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Detaching from work issues has to be worked at

Photo: Wade Rockett. Creative Commons.

In the old days, people might have brought home some work in their briefcases. Today, they are constantly connected via phone calls, skype, e-mail.

In the last text, we have seen that stress can seep from work into the family. Generally, the boundary between work and non-work has eroded, over the last decades. In the old days, people might have brought home some work in their briefcases. Today, they are constantly connected via phone calls, skype, e-mail, other types of messaging, etc. so that it is much harder for many employees to leave work behind.

At the same time, there may be large differences from person to person. There are individuals for whom it may be highly desirable to be able to send or receive messages in the evening, in order to get something that has come up solved and out of the way. In general, however, the accessibility of work content makes it much harder to disconnect mentally from work issues.

Why is this a problem? Research has shown that thinking about work can have a range of consequences – many of them negative ones. For the individual at home, it becomes more difficult to relax. Work-related thoughts, particularly stressful ones, maintain emotional and bodily arousal and prevent them from returning to the lower levels characteristic of recovery after work. In the longer run, this may lead to various health problems. It goes without saying that engaging with work matters leaves less time and energy for engaging with family and may lead, for instance, to less affectionate family interactions. And most of us have experienced that people who think about work may not be as psychologically available for those around them and may only listen with “one ear” to what they have to say. Hence, in the long run, relationship satisfaction may decrease on both sides.

So what can be done? First of all, we can raise our awareness of these issues and think about how we would like to organize our lives. Is it important that we are constantly connected and accessible when we are at home? Maybe the boundary between work and home can be reinforced by some small measures such as turning off acoustic signals from incoming messages or not forwarding messages to one’s phone, at all. This kind of measure may take a different form for each individual because it has to be adapted to the specific needs, contexts, and company policies. But since work-related thoughts are “carried” home in the head just like files are carried in a brief case, focusing on the former can also achieve high leverage.

In order to “empty” the head from work content, we can engage in specific routines on our way home. We can choose a less stressful itinerary or means of transport and enjoy a brief walk by leaving the bus one stop earlier and taking a little more time. Or we can stop by a store to buy food or have a cup of coffee before or after picking up the children from the day care. The more absorbing the activities the less room they leave for other thoughts. And finally, we can actively change our mindsets by anticipating and looking forward to what we will do with a specific family member once we will be home.