like tupperware, but for stress
April 16, 2014 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Basically I'm curious what tips and tricks folks have for compartmentalizing, so stress in one area of your life has less of an impact on other areas.

For me it's mostly associated with work - our organization has undergone a massive reorganization which has everyone turned upside down, I'm 'acquiring' new reportees/employees, my boss is retiring, and in my organization (pre and post reorg) decision making is quite decentralized - progress is made (soooo slowly) by committee and consensus building. None of this is necessarily bad, but I find it very exhausting (especially the constant human negotiation/juggling element) and bringing a constant level of low level anxiety to my job. I think I can handle the actual work, things will improve some with time etc. but in the mean time I hate thinking about my job after I've gone home, especially when I'm trying to sleep at night. Basically I want, as much as possible, to only worry about work when I'm at work.

So what are your tips or tricks for keeping stress in one specific area from leaking all over the rest of your life?
posted by pennypiper to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if it's a trick or not, but I've learned, simply over much time, that there has been nary a single thing in my work life that has actually benefited from thinking about it at home, whether by worry or by planning. My day tomorrow does not magically get better because I spent a lot of time thinking about it. There have been occasional and clear exceptions to this rule, but in general, if I find myself worrying or needing to plan, often jotting a few things on a piece of paper to schedule time to worry about it later (say, during work hours when I'm supposed to be thinking about this stuff), it allows me to put it out of mind better.

If you feel some sense of responsibility to think about work when you are home, it also is helpful to recast what your obligations are. Instead of having an obligation to worry and plan, you now have an obligation to get rest and to relax, so that you can be at your best tomorrow, instead of stressed out. Win-win, really. You get to relax now, and you get to do better tomorrow. No part of the equation is better served by worrying about something you can do little about from home.

This might not be helpful advice if you are having a hard time keeping up at work, and feel that you need to work from home to keep up and not get fired or something. Or, if things are just so stressful that they consume your mental space entirely (in which case a new job may be in order). It can be helpful, however, if you simply have a hard time cutting the cord mentally between home and work life.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:23 PM on April 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

I try to finish the work day by getting things out of my head before I go home. So writing up the to-do list for tomorrow, sending the emails to task people with doing stuff rather than leaving that till the morning, and reminding myself/my team of the things that went well that day. This sometimes means staying later at work than I'd like, but the investment means getting a full night's sleep (it also means I don't feel obliged to get to work early either).

I also find it helps to plan my evenings rather than just going home and collapsing on the couch and wallowing in my stress . Even if you're just going to stay home, give yourself a defined activity to do so that you can go to bed with the feeling of having achieved something that you want to do (eg, "Tonight I'm going to order a pizza and watch two episodes of Game of Thrones, and iron some shirts" or "tonight I'm going to call my mum, file my nails, and play with my cat")
posted by girlgenius at 5:24 PM on April 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I worked in insurance, I don't think I had any "tricks" to compartmentalize. I think I just had a really thick skin about most of the things that my coworkers found hard to take about that job. (I read accident reports, surgical reports, ER reports, etc as part of my job but I am a former military wife, have a deadly medical condition, and raised two special needs kids. Most of the time, reading this stuff did not stress me out enough to "take it home with me" the way it did many of my coworkers.)

But it sounds to me like there is a lot of change going on and that perhaps you are taking it home in order to do more processing of all that change.

I will suggest a few things:

1) Journal about it. Set aside a bit of time to write about it, pour out how you feel at that time, set a timer, and then let it go when you are done.

2) Use your commute time to psychologically transition. Listen to music or have a self talk or whatever works for you to help you decompress a bit on the way home. Then try to let it go once there.

