Have you ever found it hard to get to sleep because your brain was stuck on a problem at work? Or realised you can’t relax at home or when you’re out with friends because your head is still at the office?
Maybe was a report you needed to complete, or something you said that came across wrong, or maybe it’s an upcoming presentation, an important meeting or an opportunity you can’t afford to miss.
All of us think about work outside the workplace, especially if you are lucky enough to have a stimulating and rewarding job. However, a number of studies suggest that around seventy percent of the population think about work matters when not at work, and around a quarter of the working population are troubled by thinking about work issues and these numbers are increasingly all the time.
Why are more and more people finding it difficult to unwind?
Smartphones, tablets and laptops – it’s never been easier to work outside of work. But it’s not just the technology that’s to blame. At a time of economic uncertainty, more people are working longer hours and finish tasks in the evenings just to keep up with work. As we get better connected and more accessible, our jobs - previously something that only occupied us during the working day - have started to dominate all of our time. Today work plays such a large part in our lives that our thoughts, if we aren’t careful, can to drift back to our desks even when we are not physically there.
Why do we need to relax and unwind?
It is clearly important to rest the mind. Successful people work hard but they also recognise that switching off, relaxing and getting away from work, is not a luxury but a necessity. Constantly thinking about work without taking time to relax is very bad for our health and wellbeing long-term.
One study found that people who can’t switch off from work were three times more likely to develop heart disease, largely as they eat more unhealthy sweet snacks to try to regulate their emotions and distract themselves. The inability to unwind from work has also been associated with issues such as anxiety, depression, concentration issues, sleep problems and fatigue. Sleep problems are one of the most common issues for people who can’t switch off from work, and if you can’t get a good night’s sleep because you’re worrying about work, you’re unlikely to be on top form mentally or physically the next day when you really have to get things done.
So what can be done?
It is becoming more and more important to stay ahead of the game. The key to success is not only working hard but also finding time for leisure to escape from work and distract your mind. If you’re tired and worn out, it’s much harder to be productive and enjoy your work, and you’re much more likely to make mistakes. But if you find it difficult to relax outside of work there is a remedy. Here are ten tips you can adopt in order to switch off and relax the mind when not working.
- At the end of the day develop an unwinding routine to signal the brain that you are leaving work. Wash your coffee mug, and tidy away your work station. Clear the clutter to clear the mind.
- On the commute home try to unwind by listening to music or playing puzzles. If you drive, listen to the radio.
- As soon as you enter your house, put away and hide anything to do with work (e.g., clothes, laptops, briefcase, lunch boxes etc.).
- Find time during the day to give yourself 15-20 minutes just to relax, to let go, to reflect and unwind.
- Find something outside of work to distract the mind. Develop a hobby that requires you to focus your attention on something else apart from work.
- Don’t make working during the evening a regular habit. If you have to work during the evening, don’t work too late and set yourself a time limit and stop.
- Make time to socialise with family and friends. When socialising make it a habit not to check emails or send work related texts.
- Plan and take regular mini breaks and holidays. An estimated forty percent of workers don’t take their full holiday entitlement.
- Try to exercise and eat healthily.
- Don’t take on too much at work and don’t be embarrassed to say no to work.
Some jobs are inherently more demanding and mentally taxing than others. As we move away from a manufacturing to a knowledge economy, learning to flick the off switch is become an increasingly essential skill for survival. We need balance in our lives. Remember all work and no play made Jack a dull boy. If we don’t find time and learn to switch off, we are all in danger of burning out before we’ve even reached our best.
The Off Switch by Professor Mark Cropley is published by Virgin Books on June 25th.