja about it. You often can't even tell that you've been pushed to your limit until after you've blown up at an undeserving someone (like the poor cashier whose machine wouldn't read the barcode on your candy bar, or your mom who told you that you "look tired").

Work is stressful. We spend more time with irritating coworkers daily than we do with our loved ones, and we are often overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated considering the mountains of tasks that we do. It's no wonder people have mental breakdowns or end up lashing out at spouses or family members over small, often harmless, incidents.

Work-Life Balance Is Hard, But It's Not Impossible

But let's face it, work is a necessary element of life. We have bills to pay and need money to pay them (and also to have fun). So, how do you find that sweet spot of work to home life balance? It's not impossible, though sometimes it feels out of reach.

When you leave work, do you really leave, or do you bring the stress home with you?

When you leave work, do you really leave, or do you bring the stress home with you?

There Aren't Enough Hours in a Day

There's really only one rule that you need to follow in order to make this happen: Leave work at work. I'm talking about mentally disengaging from the workplace responsibilities and drama as soon as you walk out the door, or at the very least, before you walk through your own front door.

Can it really be that simple? The answer is a resounding YES. It's amazing the weight that is lifted from your shoulders when you make the conscious decision to be present in your own home life and leave the stresses of work for the next morning (or Monday morning even). Work will always present new challenges and responsibilities to you and mentally taking them home every day isn't going to fix them, so leave them at your desk and go home and kiss your spouse and build a pillow fort in the living room with your kids.

Now that you know the rule, how do you go about following it? I'm glad you asked because I have some suggestions for you (I did the stressing so you don't have to! You're welcome!)

How to Leave Work at Work

1. Use your ride home as positive "you" time.

  • Listen to your favorite music and sing along (in the space of your vehicle no one can hear you warble.)
  • Want to take a leisurely drive by the lake on your way home? Do it. Want a mocha latte with whipped cream for the ride? Order up!

2. When you get home, pay full attention to those waiting for you.

  • Spouse, children, gold fish, potted plant, etc.

3. Rant and vent on the way home.

  • Get it out of your system so that when you walk through the door, and see the aforementioned family, your first response isn’t to flip the couch over in a rage.
  • Don’t flip the couch.

4. Keep your eye on little rewards you've promised yourself.

  • Keeping your promises to yourself (you promised yourself a new romance novel, or a movie night with your husband) and to others (you promised to help build that Science Fair volcano) allows you to mentally switch gears from work mode to home mode by giving your brain something new to focus on and enjoy rather than stew in its thoughts.
  • Read the book, watch the movie, build the volcano, and redirect your energy.

Ideas for Unwinding

Here are some of my personal, favorite unwinding activities:

1. Binge watch '90s sitcoms on Netflix.

  • Watching funny people have awkward work interactions is way more fun than having my own.

2. Play a video game.

  • Combat games are the best for de-stressing because nothing says relaxation like, “FINISH HIM!”
  • If video games aren't your thing try a crossword puzzle or some Sudoku (if you're a numbers person)

3. Impromptu dance party! Blast some music and dance around your kitchen before (or while) making dinner.

  • Close your blinds beforehand so your neighbors don’t question your sanity.
  • Don't dance with, or sing into, sharp objects (my eye patch is not related to this at all...)

4. Attack your hobby with a vengeance.

  • Knit all the scarves! Design all the graphics! Collect all the stamps!

5. Try some of these other suggestions for relaxing:

  • Meditation
  • Exercising (I hear that endorphins are amazing for relaxation)
  • Cleaning (sometimes it helps to see a clean counter or table)
All work and no play makes Jane lose her mind.

All work and no play makes Jane lose her mind.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Emotional Symptoms

  • Easily agitated, angered, or moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Having trouble relaxing or "turning off" your thoughts
  • Feeling lonely and/or worthless

Physical Symptoms

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain (resulting in nausea, constipation, or diarrhea)
  • Chest pain and/or rapid heart rate
  • Tense muscles and/or pain
  • Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clenched jaw/teeth grinding (can also happen while sleeping)

Visit webmd for more signs and symptoms of stress.

Know Your Body and Pay Attention to What It's Telling You

If you start to notice you're popping aspirin more often because of a nagging headache, or you feel like you're on the verge of snapping at your husband because he's breathing, take a step back and consider that you might not be leaving work at work.

Stop picturing your boss's stupid face as you eat your steamed broccoli at dinner. And don't think about reports, graphs, or checklists while watching your daughter play soccer.

Don't let work stress destroy who you are on your own time. Yes, employment is a necessary part of life, but it doesn't have to define you.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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