By Brook West
Work stress can play emotions like a fiddle. It’s not enough we spend most of our waking hours at work – work is also a source of financial means, security, and often self-value – add cell phones and email into the mix and the line between work life and personal life vanishes.
Between deadlines, meetings, month-end goals, new management, job cuts, and the crotchety co-worker who refuses to turn down their music, work stress is inevitable. This stress is critical to motivating the workforce in order to meet demand, so it’s definitely not going anywhere. The hard part is leaving this stress at work so you have a chance to enjoy a personal life and...recover.
Work stress comes home with us for different reasons and addressing the solution may require a variety of techniques or outlets to help separate work from play.
For some, work stress is triggered by the workload. With more companies cutting staff to accommodate their losses, it means more responsibility for the remaining employees who have to carry the weight. Or maybe your boss’s management skills resemble those of a slave driver and their demands leave you exhausted and anxiety-rich. For many others, work stress finds its way home because of an emotional attachment that has been formed and leaving it at work isn’t as simple as closing the office door.
Leave It On The Field
It’s a serviceable analogy even outside of the sports world. Leaving work at work can be a game of wills. Remind yourself that most work problems aren’t solved at home. Only bring home work problems when they need to be discussed, evaluated, and/or eliminated; hiding major issues from your significant other will likely cause more stress. Major problems aside – keep in mind that if a work problem can't be solved at work, it probably won’t be solved at home.
Remember as a kid when you had to change out of your school clothes before you could go outside and play? The same should be true when home from work. Change into something that matches your home life and shred the workplace shell. Make a list of work tasks you’ll need to complete the next day so you can stop thinking about them now. Take a new route for the drive home to change up your routine. Do something that helps detach personal time from work time.
Understanding Emotional Attachment
Having a job means something...it means a lot. So many emotions and feelings surround what it means to go to work. It means having a financial resource, which attaches feelings of safety and security to the job. Fear of losing that stability can trigger work stress that bleeds into personal life.
Work can also be a source of pride and doing a good job influences positive self-worth. On the flip side, doing a poor job or not having the boss’s approval can cause someone to question their value. Some may be incapacitated by the conflict which can hurt work performance, further perpetuating the issue, or it can motivate someone to overwork to compensate, which also reinforces the stress cycle.
When security, safety, self-worth, and self-value are threatened, it’s no wonder we come home stressed, angry, depressed, anxious – pick your flavor. Leaving work stress at work won’t eliminate your work problems, but it could help lower stress levels so you’re open to a new perspective, new opportunity or, at the very least, gives you the chance to enjoy (or create) your personal life.
Searching For Fulfillment
If your job has you feeling completely unfulfilled, but you can’t leave, get a new manager or a new position, it’s time to look outside of work to fill those needs. Especially for high-stress jobs, it is important to create a boundary between work and your personal life. Having activities that give you the rewarding feeling you’re looking for can help you leave work where it belongs and separate work stress from your time at home.
Be Honest With Yourself
Is your boss really a slave driver or are you exaggerating? Sure, plenty of bosses fall into the tyrant category, but plenty more are good people with jobs to do. Your boss probably has their own work related stress that you don’t know anything about because they’re maintaining a barrier between superior and subordinate. If brushing off your boss’s unpleasant demeanor isn’t an option and you’re convinced the situation won’t change, it might be a good idea to talk to a counselor who can help you explore the relationship, and develop a coping strategy so the boss’s negative behavior doesn’t feel like such a personal attack. Avoid creating an 'I hate my boss' narrative in your workplace. It only perpetuates stress. If you really feel that way, you must do something about it.
Like any descriptive word that ends with –holic, it refers to addiction, indicating a psychological reason for the particular behavior. Maybe the workaholic is avoiding issues at home or is avoiding something within themselves. Perhaps they need to prove their value or have a perfectionist personality that results in isolation. Like any addictive behavior, speaking with an unbiased professional can help highlight the core issue and brainstorm an approach to the solution.
When having a job means groceries, a roof, safety, and value, it’s no surprise that work stress infiltrates relationships, the home, and personal well-being. But don’t let work stress win out over the harmony in your home life. Leaving it at work will lower your stress levels and who could be opposed to that? If creating a boundary between work and play is impossible to do alone, reach out for the support you need (human resources, counseling services, etc.) so you can finally benefit from the fruits of your labor.
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