How to stop thinking about work stuff (when you’re not working)

After a long day of juggling responsibilities, we all need time to recover when we’re finally off the clock.

Switching off from work (when you’re not working) means allowing yourself an adequate amount of time for psychological recovery after long workdays, whether you’re spending those days collaborating remotely or commuting to the office. Studies have shown that when we don’t have this time to relax or recover, our health and wellbeing can be affected.

Stress from not taking this very necessary time for ourselves can slow the healing of wounds, accelerate ageing and is linked to physical and psychological issues ranging from headaches to depression. Read on for some tactics to free your mind from the constant stream of thoughts about work:

1. Turn off your ‘broken records’.

When you notice that your mind is filled with thoughts about work (and you’re not at work), take a moment to ponder the following:

Am I actually solving any problems, or am I just playing the same idea in my head over and over like a broken record.

If you’re actually problem-solving, seeing the chain of ideas through might be worthwhile—after all, there could be a solution lurking in there somewhere.But if you’re just going over and over the same thought and feeling progressively more stressed, it’s healthier to take a deep breath, pause, and gently tell your worries, ‘I’ll think about you later’. 

And if you have trouble with a particularly persistent thought, it might be a good time to look into a technique from CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and start keeping a thought record. If you’re not familiar with keeping a thought record, the Working with thoughts programme in Foundations is a good place to get started.

2. Make unwinding a routine.

Whether you decide on getting some exercise at the end of the day, changing into more comfortable clothes when you sign off or taking a warm shower to transition from the working portion of your day to the relaxing part, it’s important to make a point of switching modes when you get off work.

Make sure that whatever it is you do is something you genuinely enjoy, but try not to use junk food or alcohol as your main tool to disconnect—you want your routine to become a healthy habit you do consistently after work to help your brain understand that it’s time for a break.

Over time, this habit should become something automatic. Learn more about how to get healthy habits to stick (without getting stressed) here.

@freestocks via Unsplash

3. Limit your smartphone use.

Using your phone to track your steps on a nice long walk, or to practise mindfulness, is all fine and good—it’s using your phone to work after hours that that’s a bad idea. Your mind needs recovery time after work.

So even if you can’t turn your phone off completely, it’s a good idea to limit your phone after work hours, especially if you have a dedicated work phone. Try not to check work messages and e-mails and turn off notifications.

If you’re truly worried about something urgent coming up, allow calls—because if something is an actual emergency, you can trust that your colleagues will pick up the phone and not rely on unanswered texts.

4.  Book leisure time into your schedule.

Make time for yourself to do the things you love (that aren’t work). Schedule blocks of time for fun into your calendar the same way you would for a work activity.

Whether it’s doing pilates or kickboxing, sitting down with an adult colouring book or knitting a scarf, doing an activity that is in no way related to what you do all day long at your 9 to 5 is a great escape. And it gives your mind a chance to hone abilities you don’t use at work.

What do you do to switch off from work after hours? Do you have a regular routine? Share your thoughts with us at foundations@koahealth.com.