Have you ever finished a long day at work only to come home thinking about work again?
You’re not alone. In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of our jobs and struggle to disconnect from work after hours. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety related to work are prevalent, with 58% of Canadian workers reporting daily job-related stress.
While feeling stressed from work may be inevitable for many, the good news is that plenty of proven sensory-related strategies can help manage it. That’s why we’ve turned to Canadian burnout expert Nina Nesdoly to share some of her science-backed tips on navigating workplace stress. Founder of Workplace Clarity, Nina draws on her interdisciplinary background in Organizational Behaviour (MSc Management) and Neuroscience (BSc) to examine work-related stress from both management and physiological perspectives. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Management and conducting primary research on work-related stress.
Below, Nina shares some tips on managing workplace stress, including practical ways to detach from work using sensory cues.
How to stop thinking about work
Detaching from work after working hours helps your brain recover from work-related stress and makes it easier to enjoy your free time. Whether you’re a remote/hybrid worker or entirely in-person, detaching from work takes intention and practice.
If you find it difficult to turn off work-related thoughts, keep a notebook nearby to jot down any important ideas or reminders. Immediately writing what comes to mind can help alleviate the stress of forgetting something important while freeing up mental space to focus on the present moment.
My favourite strategy to improve work detachment is by implementing sensory cues. Your brain loves patterns and associations, and cues are scientifically proven to provide a signal to detach!
Sensory cues to detach from work
Visual cues that remind us of work, such as open notes, projects, or emails, can trigger our brain to shift into work mode, making it difficult to detach from work after hours.
To facilitate detachment, you should maintain a designated workspace and tidy up at the end of the day so that you’re not constantly looking at reminders of work. When you have a workspace separate from your personal space, you can mentally associate that area with work-related tasks. This way, when you leave that space at the end of the day, you’re sending a clear signal to your brain that it’s time to shift your focus away from work.
Using different soundscapes or playlists for work versus personal time is vital for detaching after work. For example, you might want to listen to instrumental music or white noise during work hours to help you focus and tune out distractions. After work, you might prefer to listen to your favourite music or podcasts to help you unwind and relax.
Did you know listening to music you enjoy during work can also improve your mood and increase productivity?
Surrounding yourself with invigorating scents like peppermint or lemon during the workday can help to increase alertness and focus, while lighting a candle with a relaxing scent (like lavender or chamomile) can help you unwind in the evenings.
While eating at your desk or workspace can be tempting, it can blur the line between work and personal time, making it difficult to detach from work-related thoughts and stresses fully.
Try to limit eating at your desk or workspace so that you keep eating and working separately in your mind. You could also implement various flavours (like gum or tea) to go with work versus personal time.
I recommend always wearing work clothes, even if you work from home. By wearing professional attire (while still maintaining your style!), you can enjoy the sensation of changing into comfortable clothes later, which can help to create a clear boundary between work and personal time.
Wearing outfits that express your style during work can also boost self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to feel confident and motivated throughout the day. I suggest choosing work clothes that make you feel comfortable, professional, and poised!
The importance of taking regular breaks
While many managers and employees think of workplace stress solely as an immediate ‘fight-or-flight’ response, it’s important to remember that stress can also come from extended periods of focus, working when tired, and dealing with micro-stresses, like resetting expectations with clients. Workplace stress management should focus primarily on calming the nervous system after a fight-or-flight response and preventing stress from building up in the brain and body throughout the day. One way to achieve this is by taking regular breaks to recharge and avoid fatigue.
A study by Microsoft WorkLab found that stress builds up in the brain during back-to-back virtual meetings. In the study, taking 10-minute meditation breaks between meetings reduced stress and improved focus.
Working consumes energy – just like a sport. Whether you love running or hate running, you understand that you need time between runs to recover – the same is true for work. Use your sensory cues throughout your workday – like stopping your music and getting away from your desk for 10 minutes every hour – to ensure you recover as the workday progresses. You will be more focused and productive during the workday and better able to enjoy life outside of work if you have taken regular breaks instead of allowing stress to build up.
Detaching from work and remembering to take regular breaks is a process that takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way! Managing workplace stress is a skill that can luckily be learned and improved over time. Incorporating sensory cues and taking well-deserved breaks into your daily routine can improve your mental health, increase productivity, and help you achieve a better work-life balance.
Thank you to our contributor Nina Nesdoly, burnout expert and Founder of Workplace Clarity, for sharing your valuable insights!