Don’t Take Work Stress Home with You
After a long day at the office, many of us find ourselves taking out our stress on friends, children, or significant others. And if we’re not careful, we allow our work stress to become home stress, often at the expense of our families and relationships or our health.
In the UK the Health and Safety Executive found that 43% of days lost to illness were stress related. Another study, by the American Psychological Association (APA), found that the two most common stressors among those surveyed were work and money, and the incidence of stress often results in irritability, anger, nervousness, and anxiousness — all behaviors that can cause tension when brought home after work.
We’ve previously written about how couples can help each other cope with professional stress. But even couples who cope well together can become overwhelmed if work stress becomes too prominent an element of their relationship.
How can you minimize the impact that work stress has on your relationship with your significant other, family, and friends? Below are five tips for keeping work stress from becoming home stress.
Confine your work to particular times and locations. A study by Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto found that 50% of people bring their work home and that incidence of work-life interference are higher among those who “hold professional jobs with more authority, decision-making latitude, pressure, and longer hours.” In today’s ever-connected world, many of us are expected to be on 24/7 and work full-time or part-time from home. When Jackie was a counselor, she often was called to meet clients in moments of crisis at all hours of the day. When John was a management consultant, he often was on his laptop working late into the evenings. But if work is constantly seeping into your home life, the stresses of work will too.
So leave your work at the office. Make a rule to work from home only in exceptional circumstances, and keep work folders, computers, and notebooks at your desk. If that’s not feasible for your position, designate a few hours each day for home life only — an hour during dinner or bedtime with the kids — when you can eliminate distractions and focus on family. If you work at home, don’t bring your laptop to bed or use it on your couch. Work in an office or a specified workspace. Doing this will mentally help you shut off work when you leave the room, giving you an incentive to work as efficiently as possible rather than lingering over tasks.
Develop good mobile device habits. Perhaps the most common way in which work distraction seeps into a person’s relationships today is through smartphones. Have you ever finally decompressed in an evening only to look at your email, see something alarming, and become stressed? The average person now checks their phone 46 times per day, spending nearly five hours per day on mobile devices, leading 30% of users to consider their smartphones a “leash.”
Develop good habits and rules that keep your tablets and phones from tethering you to work. Keep two separate mobile phones — one for work and one for personal use — and leave the work phone in an out-of-the-way place (or turned off) on nights and weekends. And never check your work email in the hour or two prior to bed. Multiple studies have found that staring at a phone before bed can negatively impact your brain’s ability to prepare for sleep, and sleep deprivation is linked closely to stress. When on vacation, lock work-related mobile devices in the hotel safe and check them only at predetermined times.
Establish a good support network. Significant others can be amazing partners in dealing with stress. But to place all your work stress on a spouse or partner is unfair to them and dangerous to your relationship. Develop a support network of friends and mentors who can help you manage your professional stress so that it isn’t the burden solely of your significant other. The APA survey referenced above noted lower stress levels in people with a strong social support network. Having people to lean on in times of stress can increase your ability to cope with problems independent of your network, as being supported increases autonomy and self-esteem.
Have an end-of-work habit. Sometimes your brain needs a signal to prepare you for time at home. It’s even better if this signal can help you decompress. For example, John uses his afternoon commute to unwind — taking a more scenic route home, listening to music or the news, and giving himself time to switch gears for family life. Others we’ve spoken to have mentioned hitting the gym, running, meditating, and other rituals. Think about what helps you unwind, and find space in your schedule for this habit — particularly at the end of a long day at work — so that when you return home you’re free of the baggage that’s built up throughout the day.
Create a third space. When professionals have families, their entire lives can revolve around their responsibilities at work and at home. Busy executives run home to help with kids — changing diapers or shuttling preteens to soccer games — or to do the little things that keep a home humming, like laundry, yard work, or cooking. But having a third space outside of work and home can help enormously with stress management.
Each partner in a relationship should maintain habits and times that allow them to explore their interests, relax and seek fulfillment, and find space outside of home and work. These spaces are different for everyone — quiet cafes, book clubs, trout streams, karate classes, poker nights — but they are important for maintaining our identities and our sense of peace. Make the sacrifice of offering your partner a third space to find themselves, maintain their friendships, and explore their interests, and ask that they do the same for you. Third spaces mean no person runs from responsibility to responsibility without having time to breathe.
Work stress can be a challenge for home life. Learning to manage stress — by working with your partner to cope and by keeping some of your professional stress outside the house — can contribute to better relationships and better physical and mental health.
Jackie Coleman is a former marriage counselor and most recently worked on education programs for the state of Georgia.
John Coleman is a coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders. Follow him on Twitter at @johnwcoleman.
Don’t Take Work Stress Home with You
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