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Strategies to Unwind

While most of us can’t wait to return home to our partners and family, many of us are finding our work is invading our happy sanctuaries. Here are some simple unwind strategies to help you keep your work worries at bay. Story by Amanda Gore.

Men and women are commenting on how hard it is to leave work at work and immediately become the ‘home/family person’ when they walk in the door.

Use a geographical marker on the way home to signal to your brain that work thinking stops here and home thinking starts.

Picture this scenario: you’re at work, having a super busy day. The phone has not stopped ringing. The economy is down. Everything seems difficult, nothing is going smoothly, and you can’t seem to get ahead or make any impact on your in-tray. Suddenly, you notice it’s 6.30pm. Oh no! You promised to be home early tonight.

You fly to the car and drive like a maniac to get home as soon as possible, only to be greeted by lots of noisy people wanting your attention when you walk in the door. It’s the last thing you need or want. So you raise your voice, snap at people and ask everyone to leave you alone for ten minutes so you can change and unwind. You then proceed to have a dreadful evening with everyone upset, irritated, complaining or sulking.

This particular issue has raised its head an unusual number of times recently. Men and women are commenting on how hard it is to leave work at work and immediately become the ‘home/family person’ when they walk in the door. The inability to separate these two is interfering with their quality of life. They arrive home, are snappy, irritable, uncommunicative, withdrawn, focused on work and are generally bad company.

And the next thing that happens? Yes, you guessed it – a fight! Soon, it becomes the normal state of affairs (so to speak). At which point we decide it’s all too hard, and we separate.

We really can’t expect our partners and children to leave us alone for 15 minutes after we arrive home just so we can unwind in peace. They’re excited about our arrival and children don’t understand the need to unwind. Instead, we need to think about what we can do to leave work at work, and have our minds and hearts, as well as our bodies, at home when we are there.

Step 1: Be aware that we bring work problems home!

Sometimes we just don’t realise that our behaviour is different; that we’re being picky, difficult, or unreasonable. Or any of those other words our loved ones are calling us!

Pay attention to your behaviour in the first 30 minutes after arriving home. How do you communicate? Do you launch into the kitchen and start making dinner? Do you dive for the television (and go deaf)? Or perhaps disappear for a walk or run? Or do you make a point of giving your partner and/or children your full attention for 15 minutes: listening (really listening) to their day and what they did, and then doing your ‘thing’?

To be present enough to do this, we need to think about what helps us relax and leave the stresses and problems of work behind.

Step 2: Create your own unwind strategy

Here’s a list of strategies that might work for you – if you don’t have a routine of your own, maybe one of these could be a starting point for you.

Write your worries away
Have a notebook and pen in the car, and as soon as you climb into the car, write down all the things you need to attend to the next day and prioritise them. Or list the problems facing you and possible solutions. Or list the issues that have been worrying you and rate them in order of significance. Then close the notebook and put it in the console or the glove box. This will mark the end of your workday.

From this point on, focus on home, the good things that have happened to you, or something you could look forward to at home. If your mind slips back to work, gently tell yourself that work is in the glove box and you’ll take the page out the next morning when it’s time to think about work again. Surprisingly, it only takes a short time before your brain learns that the notebook going into the glove box is a sign to change your thinking to home.

Have a stop work landmark
Use a geographical marker on the way home to signal to your brain that work thinking stops here and home thinking starts. In Sydney, some people use the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As they drive past the first pair they know they only have the time it takes to reach the second pair before they regiment their brain to stop work thinking. Do you have any markers that you could use?

Take timeout on the way home
Stop at some scenic or quiet spot on the way home (not a bar!) and take your 10 minutes to unwind there.

Play a CD on the way home
If you have a favourite piece of music, record it. Sometimes it helps to have faster music at the beginning of the CD to match the faster pace of your ‘work brain’. Slow it down gradually over a period of 10 or 15 minutes so that by the time you arrive home you have slowed down. Alternatively, listen to:

  • A comedy CD or a CD of laughter; infectious laughter that will make you grin if not laugh.
  • Motivational or personal development CDs – no work ones!
  • Fun radio stations; not news programs as all they do is give you something else that’s bad to focus on.

Plan your next holiday
Think about what you would do, how relaxed you’d be and how much fun you would have.

Undress to unwind
The last idea! As soon as you arrive home, take off your work clothes and put on relax clothes! Or on the way home, take off an article of clothing that represents work e.g. your tie if you’re a bloke (or a tie wearing woman) or your work shoes and put your ‘home shoes’ on. Then take 10 minutes to meditate (no, you don’t have to sit in a corner in orange robes chanting ‘omm’). All you need to do is stare at the view and think of nothing; or focus on your breathing in and out, in and out; or focus on your muscles: noticing any tension and release it; or repeat the word ‘flowing’ to yourself as you breathe out; or focus on a colour or sound; or any one of a zillion things like that. This helps your mind to settle and leave the jangled chaos of work thinking behind. The clothing thing really does make a difference – it’s a symbol for your brain.

This is just a small list of the possible ways to unwind before you arrive home so you can leave work at work and find yourself and your family again.

Amanda Gore is called a ‘people whisperer’. She is a communications and performance expert who, for 25 years, has been helping people achieve results by re-connecting them to what really drives attitudes, behaviour, engagement, joy and positive outcomes in business and life. Amanda’s latest book is titled The Gospel of Joy. Her website is www.amandagore.com.

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