I need help leaving work stress at work
August 27, 2017 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I really, really like my job. Certain situations at my job are causing stress. I need help to prevent this stress from leaking into my not-at-work life.

I've been with my company for 16 years and in my current role for 10 years. I really enjoy my job, am happy with my salary, have built up enough seniority that I receive excellent benefits, feel that the work I do is making a difference, and have no desire to leave.
I work within a small team of 7 people. Over the past 6 months, our newest team member's behavior and attitude on the job has been causing a great deal of stress. HR has been no help, as our HR manager is a family friend of this new employee and cannot seem to be objective about the concerns that have been raised by our team leader. This stress-causing employee and the situation aren't going anywhere, I'm not going anywhere, and I'm doing what I need to do at work to deal with this.
My question is--for others who have been in stressful situations at work--how do you leave this at work when you leave for the day? I'm really having trouble separating from this, and I'm beyond annoyed at myself for letting this person/situation take up space in my head on my personal time. I'm looking for concrete suggestions on how to "reclaim my time" and prevent these work stresses from leaking into my off-work hours.
Please assume that moving to another team, or leaving the job, or taking the situation up the chain of command to another HR administrator are not options. All suggestions other than those --even if they seem obvious--are welcome!
posted by bookmammal to Work & Money (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Repeat to yourself: "Not my circus, not my monkeys."
Also: "I'm just not going to worry about that."
posted by metaseeker at 6:53 AM on August 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ritual helps. Think of how Mr. Rogers would change his shoes and jacket. Shedding your business dress for house clothes may be a east to change your mindset. Or, make tea, you can worry about work until you sit with your tea. Something to mark the end of day and its transition, basically.
posted by kellyblah at 7:14 AM on August 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I struggled with this for a long time. On my most stressful days, when I couldn't shake it, my husband would laughingly say "Flip the switch! Turn off your work!" It started as a joke, but then became my visualization technique. I committed to giving the stresses all my attention for half the time of my evening commute, and then just kept repeating to myself "Flip the switch!" And found something else to focus on for the second half. Like what to cook for dinner, or our plans for the weekend.
posted by raisingsand at 7:23 AM on August 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

Mindfulness meditation might help you learn to focus on something else.
posted by pinochiette at 7:24 AM on August 27, 2017

I also came to suggest a formal marking of the transition. If you wear a suit jacket or tie at work, take them off as you leave the office. Make your car or other transportation your transition space. Play music that you find relaxing and imagine your work care blowing away as you leave the parking lot and ride/drive homeward, a bit at a time, until all of the cares have left you. I've been in this kind of situation before. Peace be with you.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:25 AM on August 27, 2017

Exercise. Journaling about what frustrates you and then promise yourself you won't think about it after what you write.
posted by saturdaymornings at 7:26 AM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Consider looking for some sort of brand new activity or personal project that, ideally, forces you to be present/very engaged for periods of time during the week, before or after work. Even a temporary one can help reset your routine.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:02 AM on August 27, 2017

Agree with the ritual of shedding work attire for home attire (in my case, usually pajamas, because who wants to bother with pants at home?) Actually, for me it's more often than not pulling off my work ID and throwing it in my bag as I get on the trolley -- this started off as a safety precaution for me, but over time has been a reminder that work is done. I also use my public transit commute as my transition time -- listening to podcasts or, if I can get a seat, reading something unrelated to work. I also sometimes try to schedule fun events directly after work so that if the work day gets really bad, I can keep reminding myself, "At 5:30 tonight I'm going to Science on Tap!" or whatever.
posted by basalganglia at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2017

And if you're driving home playing music, sing! Very difficult to stay pissed or stressed while singing. You're alone, nobody knows whether you're off-key or flat or can't remember the words, just belt it out. Good for re-oxygenating yourself, too. And I agree with changing clothes immediately; not only will that preserve your "good" clothes, it makes a definition transition to not-at-work.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:10 AM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agree with everyone around marking the transition. I used to have this problem to the extent that it was really ruining my night. Here are some of the things I did to change it:

Imagined all the stress and stories draining out of me as I left work and on my way home. I have a bridge I go over so they drained out into the river and away.

