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6 Ways to get rid of the workday so it doesn’t ruin your evenings

When I’m working, I hyperfocus on the task at hand. If I’m writing an article—like this one, for example—I sit down at my desk around 8:30 a.m, conduct a couple of interviews, research the topic I’m covering, and then hunch over my keyboard like a gremlin, typing away until the end of the work day, which, for me, is usually around 5 or 6 p.m. I get so absorbed—so much so that when it’s time to shut my laptop and make dinner, I seriously struggle with transitioning out of work mode. I continue to think about how I want to edit specific sentences or what else I need to do to hit my deadline as I join my husband on the couch and descend into the evening.

I’m not alone here: People rant about this all the time on Reddit, claiming it’s impossible to relax and unwind after work; their brains can’t let go. “For a lot of people, the projects aren’t done at the end of the day,” Ashley Smith, PhD, a psychologist in Kansas City, Missouri, who specializes in anxiety and stress, tells us. “You can always be thinking about them or checking your email or doing more. You don’t have an off switch.” The pressure! It never ends!

If you’re mentally preparing for your next 1:1 with your manager or how you should fine-tune a presentation while doing the dishes, you’re technically still working, Cassidy Dallas, LICSW, a therapist in Westford, Massachusetts, who specializes in anxiety and work-life balance, tells us. Not only can this stress you out and exhaust you—but it can prevent you from being fully present in whatever you have going on after hours, like hanging out with your partner or catching up on Bridgerton. The result: You won’t be as happy, relaxed, and social if your mind’s still on the job, Dallas says.

So, if you’ve been lurking around the above subreddits desperately in search of tips to salvage your evening (just me?), you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find six expert-approved ways to snap out of work mode so you can (god forbid) enjoy your life.

1. Tell your coworkers you’re—really, actually—logging off.

While some workplaces expect employees to respond to emails immediately and around the clock (I’m shaking), in many cases, that’s not actually a job requirement—and you might be unnecessarily putting that pressure on yourself, Dr. Smith says. So she recommends getting clarity about your employer’s expectations; your boss might be totally cool with you being MIA at night.

Ask your teammates if you’re supposed to be responsive or if it’s NBD to log off. And if the work-life lines are unclear (or you can no longer deal with the non-stop pings), do your best to set your own boundaries: Let your coworkers know you’ll be unavailable in the evenings; if they need you for anything urgent, they can call instead of messaging you. That way, you’ll be less tempted to keep refreshing your email or checking Slack. “It will make it easier to let work go when it’s like, ‘Nope, I don’t do work after 6 p.m. That’s my time,’” Dr. Smith says.

2. Do a body scan.

The first thing Dallas recommends doing when you clock out? A three-to-five-minute body scan (which, by the way, you can easily practice on your commute home if you take public transportation). Here’s how this simple mindfulness exercise works: Bring your full attention to every part of your body, from your face all the way down to your toes, and take notice of any sensations you feel. For example: Do your shoulders feel tense or is your jaw tight? Is your stomach grumbling? Are you thirsty?

When you’re at work, you’re probably not fully in tune with your body, Dallas says. Maybe you were mentally immersed in a high-stress meeting or pushing yourself physically at a construction site. A body scan pulls you into the present moment: Instead of ruminating about the crummy feedback your boss gave you, for example, you’re forced to focus on physical sensations, instead. In short: It’ll help you get out of your head.

3. Turn off your notifications.

I know it’s scary, but if you can silence notifications on your phone, that will help you salvage your evening, according to Dr. Smith. Even better: Move your email and/or messaging app away from your home screen too. If you can’t hear or see the alerts, they’ll be less likely to disrupt dinner with your partner or your evening walk.

Studies show that notifications are distracting: Even if you don’t respond to them, merely noticing them on your screen (or hearing the ping) can stress you out and pull you out of the moment. “If you see that little red circle with the number in it on your phone, even if you don’t check the email, you have to do the work of deciding not to look at it,” Dr. Smith says. Keeping these little alerts out of sight (and mind) gives you a chance to disconnect and clear your head—“otherwise, it’s like being on call all of the time,” she adds.

4. Feed at least one of your five senses.

If you, like me, get mentally engrossed in your work, tapping into your senses—sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch—can bring you back into the real world after you’ve been dissociating on Zoom for hours or interacting with customers all day with no downtime.

There are a ton of ways to go about this. One of Dallas’s favorite suggestions is to take a steamy shower or bath—or if that sounds like a chore, simply splash hot or cold water on your face. Light a scented candle or listen to a relaxing playlist. Take a stroll in a park or sit on your porch or in your yard. In my case, walking my dog around my neighborhood for half an hour helps me stop fixating on all the emails I could be sending—sure, it takes a few minutes for me to shake off my thoughts but by the middle of the walk, I can’t help myself from watching him cutely trot on the sidewalk and listening in on other people’s conversations (oops).

Getting outside is huge: Being surrounded by swaying trees, chirping birds, and floating clouds—or, hey, maybe honking cars and screaming children if you live near me—is like “bathing in sensory input,” research suggests. The goal is to “get yourself in a space where there is some kind of sensory transition between work and home,” Dallas explains.

Basically, by activating your senses, you shift your attention away from the pressures and demands of your job to, say, how warm water feels on your face or how the wind hits your skin. “It tells your brain on a subconscious level that you are done with work,” Dallas says.

5. Let yourself completely tap out.

Depending on your work schedule, it may be too late to take a nap (a brief 6 p.m. snooze can obliterate your chances of getting a restful sleep overnight, studies show) but you can still benefit from lying down in bed or on a couch with your eyes closed for 15 to 30 minutes. This certainly does the trick for me—before I can get into a TV show or book after my workday, I need to lie down and decompress (i.e. not talk to anyone) for 20 minutes or so. If I don’t, my mind continues to buzz for hours. I have a much easier time shifting gears when I’m able to shut myself off from the world for a bit.

A short mental break—what some doctors call “waking rest”—can be mentally rejuvenating, evidence suggests. It may help you clear your head and stop stressing, for a little while at least, about tomorrow’s back-to-back meetings. As Dallas puts it, “It lets your body know you can rest—that it’s okay to rest.”

6. Create a personal post-work ritual.

Another strategy that can liberate you from the grind: Create your own little ritual that you can look forward to after work. For example, if you still have the energy to be social (you’re doing better than I am), schedule something you have to show up for, like trivia, a ceramics class, or yoga, Dallas suggests. “Play and other activities send the message that we don't have to be in ‘survival mode’ and we are safe to rest and connect with each other and ourselves,” Dallas says.If you’re feeling particularly zapped, keep it low-effort: Brew a hot cup of herbal tea, listen to a chill but entertaining podcast, or change into supercomfy loungewear. These little habits serve as a reminder that your workday is buttoned up and you’re moving on, Dr. Smith says. Your mind will, over time, associate this activity with the end of your workday and you’ll automatically start to check out from the rat race when you do it.

One last, very important tip: If any of the above strategies feel overwhelming, skip them—you don’t want your wind-down routine to feel like more work (you know, the thing you’re trying to escape from), Dallas says.

I understand how freaking hard it can be to have a peaceful night if you’ve been grinding all day. As I near the end of this article—and, therefore, the end of my workday—I know I’m going to mull over the edits I want to make for the next hour or so. I can’t help myself! But, thanks to my chats with Dallas and Dr. Smith, I also know that for the sake of my evening (and well-being), I need to log off and forget about writing—until tomorrow at least. So if you’ll excuse me now, my dog is demanding that I take him on a walk and pay attention to him instead.

The original article can be found on SELF US.

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