5 ways to completely wind down after work
Expert tips to make winding down after work easy
A big presentation at work, running late for an important meeting or juggling too many demands – stress is part of life.
“Stress is a response to a threat in any given situation and is the body’s way of protecting you,” says Senior Clinical Psychologist and Head of Clinical Services at Black Dog Institute, Laura Kampel.
It’s important to recognise that stress is usually a short-term experience and can even be helpful.
“Stress can kick in so that you can rise to meet challenges,” Laura explains. “It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation or sharpens your concentration.”
But too much stress can take a heavy toll on our wellbeing. “Stress becomes unhelpful when it is prolonged and when someone feels that the demands of their work/life are greater than their abilities, skills or coping strategies,” Laura says.
Stress like this doesn’t just harm your health and hip pocket, it costs the Australian economy billions of dollars each year.
A growing body of research shows ongoing stress contributes to physical illness – from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (although this link requires further research) to being more prone to infections and chronic fatigue. Left untreated, stress can also evolve into mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
Stress-related conditions mean we tend to take more sick days and personal leave and we’re less productive when we’re at work.
Safe Work Australia says stress has also been linked with poor work and product quality and high staff turnover, raising the amount businesses spend each year hiring and training new staff.
The Stress and Wellbeing in Australia survey, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, found lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms in the population.
Some important findings include:
It’s not just adults who are impacted. According to research conducted through Headspace and the National Union of Students, a whopping 83.2% of Australian university and TAFE students reported their health and wellbeing was affected by stress.
Many of us can recognise when we’re under stress, but sometimes stress can develop over time and we may not be aware of the effect it’s having on us. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms that can affect how we feel, act and think.
Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. “What works for one person might not work for you, and it’s important to build your own toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when problematic stress kicks in,” Laura says.
You can’t eliminate stress from your life, but you can manage how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. “When practised regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity,” Laura says. “They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.”
Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress.
The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. “Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another person can help calm and soothe your nervous system,” Laura says. “So spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.” If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.
It's important to seek support early if you're experiencing prolonged stress
The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
The link between sleep and mental health is well known, and your body needs time to recover from stressful events. It’s vital to make good sleep habits a priority and take time out when you need to.
If stress is becoming a problem in your life, or you want to act early to prevent stress from becoming chronic, there are plenty of digital tools that can help.
nib foundation supports Black Dog Institute, which has a range of self-help programs and apps.
Other useful resources:
“It's important to seek support early if you're experiencing prolonged stress,” Laura says. “Your symptoms may not go away on their own and if left untreated, they can start to take over your life.”
If you have concerns about your mental health, or you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling, the best thing you can initially do is speak to your GP. If seeing a psychologist seems beneficial, your GP can work with you to develop a mental health plan, which includes up to 20 Medicare rebatable sessions.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call:
For more information on free mental health support, check out our article, 6 ways to get help for mental health – and you won’t have to pay a thing!