Tips: When it is difficult to stop working after work

Some rituals help to break away from work.
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Every third person finds it difficult to stop working after work.

This has a negative effect on recovery and therefore health.

Psychologists explain how you can better stop in the future.

When Julia Reeve comes down the stairs at the end of her work day, she doesn’t just move from her work to the living room. She also gives up her role as a psychiatrist and becomes a private person, partner and mother. She doesn’t have much time for that. Changing the room helps her. But she says it’s still hard to let go right away.

Every third employee in Germany has problems with downtime. According to experts, it is important to mentally set aside the job so that you can recover from the workday. This has also been recognized by the European Parliament, and is therefore calling for a legislative initiative for a “right not to be present”, so that employees do not have to be outside their working hours. This should make closing easier. But even without a law, everyone can actually contribute to their recovery after work, psychologists say.

Distraction after work helps you take off work

Reeve, it pays to have dinner with the family after work, she says. They are then used directly for other activities that distract them from work. This is how I managed to turn it off. Thus the researcher from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich is already living in the midst of relaxation. It’s based on four processes, she explains:

mental closure: Being able to take your mind off the excitement and annoyances of the workday is important to getting rest.

Relax: Watching TV or taking a shower is equally beneficial as long as the activity is relaxing.

enable: Finding a challenging task in a positive way promotes recovery – whether it’s a challenging piece of music, a particularly long run, or a difficult number puzzle.

control: The ability to act and make decisions about one’s time, activities, or social contacts is an important antithesis to the demands of daily work and is conducive to relaxation.

Those who manage to incorporate many of these experiences into their spare time will find it relaxing. Turning off plays a central role here. Verena Hawn knows that, too. A psychologist researches this phenomenon at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. Recreation can only take place when the employees are not exposed to the demands of work. If you keep thinking about the negative aspects of the day, it won’t work out. The result is risks to health and wellness.

Prolonged stress has a negative effect on health

Julia Reeve explains why: “If we imagine our organism to be a battery, stress makes it increasingly empty.” Anyone facing challenges gets into a state of high excitement. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Stress can also often help him become more committed in the short term. Reeve explains that if the stress level drops again, so does the arousal.

However, it becomes difficult if the stress lasts longer. Then the body can not reduce stress and possible chronic excitement. Psychologists call this fatigue. Employees with chronic stress feel tired, lethargic, and depressed. At work, there can be irritability, impatience, lack of focus, increase in errors and absenteeism. In addition, prolonged stress is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In order to prevent negative effects, recovery phases are essential, Reif explains. The recovery process contrasts with the stress process. “Recovery means we can recharge our batteries so we are ready for the next cycle,” says Reeve. “Because he will definitely come.”

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But not yet. Now is the end of the day. For Reif, that means she can have one of her own digital puzzles, which gives her entertainment experiences and mastery. She is satisfied that she was able to achieve her daily goal at work. And this is something that you would recommend to all employees: Set yourself goals each day that you can complete! If there are no more intense tasks at the end of the day, it will be easier to stop.

Verena Haun also recommends ending the workday with a ritual: First, employees can review their working hours. They chose three things that were particularly good. write them down. In this way, it is possible to have a positive outlook on the work day at the end and clear encouragement to quit. Plus, employees can write down upcoming tasks for the next day so they don’t stay in their heads after work. Then the notes are put aside and the end of the day begins.

Build sports activities and relax at the end of the day

It is important to draw clear boundaries here. Transferring work tasks and problems into private life can harm recovery. It is best to use the transition between work and private life to leave one mental area and open up to the other. This can happen, for example, on the way home from the office.

Hawn points out that in times of pandemic, when returning from work to private life is often only as long as the distance from work to the living room, this is of course difficult. It is important here to stick to a rite of passage such as the Three Good Things exercise. It also makes sense to always pick the same workplace—even if it’s just a certain corner of the dining room table—and leave it at the end of the day. Clear rules should also apply to working hours: availability should be communicated to colleagues as publicly as possible so that employees can actually shut down their computers at the end of the day and incoming emails can wait until the next morning.

Exercising after work can help you stop working more easily.

Exercising after work can help you stop working more easily.
Maria Zubareva / Shutterstock

Regardless of whether the work day falls in the office or at home, everyone should think about relaxation activities after work and actively incorporate them into planning. The results of the study show that sports and relaxation activities have a positive effect. However, it is not the activity itself that is appropriate, but the subjective experience.

Therefore, employees have many opportunities to spend their free time in a comfortable way. But Julia Reeve and Verena Haun agree that employers should not leave all responsibility to employees: companies should structurally support their employees by encouraging them to limit access to them, and the European Parliament’s legislative initiative also requires. In addition, they can also help their employees in terms of content, for example by making them aware of the importance of entertainment through training.

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Haun developed such a course: In four modules, employees learn about and work on a single recovery experience. In the “Switch off” training module, participants deal with how to optimally end the working day and how to organize their leisure time. In the Relaxation section, they learn about relaxation options in everyday life and specific techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation. In “mastery” employees set personal goals and in “control” they try to overcome the obstacles that currently prevent them from recovering. “It’s reassuring to know that you can learn to take off work through training,” Hawn concludes.

This benefits not only employers and employees, but also employees’ families. “Disruption is contagious in partnerships,” Hawn says. If one partner finds it difficult to rest, the other often finds it difficult as well. If the shutdown works fine, this is also sent.

Julia Reeve is happy when she is able to talk to her partner at the end of the evening. This also helps her relax. And when you can stop properly, falling asleep also becomes easy. Then their batteries continue to charge all night. All by itself.

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