Changing into home clothes as soon as I get inside.

Listening to music that I can sing along with, which is good for your brain!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Take your work email off your phone, and try not to check it during off hours. (If you need to use webmail, but sparingly!). I've been in stressful work situations, and seeing new emails arrive makes me think about it again.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 9:22 AM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For me, really working on believing I have no control over the situation at work helps. When I can do that, it signals my brain to stop trying to figure out how to "fix" it. I stop focusing on all the things that build my case of unhappiness over it. Put down the puzzle, it can't be solved, and that's ok. Also a certain dose of the fuck-its really helps. Detachment can be really liberating.
posted by soakimbo at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

I agree with all the above, especially re marking the transition (I have to walk under a bridge to get to and from work, and I put on my badge when I reach the work side and take it off before I enter the underpass on the way home).

I also find that it helps to have an absorbing hobby that gives you somewhere else to focus your brain after hours. For me, it is great to have something with a tangible output (fiction writing in my case).

Finally, recognize that establishing these boundaries might feel uncomfortable at first, but the stress you feel in defending them is positive stress, "for you" and will ultimately give you more space.
posted by rpfields at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2017

Facing a similar situation, my partner and I decided that we would not talk about a particularly stressful work thing that's ongoing right now in our home - that all of the negative energy it's kicking up wouldn't come across our threshold into our lovely, warm, happy house. We actually go outside into the driveway now if one of us needs to talk about it.
posted by pinkacademic at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

A ritual for arriving home can help. Change clothes, wash face, do some conscious relaxation, and move in to chillin at home mode. Conscious relaxation - there are a jillion methods. I work on letting go of stress with each exhalation, starting at my toes, and working up my body. Even just consciously letting go of the stress in my shoulders and neck as ai breathe really helps, and takes 30 seconds. For the difficult person, read the Shamu article, which may help a little.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on August 27, 2017

I find "this too shall pass" to be a useful phrase.
Nth'ing: some concrete transition ritual (though I am not very good at that myself), having something specific to focus on at home, not talking about the situation at home (or doing so only minimally), and minimizing (or not reading, if possible) work email at home.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:54 PM on August 27, 2017

Best answer: Another thing you might find useful is reminding yourself that you have the choice to look for another job - you just like your job (or the money, benefits, etc. of your job) enough, even with this problem person, that you want to stay. If you wanted, you could start job searching tomorrow - maybe you would find something you like better, maybe not. But right now, you are deciding to stay.

You've made your decision and you can be at peace with it. And when you're tempted to dwell on things, try just asking yourself, "Is this worth leaving my job over? Is there anything I can do about it right now?"
posted by mskyle at 6:45 AM on August 28, 2017

I really, really like pinkacademic's suggestion to not talk about it in the house. I may implement that myself!

My work situation sounds a lot like yours in that I generally like it but it's super stressful right now. What I do is notice every single time I start thinking or worrying about work when I'm not at work, and immediately change the topic to anything else. "Fat puppies" are a favorite. So is thinking about what delicious thing I'm eating at my next meal, or when I get to hug my favorite person next. Sometimes it's just something else I need to do. Just getting in the habit of "nope, not going to think about work" has helped.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I appreciate ALL the suggestions, but the ones I marked as best are the ones that were "Ah-HA" answers for me!
What specifically helped me today was remembering soakimbo's suggestion-- that I can't control this other person's behavior and it's ok to stop trying to "fix" this situation. This(rather obvious) idea made a big difference in my attitude today. Put down the puzzle, it can't be solved, and that's ok... I think I'll be repeating that to myself quite often!
Thanks again, everybody.
posted by bookmammal at 3:59 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I worked in London, crossing the Thames was my 'off switch'. Now that I walk home, the walk itself is the time to get out of work mode and into home mode.

But I also quit my job and got a new one to deal with pervasive and invasive work stressors, so YMMV.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2017

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