Disclaimer: You may only proceed to read this article if you can relate to any of the following:

  • Do you find yourself clocking off from work way past your usual hours?
  • Are you guilty of sending or responding to emails in the wee hours of the morning?
  • Are you constantly hunched over your laptop, even when deep down, you know you shouldn’t?
  • Do you spend your weekends with anxiety or calculating how much work you would have covered if you had traded an outing to push some work?
  • Is there always ONE more thing you need to check up on or get done?

There’s a popular idea, backed by research that suggests that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit – good or bad, and this got me thinking, among other habits I’ve been attempting to break, there’s one which I bet many of us can relate to, ‘switching off’. 

While there’s so much we can talk about when it comes to switching off in general, work takes up majority of our time. There’s several reasons why many of us struggle with switching off, as an employee who is passionate about the work that I do, I always invest 110% of my efforts. Not only am I aiming to produce the best quality out of my work, I also feel the need to affirm myself that I am at the right place and I deserve being here. This however creates a lot of stress, and makes switching off from work extremely difficult. 

I caught up with Clinical Psychologist Lungile Lechesa to discuss how to effectively manage stress caused by being unable to switch off from work. 

“Having a good work ethic and wanting to do well is great but, it becomes problematic when it is used as an unhealthy coping mechanism or when it gets to a point where one is not even aware that they are using work as a distraction,’’ says Lechesa.  

“Stress is triggered when demands overload our ability to cope with them. The flight, fight or freeze response is a built in process. It is our brain’s way of telling us when we are in “danger” – real or perceived. Through therapy, self-awareness and understanding, you can learn healthier ways of responding to stressful or anxiety inducing situations,’’ explains Lechesa. 

How Work-stress Impacts Our Lives

While I was researching pointers for this article, I did my own self-diagnosis and realised that I spend most of my time stressing about work, even when there is no need to. ‘’Stress is one of the biggest contributors to mental, emotional, physical illness and relationship difficulties,’’ elaborates Lechesa. She continued to say that, when your mind is operating at a hyper aroused level (stressed, panicked, anxious, etc) it impacts on your ability to think clearly. You then look at situations from a hyper aroused (quick to respond, irritable, snappy, poor judgement, etc) perspective which gives you a skewed picture which then leads to being more likely to respond in an unhealthy or inappropriate manner.

Lechesa shares that indeed, there is such a thing as positive stress. “A positive type of stress is one where you are still able to stay calm, you are not too panicked or anxious to address situations with good judgement and an accurate perspective.’’ She stresses that this is the kind of stress that motivates you to be intentional about studying, or producing good work on time. It becomes “negative” once it impairs your ability to think or function optimally. 

What To Do When Stress Becomes Overwhelming

Seek therapy or coaching where you can learn:

  • Coping mechanisms through self-awareness and insight,
  • Learn how to recognise how much you can handle without stretching yourself, and saying no (and being comfortable with your no) when you do not have capacity.

Lechesa shares these Five Ways To Switch-Off from Work
  1. Set firm boundaries with your colleagues – A lot of people sacrifice their mental wellbeing, personal lives and relationships in order to be perceived to be doing well at work. 
  2. Have a workstation – Have a space in your home that is purely dedicated to work. This will help you to “leave” work and transition into being relaxed and present at home. You would not sleep in your kitchen or cook in your bedroom, so you need to treat your work space as such. 
  3. Exercise – This helps in reducing high levels of stress. Not only does it release the feel good hormones, but the healthier you become, the better you feel about yourself and the more intentional you will become about scheduling time in for your workouts. 
  4. Invest in your interpersonal relationships – Having meaningful personal relationships has a positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing. Maintaining good relationships will require you to be deliberate and intentional, and therefore it will help you to switch off from work. 
  5. Self-care – Be intentional about taking care of your mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Everything begins with your mind. If you cannot take care of your mind, it cannot take care of you. 

In conclusion, I asked Lungile if we should be dealing with stress at all or whether we should just try to avoid it, she answered, ‘’stress in some shape or form will be a part of  your life. You can try by all means to avoid stress where you can avoid it (for example, doing things on time, being intentional about your self-care, etc) however in situations where it cannot be avoided, like significant life events, you can certainly equip yourself with healthy coping mechanisms.’’ 

As I ‘switch off’ from writing this article, I am certainly going to start applying these tips. This advice couldn’t have come at a better time!