Give Your Brain a Break: Steps to Mentally Unplug from Work

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You turn off your computer, gather your things, and push back from the desk. Then, you’re headed home. The workday is over. But is it, really?

Whether you love or hate your job, you probably think about it even on your off hours. Maybe you’re mulling over what to do with a particularly difficult client, how to deal with a bothersome coworker, or what you need to do to get that promotion you’ve been eyeing for months.

The sad thing is you do all these things while you’re supposed to be out partying with your friends or at home relaxing with your dog.

Would it make you feel better to know that you’re not the only one guilty of thinking about work outside of work? A 2018 study from LinkedIn revealed that 70 percent of professionals think about their jobs even on vacation. Another survey, this time from CareerBuilder, revealed that 49 percent of the working population answers work e-mails outside of work.

While this work-obsessed culture is often glorified, that mindset may do more harm than good. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed that people tethered to their work, either by phone or laptop, experience higher burnout rates and conflicts with their family. Ironically, they’re also more likely to quit their jobs.

The bottom line is that being unable to unplug from work even when you’re supposed to be off duty is detrimental to your career and to your wellbeing, in the long run. So, here are a couple of things you can do to successfully take a mental step back from your job:

1. Focus on what you should do instead of what you shouldn’t do

If you’ve ever tried doing yoga, you’ll know how hard it is to not think about something. Negative goals—where you focus on actions you will not do anymore—tend to fail because you only learn to change your habits by doing new things, not by simply avoiding the old ones. This means telling yourself not to think about work will be ineffective if you don’t actually do other non-work-related things.

So, create a plan for your time away from work and focus on accomplishing it. It can be a nightly plan where you catch up on your favorite TV series and order dinner from a freshly prepared meal delivery service. It could also be a weekend plan where you go out with your friends or chill at home and read.

2. Make changes to your environment

tech devices turned off

A recovering alcoholic doesn’t try to stay sober while living in a house with a fridge stocked full of alcohol. Similarly, a person trying to have a healthier work-life balance doesn’t leave their computer and phones on them all the time.

This doesn’t mean that you need to turn your devices off when you’re not at work, though that’s an effective option, too. But, even the simple act of removing your work e-mail from your phone helps. It’s more difficult to give in to the temptation of doing your work when you make it harder to do that work.

If you’re worried about missing important e-mails or updates, don’t be. You’ll just give yourself unnecessary feelings of anxiety. Studies suggest that you have to be willing to expose yourself to scary situations in order to reduce your anxiety about them. In this case, the “scary situation” is potentially missing an important e-mail. Gradually, you’ll learn that the situation isn’t actually as threatening as you once perceived it to be.

You need your brain to function properly so you can work effectively. So, it’s in your best interest to give your brain a break. Give these two strategies a try and you’ll hopefully have an easier time mentally unplugging from your job.

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