3) Track your progress at work. Create a spreadsheet or something that measures some of the important stuff and your progress on it. This helped me a lot with the one thing I did sweat bullets about at work: Making quota. We did not have a built-in means to determine if we had made actually quota for the day but it was possible to track two or three things and add them together and have a pretty close number. This helped save my sanity. It took me like 2 minutes at the end of the day to make sure I had a copy of the pertinent data and that helped me stay on track all week.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:36 PM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are having troubles sleeping I recommend a high intensity exercise program. I find I am much more relaxed at work and sleep better when I get enough exercise.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:58 PM on April 16, 2014

It's a habit of thought which must be broken. The work thought occurs, and you have a habitual response (getting upset that you are thinking about work at home or trying to noodle out a solution or getting angry with someone for doing something, etc)

When you are not at work, and a work thought occurs, once you identify it as a work thought let it pass without ANY reactivity to it (feelings, judgements, solution-finding, etc). At first it will be difficult and your current habits of entertaining those thoughts will cause reactions to occur before you become conscious of what's happening - but the instant you realize what's going on just relax your mind and allow the entire chain of thoughts to fade from your awareness and then continue with what you were doing. No effort to squash the work thought should be used, as it only ads another layer of reaction and will strengthen the habit of addressing work thoughts. Just let it fade away the way the world does as you drift off to sleep at night.

After a few days to a week you will start to become present at the moment the work thought arises at which point you can just ignore it and allow it to fade away like a fleeting dream. After a few weeks you wont even notice the work thoughts anymore because your automatic reaction will be to ignore them outright. It's very much like quitting smoking or any habit that begins internally with a thought impulse.

It's also worth noting that the more your work-life means to you personally, the harder this will be to do, in which case you might perform the same mindfullness exercise while at work in order to identify triggers and understand the internal thought reactions that makes the situation feel so stressful that it warrants a need for constant attention while at home.
posted by Th!nk at 6:28 PM on April 16, 2014

I was once discussing life stress and had someone ask me:

- What's one major stressful thing in your life
- okay... (it was a difficult interpersonal interaction I was thinking of)
- How much time do you spend worrying about ...?
- About 15 hours a week.
- And how much time do you spend engaged with ....? (in my case, actually talking with the difficult person)
- About 25 minutes a week.

Reflecting on that was transformative.

ps. also meditation.
posted by spbmp at 6:37 PM on April 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've taken to pulling a Mr. Rogers when I get home from work every day: I sit down, breathe a little, and change my shoes. (Unlike Mr. Rogers I usually take off my pants too.) But shedding my Work layer and donning a Home layer helps me to compartmentalize work from home. Also, similar to what girlgenius and Michele recommend, changing when I get home gives my brain a moment of calm to switch gears from work to home, just like my wardrobe.
posted by carsonb at 6:38 PM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stuff that works for me:

Everything that girlgenius said.
Writing down or emailing myself any bright ideas or things to add to my "to do" list. This lets the home me know that I've done all I can, and that work me will run with it tomorrow.
Telling myself that they are only paying me to do work. I'm not going to worry about work for free!
Doing something that demands all of my brain space in that moment. For me this is swimming (I cannot think of anything beyond stroke, stroke, stroke, BREATHE, stroke, stroke, stroke, BREATHE, and not drowning) and various crafts. Find whatever that is for you - sport, video games, sewing, cooking, reading, sudoko, whatever. You might still think about work before and after, but at least your brain will have had a break for a bit.
posted by pianissimo at 8:49 PM on April 16, 2014

I have a brain that seems to be in overdrive a lot of the time, and I have a difficult time with meditation and relaxation. However, for whatever reason, metaphors and symbolism work pretty well for my brain. If you are like that too, this might work for you:

1) Find a small physical token that represents the place where you work (e.g. a small polished stone or special coin). Every day when you are leaving for work, put it in your pocket or your bag and bring it with you to your workplace.

2) When you come home from work, take it out of your pocket or bag and put it in the same place--maybe a bowl by your front door--the point is, you're not carrying it on your person anymore. Work is done and you are your at-home self now.

I find these sorts of rituals to be a reassuring, concrete representation of a psychological process (in this case, shedding the burdens of work).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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