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It’s bad enough when your job generates the kind of workday stress that makes you want to punch your office wall. But when anxiety follows you home and haunts your brain after hours, it becomes toxic — threatening to mess with your relationships and health. Even your work performance can take a hit, since you can’t ace your workload if you don’t carve out the much-needed downtime to disengage and recharge, says Steve Orma, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based psychologist who specializes in anxiety and insomnia. These 10 hacks will help you build a barrier to separate work time from your time.
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Unwind on Your Commute
The minute you step out of the office, your downtime officially begins. Take advantage of it by losing yourself in activities you can do in transit — like finishing a book on tape or plugging into a relaxing playlist. “Instead of ruminating over the events of the day, focus on things you enjoy that have nothing to do with work,” says Orma. By the time you reach your front door, you’ll feel a million miles away from it all.
Change Out of Your Work Clothes
What we wear subconsciously influences our thoughts and actions, says Orma. So hanging up that suit and tie and putting on jeans and a sweatshirt cue your brain that the workday is over, and it’s time for some R&R. “Wear the clothes you associate with de-stressing, and the job stress will be pushed aside,” he says.
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Take Time Alone
"To escape the pressure and anxiety of the workday, a lot of guys need to be left alone for 30 minutes or so when they first arrive home and decompress, especially if their work involves dealing with lots of people," says Orma. Tell your partner you’ll help her with dinner later and grant yourself permission to lie down, take a shower, or just veg. "There’s something about doing nothing that recenters the brain and helps you transition out of work mode," he adds.
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Sweat Out Anxiety
If you’re a morning workout man, here’s an argument for moving it to after the day is over: Being physically active eases the tightness and tension in your muscles that has accumulated over the last eight hours, says Roy L. Cohen, New York City–based career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. Plus, exercise bathes your brain in a feel-good cloud of endorphins, and it pumps your mood as well — two things that help you shake off work anxiety.
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Wash Your Hands
The workday may be over, but you can’t stop thinking about a decision you made in a meeting, or you’re doubting your judgment with a client. Try this trick: wash your hands with soap and water. A University of Michigan study found that the simple act of washing your hands symbolically cleanses you of the need to justify a decision. A little weird, sure, but the research suggests that hand washing lets you wipe the slate clean, get over your doubts, and move forward.
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Don’t Talk Work Over Dinner
The Dr. Phils of the world like to say that talking about what’s stressing us out helps us blow off steam. On the other hand, when you rehash everything you’re anxious about over and over to friends or your partner, anxiety can snowball, says Orma. Go with this guideline: If something out of the ordinary happened that’s occupying your brain, go ahead and vent. If it’s just the usual frustration, it might be easier to forget about if you don’t verbalize it.
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Keep Work at Work
Occasionally bringing work home is one of those necessary evils of the contemporary world. But if you regularly finish reports or projects off the clock, then no wonder job stress is so hard to shake — you’re basically always on the job. Not only does it shortchange you, but family and friends suffer. “Even though you’re home, you’re not really present because your mind is elsewhere,” says Orma. If you absolutely have to meet a deadline, get up earlier in the morning to complete it. Otherwise, leave it behind. Remember, out of sight is out of mind.
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Savor the Day’s Successes
Go ahead and bask in your own glory. A recent study from the University of Florida found that people who spent a few minutes at the end of the work day writing down what they felt they accomplished — scoring praise from coworkers, killing it during a presentation — reported lower stress levels that evening after leaving work and a greater sense of detachment from the office.
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Schedule Something to Look Forward To
Fantasy football, a romantic dinner out, a night catching up on House of Cards — whatever you get a kick out of doing in your downtime, schedule it for your post-work hours. It’ll give you something to look forward to and then get lost in. “You’ll be busy and occupied, which counteracts boredom. It’s when we’re bored that we tend to turn our thoughts to what makes us anxious,” says Orma.
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Cut the Digital Leash
Sure it can be career suicide for some to totally shut off your devices after hours and not reply to messages from your boss. But when you’re always checking your phone to see if anyone from work has messaged you, you’ll never be able to separate work from your personal life. “Get a realistic sense of what’s expected at your workplace, and if you can get away with checking email and voicemail once or twice at night, set those boundaries and stick to them,” says Cohen. Switch your device to Airplane Mode, or stash it out of sight in a desk drawer.
By Esther Crain
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