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5 ways to completely wind down after work

3 minute read

How many of us take the time to truly unwind after work? No matter what you do for a living, in our always-on culture it can feel like the pace of life never slows.

Benefits of winding down and ‘switching off’

Often we arrive home after a long day only to continue with work, finishing off that ‘one last task’ and routinely scanning our inbox or ruminating on the day. According to research, the mere expectation of checking work emails after hours can cause anxiety. It’s worth checking in with yourself because another study shows taking the time to properly decompress can reduce long-term stress, and free you up to focus on the things that are most important to you.

We spoke with Dr Gina Cleo, a habit-change specialist, for a list of ways to wind down.

1. Change out of your work clothes

To effectively unwind after work, it helps to get into ‘home’ mode, says Gina.

“The first thing is creating better boundaries,” she says. “That starts from the moment you walk into the house. Getting changed out of your workwear helps to create a psychological association that it’s time to relax and be at home.”

2. Give notifications a deadline

How can we possibly expect to fully relax and recharge after work if we’re constantly checking our phone for calls, texts and emails related to work?

“Turn off notifications after a certain time,” advises Gina. “That means no emails, no little ‘ping’, no communications from work. I’d even not take work calls, unless it’s urgent.”

She adds, “Your voicemail can say, ‘my working hours are from this time to that time, I’ll make sure to get back to you ASAP. If it’s really urgent please send me a text message.’”

3. Break up your routine

It’s important to break up your routine after work with anything you enjoy that brings you into the present moment, advises Gina, suggesting activities such as reading, cooking or playing board games. And if it involves movement, even better.

“That could be going for a walk or playing in the backyard with the kids or a pet,” she explains. “Sometimes we’re mentally exhausted at the end of the day but we may have been sitting around so we’re not actually physically exhausted. It’s really important that we make the differentiation, so we don’t get caught in a cycle of sitting all day.”

4. Limit alcohol intake

Gina calls drinking to relax a “Band-aid solution” and, although some studies show enjoying one glass of red wine on occasion can relieve stress, other research shows any more can disturb your sleep.

“We might have an extra glass of wine, watch a few shows at night or ‘comfort eat’ to relieve some of the stress from the day,” she explains. “Although those things might seem like they’re effective strategies at the time, they’re not helping us effectively unwind.”

Related: Is it time to rethink the amount of alcohol we drink?

Sometimes we’re mentally exhausted at the end of the day but we’re not actually physically exhausted

5. Leave work at work

This one might seem obvious, but so many of us tend to take the office home, leaving our work switch on ‘standby’ instead of turning it off – meaning we don’t effectively unwind. This can be even trickier to navigate if you do work from home.

“If you do have to take work home – which of course sometimes we do – just set really clear boundaries,” advises Gina. “I’d go into a quiet place, get the work done – even set time limits around it if possible – and then start that lovely routine of getting out of your workwear and turning off notifications.”

Related: Productivity and wellness tips for working at home

Looking for extra support?

Everyone is different and while these top tips will hopefully help, if you’re still struggling, there are plenty of resources out there to lend a hand.

If you have concerns about your inability to switch off, or if you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling, the best thing you can do is speak to your GP to get personalised advice.

For more information, check out our article 6 ways to get help for mental health – and you won’t have to pay a thing!

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

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