Healthy ways to decompress and leave work worries at the office (or home office)

Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

These days life looks different for everyone, and this might mean your work space is now in your home space. If you’re someone who is a chronic worker, always thinking about the next task, working unpaid overtime, or constantly stressed about your clients when you’re supposed to be cooking dinner and relaxing, learning how to leave work worries at the office/home office might be a even harder challenge.

When I was in my second placement as an occupational therapy student, I began to realize that leaving my work at work was a problem for me. The nature of my work is quite emotional, as I am working with individuals who may be experiencing limitations, have a hard past, and often feel lost in some way. It’s easy to bring your home work with you in the form of heavy emotions for clients you’ve worked with that day or maybe haven’t heard from in a while. As an empath, I realized these emotions hit me hard. The pediatric population I worked with in my placement was made up of kids that were already pushed out of different places because of their challenges, and were struggling a lot. I would come home night after night crying about one child or another, and my fiancée would be patient and kind and hold me.

When I got to my final placement, I met my supervisor who shared my heavy empath emotions. She made me realize that this was not a novel feeling, and as someone with strong emotions, I probably will have to work on this throughout my career. She taught me that as a therapist, having self care practices which included a decompression routine after work (and maybe a therapist for myself as well) would be essential to prevent burnout. The saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is so true in this work – if you don’t take care of yourself how can you take care of your clients? And so most of that placement was me exploring decompression practices after days of clients telling me stories of their past and present traumas.

But I’m not a therapist Kristina, I don’t need these practices….

While I recognize that not everyone that reads my blog works in an emotionally heavy profession, everyone should have some sort of decompression practice which helps them separate their home and work lives. Even if that just means setting the precedent at work that after a certain time of day you may not respond to emails as quickly, if at all. It’s important to be able to turn off the work brain for at least a bit of the day. And when your office is now in your home, it’s even more important to have these rituals.

For some people, this might look like a post work bath, cooking a nice meal, or engaging in some sort of activity. Maybe you enjoy exercise, scented candles, or perhaps a glass of wine. Maybe you head home to chat with your family member/partner/roommate. For me, in that last placement I learned that I needed to create a debrief for myself and a physical barrier between work and home. So I would take the time it would take to commute home to reflect on the day, talk out with myself any challenges or heavy emotions I experienced, and some days it was just walking home with a good podcast. These days that I’m taking public transportation home, I also add the option of reading a good book. Any of these things allowed me to reflect on my feelings and then put them to rest for the evening. Then when I got home I changed out of my work clothes into something different, and if I needed an extra debrief I would chat with someone about my personal feelings (maintaining confidentiality of course).

I give this highly specific and personal example because often times self care and decompressing makes people think of face masks and cucumber eye coverings, when it can look very different and much less luxurious for most people. Some rituals might be so subtle that we don’t realize they are our way of decompressing! Exercise, drinking tea, listening to music, and even just coming home and taking a shower as soon as you walk through the front door can separate your time at work with the rest of your day.

A few other ideas might include:

  • use the commute to divide your work life from your home one (what I was doing on my placement!)
  • take a timeout for yourself before you get on the subway/in transportation – perhaps sit on a bench, or in your car to breathe before heading home or heading inside
  • read something mindless AKA NOT WORK RELATED – something that brings joy or adventure
  • if possible, maybe add a small walk into your commute home – if you can’t walk all the way home, perhaps park your car 15 mins away from work, walk to a farther away subway/bus stop or walk around the block before you get to your car
  • change into some relaxing clothes
  • put your emails on do not disturb or “out of the office” for at least a portion of the evening
  • plan a fun date night with your partner or friend
  • squeeze in a mindfulness practice, perhaps yoga, meditation, journalling, a mindful walk – whatever works for you!

Whatever your job is, it’s important to be able to step away from it to decompress. It’s important to be able to experience other parts of life, to spend dedicated time with people you love, to cook meals, enjoy leisure activities and proper downtime.

What are your favourite ways to decompress? I would love to add a post about people’s different self care/decompression strategies from different professions – if you would like to share something that you do, please feel free to contact me or connect with me on instagram!

Published by maiiflowerr

Pronouns She/Her. I'm a millennial just trying to make a difference in the world, and create space for people to accept themselves and live their best lives. My fiancee, Sydney, and I are mothers to our two goofy cats, and the queens of creative adventures. I am an Occupational therapist, a dancer and a yoga instructor with a passion for supporting people and creating community.

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