I want to work when I'm working and not work when I'm not working
March 22, 2012 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Give me your best tips and strategies for combating work-related stress, particularly how to not let the stress leak into time when I want to be decompressing, not worrying.

For the next year or so, I'm going to be under a fair amount of grad school related stress. I also currently have a lot of work on my plate to get done as well as some uncertainty regarding my exact circumstances next year (funding and visa issues). I've done almost all I can regarding the uncertainties and now must mostly let the chips fall where they may. Even the worst case scenario is still workable. But I'm still worried and stressed about it and it's affecting both my work and my leisure time.

I would ideally like to work focusedly when I'm working and relax when I'm not at work, since worrying will not change anything. Basically I want to know how you compartmentalize your life. I've been leaning quite a bit on my wonderful boyfriend, but I don't suppose he enjoys being woken up at 6:30 am by my tossing and turning.
posted by peacheater to Work & Money (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I know from experience that this is hard as a grad student (and sometimes logistically impossible), but something that has helped me is trying to limit the frequency with which I check my school e-mail on nights and weekends. Unlink your school and personal e-mail accounts or set your phone to not notify you when e-mails come in on your school account or something.
posted by naturalog at 7:58 AM on March 22, 2012

I have found taking a set period of time -- an hour, a half hour, whatever you think you need - to sort of serve as the "intermediary time" between "work" and "not-work".

What I mean is - as soon as you get home from school, drop your bag or whatever and -- before doing anything else - do something chill by yourself. What that "something chill" is is up to you - for me, it's "reading Rumi poetry while listening to the album Astral Weeks". For you it may be "yoga" or "going for a walk" or "a jog" or "a bike ride" or "putting on my 7th-grade cheerleader outfit and dancing to 'Hey Mickey'" -- whatever, so long as it's something different from what you would do as part of your leisure time, and it is something that you know calms you down.

If you make that the very first thing you do when you get home, that'll become a sort of mental "transition" for you from "school time" to "not-school time", and that will become your compartmentalization.

Music also really helps -- in fact, starting a CD when you go to bed, with the volume turned down kind of low, may also help you decompress fast if you I get home late after doing a lot of intensive work. I had a couple months where I was doing something really mentally active until about 11 pm, and then trying to go home and get right to sleep after that -- I was too wound up, though. But that's why I asked this question, and damned if I didn't start going to sleep within 20 minutes after getting home so long as I was playing that CD.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

This seems basic, but I make myself workout after work whenever possible. Even when I'm reluctant to go it's AMAZING how in just 45 minutes I'm completely unwound. Maybe because it forces your brain to think about something else (especially if you take a class like spinning or bootcamp where you're focused on a task).

Plus, you'll look good in a speedo.
posted by gpoint at 8:09 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

What has helped me when I have been extremely busy and stressed with work or school has been to commit to some kind of substantial physical activity--like running a marathon or martial arts training.

This seemed a little counterintuitive when I tried because I thought, I'm so busy as it is, how can I possibly add more to my plate? But it worked well. Intense and routine physical activity is excellent for combatting stress, and because I was otherwise so busy I couldn't just say "Oh, I'll go to the gym a few times a week." I needed a goal that I could commit to so I could ensure the exercise happened. It also made me feel good to have a tangible goal that I could see measured progress on each week--school and work sometimes are messier in that regard and you don't necessarily feel like you're steadily moving toward your goals.

And, having the challenging training goal forced me to impose some self-discipline regarding when I needed to get to bed so I could get up and do that run in the morning. It just seemed to work for me on all levels.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:15 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I had this problem, a lot of it was alleviated by physically separating my working environment from my home environment. Work gets done in the office. Email gets checked on the work laptop, and the work laptop isn't opened once I get home. When I had to do work from home, I did it sitting upright in our spare bedroom. Whatever your unwinding spaces are, just don't bring your work there. Not in the living room, not in the bedroom. If you feel like you absolutely have to get some work done, leave those spaces to do it.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:18 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 on a good exercise routine, but that can be hard to maintain if you're busy all day.

I have lately been practicing a few basic meditation techniques. The benefits of taking a few minutes in silence to relax, breath and concentrate your attention both during and after the working day are truly surprising, and you don't need to be a Buddhist to reap them.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:21 AM on March 22, 2012

If you have any interest in Buddhism, this audiobook by Pema Chodron has helped me immensely with learning how to stop habitually going down certain mental paths like this.
posted by scody at 9:11 AM on March 22, 2012

How about writing down a plan for every one of those contingencies (worst case scenarios)? So if X happens, you could write down, I will do Y. The idea is that you run through a list of these scenarios and formulate detailed plans. So when the worry starts, you can mentally refer back to this detailed plan of what you would do, and it might help ease the worry. (I say this because though I have flown many times, I am now starting to get apprehensive on flights. So what I do is basically read through the safety card, check for the nearest exit, mentally rehearse what I would do, and in this way ease the worries. I did read somewhere that rehearsing plans in your mind helps you deal with the situation if it actually happens). I suppose you can do these plans mentally but by writing it down, it would be borrowing a trick from the GTD guys by dumping the worries onto paper rather than carrying it in your head.

The other thing that helped me when I was very worried about finishing my thesis etc was the Morning pages. This is a routine mostly aimed at getting writers to write, but I found that it worked as a worry dump and freed me from obsessing over silly things while I needed to focus on getting the damn thesis done.
posted by dhruva at 7:10 PM on March 22, 2012

I know this is a bit of an old thread - but I found I'm least stressed when I follow some of the principles of the "Now Habit" by Neil Fiore. It's not really about relaxation (though there is a section on that) but about separating work from leisure and doing *quality* work when you actually work.

I bought it because I'm a horrible procrastinator, but I'm thinking it might help for what you want.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:54 PM on April 9, 2012

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