While technology's made it difficult to unplug from work for years, the recent switch to working from home essentially destroyed any semblance of separation that was left between work hours and the rest of the day. That's all the more reason, however, to make a concerted effort to unplug from work in the evening when your home is your office — because a seemingly never-ending workday isn't good for anyone, especially considering all the other stress you're probably already dealing with.
That said, no matter how disciplined you are with your time, it's hard to disconnect from everything that's happened at work when you shut your laptop, but you're still living in the same area you just finished a 10-hour day. So, TZR reached out to the experts at Manhattan Wellness, a boutique psychotherapy practice, for their advice on what to do after (and during) your workday to make it easier to unplug after hours.
Of course, they understood this issue — and the importance of tackling it — all too well. "Before our stay-at-home schedule, we had many ways to separate work from after work — commuting home, happy hour with a friend, a workout class, dinner, dates, etc.," associate therapist Gabrielle Morse, LMHC, tells TZR in an email. "While most of these activities are off the table now, it remains important to separate the workday from our personal time."
Their tips on how to do just that, ahead.
How To Unplug When You Work From Home: Create Transition Activities
As someone who's worked from home permanently for more than a year, one of the biggest struggles I've had with unplugging from work is de-escalating the feelings of anxiety and stress I've experienced all day. To help with this, associate therapist Eliza Davis, LMSW, recommends creating "transition activities" for yourself, such as "taking a shower, leaving the apartment to run an errand, or start prepping for your evening or dinner."
Additionally, senior therapist Michele Burstein, LCSW, says making sure you get outside "even just for a walk around the block is going to be really important to separate from the anxiety and ease anxiety as it comes up." However, what's most important, Burstein continues, is that the activity is about taking care of yourself. "I think any activity that focuses on you after work could be helpful, whether that is spending time with friends, exercising, or any activity that allows you to be mindful, present, and taking care of your personal needs."
How To Unplug When You Work From Home: Set Expectations
According to Burstein, it's often hard for people to disconnect from work because they feel overwhelmed and anxious about what they have left to do. "So I always recommend making a list at the end of the day that identifies what went well that day or what you were able to accomplish as well as what you plan to work on the next day, so you can feel organized and in control."
Similarly, founder and Clinical Director of Manhattan Wellness Jennifer Teplin, LCSW, says setting expectations for your day is extremely important. "For example, I expect myself to work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and to complete XYZ project and once this is complete I will feel free to leave the office." Teplin recommends doing this with a practice she calls time blocking. "If individuals block out the time they're going to work and what specifically they're going to focus on they can end each day seeing and feeling their achievements and won't feel the creeping sense that they should have done more."
With that in mind, Morse suggests keeping any daily goals you set small so that you actually can check them off at the end of the day. "This is a rewarding system that lets you feel accomplished and unwind afterwards," she says. "If your goals are too big and demanding, it might feel difficult to fully allow yourself to relax at the end of the day."
How To Unplug When You Work From Home: Practice Work Hours
Nothing derails your attempts at unplugging like answering messages at all hours of the evening, so according to Teplin, boundaries are key. "Think back to how you handled the after-hours messages previously — if you were an individual who was always on your phone, ask yourself why and what would happen if you took some space," she says. "If you're someone who put the work phone down when you left the office, I would encourage you to do the same thing while at home. Reflect on what would happen if that message waited until the morning — if the outcome isn't bad, I'd challenge you to take the space."
Burstein explains that a lot of people are working more than ever because they feel anxious about not being as "visible," which can be draining. "To avoid burn out, I think it is important to continue to practice the same work hours that you were before and still making sure that you take time off from work." Like Teplin, she also recommends turning off Slack notifications and not using your work phone or laptop after hours, if possible.
How To Unplug When You Work From Home: Create Physical Boundaries
You may have never considered the importance of separating your office and living spaces, but according to all the experts TZR spoke to, delineating those areas is crucial. "The best thing you can do for yourself is find some separation between work and play," says Teplin. "While I know most of us don't have endless rooms to work with it can be as simple as getting a folding table or putting down a tablecloth and putting away the cute decor to show it's 'office time' versus 'fun time.'"
Burstein takes it a step further, and recommends having a room in your home where work is not allowed. "For example, if you work in the living room all day, keep work and personal life separate, by not allowing any work talk in the bedroom, including using your laptop or answering emails to keep these two places separate like you once would have with your office and home. If you live in a studio, or this is not possible, then I recommend creating separate physical areas of that room."
Once work is over, Teplin also recommends changing into comfortable clothes, while Davis suggests lighting a candle, as both actions can signal to your body that it's time to relax.
How To Unplug When You Work From Home: Take A Screen Break
Feeling like you can't get a break from your devices lately? You're not alone. "We are overloaded with screens due to the current circumstances," explains Teplin, who, because of that, says she encourages people who stare at screens all day to think about activities they can do without a screen in the evening. "For those of us who love to read but feel your eyes are exhausted from staring at words and a screen pick up a print book or listen to an audiobook."
Both Teplin and Morse also recommend putting your phone on "Do Not Disturb" mode so that you're able to live without that distraction for a while. "Unfortunately, our personal life and work life are both accessible on the same device; however, after being focused on a screen all day it is so important to give yourself a break," says Burstein.