Struggle to Leave Work?

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.”
— Louisa May Alcott

Many of us have trouble mentally disconnecting from work. Even if we commit not to touch our electronic devices when we are home, often our brain still keeps processing the day. This is true whether you enjoy your work or not. Detaching not only improves your life outside of work but it also enhances the quality and productivity of work life. For example, research suggests that being disconnected during off hours leads to higher employee engagement (Sonnentag, et al., 2008).

When we mentally bring our work home with us, it has significant consequences on our well-being and productivity. Being able to detach from work allows us to renew and refresh from the stresses and challenges of the day. However, this is not easy --  especially when we are trying to solve a problem or if we left a lot of work undone. The irony is that when it's most difficult to let go of work is when we need it the most. Re-playing a difficult conversation that occurred during the day or thinking about what you are going to do tomorrow may seem like a good use of time, but often those thoughts are not productive and keep us from getting a needed mental break.

Unfinished work weighs heavily on our minds pushing all the things we completed during the day out of our awareness causing us to have a sense of frustration and stress. At work, we practice using our self-control to alter our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. However, at home we let down our guard and allow thoughts to flood in.

Here are some simple ways to help you detach from the mountain of work that needs to be done:

·       As you physically separate from work, mentally separate from work. Set boundaries. Make a commitment to allow yourself some time to relax. Even if you have more work to do later, give yourself a break.

·       Some people use the commute home as a way to detox and let go of the day by making this trip a mindfulness practice. 

o   For example, use stop signs and traffic lights as a reminder to bring yourself to the present moment. When you see a stop sign, notice where your attention is and gently bring it back to the present.

·       You can even make a game out of your commute. For example, pick a color and notice how often you see that color. Anything that engages your senses will help you be present.  

·       Bring the picture of someone you love to your mind’s eye and visualize the warmth of that love permeating your body and melting away tensions and stresses of the day.

·       Do something physical. It doesn’t have to be a workout. Just a short walk focusing your attention on the present will give relief and allow you to refocus.

·       Take a moment to catalog your accomplishments of the day and make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow.  And put it in a spot that you can see tomorrow morning.

Taking a break mentally from work is just as important as physically leaving. If not, we may as well still be at work. Either way, we won’t get the rest we need. 


Sonnentag, S., Mojza, E. J., Binnewies, C., & Scholl, A. (2008). Being engaged at work and detached at home: A week-level study on work engagement, psychological detachment, and affect. Work & Stress, 22(3), 257-276.



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